Posts from — April 2013
Preston posing with selected pieces from the MoAaO Collection, Harlem, NYC, 2010. This image was originally commissioned by and exhibited at the Studio Museum of Harlem, NYC.
Dr. George Nelson Preston
aka Nana Kwaku Anakwa,
the Aboafohene of Akuapem-Mamfe
and Akuapem Kyidom
By Petra Richterova, PhD
“His colleagues value his work not only for the uniqueness of the data he presents, but for his thoughtful analyses. He remains an original thinker as well as careful scholar, challenging our perceptions with his own insight. [He is] an important role model…for his students…[and] colleagues as well. He extends himself beyond more conventional scholars to communicate his knowledge with others.” Jean Borgatti, PhD, Art Historian, Clark University
George Nelson Preston – scholar of African art, curator, poet, enstooled Akan chief, a Founding Director of the Museum of Art and Origins along with Dr. Dinah Papi, and New York City native – is one of the foremost art historians and collectors in the US. Preston belongs to a distinguished group of Africanists at the forefront of art historical studies generating new knowledge and perspectives. His residence, a four and one half story landmark Town House designed by Henri Fourchet (1898), is also home to the museum (MoAaO) and stands as one of Harlem’s cultural treasures and best-kept secrets. This demure historique is located in the Sugar Hill district, first made famous by residents such as Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, Charles Alston and their contemporaries. Today, Sugar Hill and the Museum of Art and Origins are important loci of the New Harlem Renaissance. MoAaO houses one of the world’s finest collections of African art and is the only institution I know about where visitors are able to handle objects while referring to pertinent literature.
A voracious student, no corner of the globe seems to have escaped Preston’s scrutiny. Telling of his passion about the pursuit of wisdom, Preston’s curriculum vitae identifies him both as Scholar and Explorer. Citizen of the world and somewhat of a renaissance man, Preston studies Chinese in his spare time, and is able to recite poetry in at least five languages. This oratory talent comes into play in his lectures, which should not be missed, both for their content and form. Attesting to his performance facilities, Preston also enjoyed a brief acting career, playing the lead role in Israel Horowitz’s off Broadway one-act play, “The Indian Wants the Bronx.” He portrays the logistically and existentially lost Gupta, an elderly Indian man who arrives in New York City speaking virtually no English. Preston inherited the role from John Cazale, memorized his parts in Hindi and delivered the role alongside Al Pacino and Matthew Cole for six months.
Preston in state at the annual Ohum, wearing chiefly regalia. Akuapem-Mamfe, Ghana, January 2, 2001. (L) Photo: Petra Richterova. Preston (in b&w kente) greeted by Ghana’s president John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor. (R) Akuapem-Akuropong, 2002. Photo: Courtesy of George N. Preston.
He also remains the only person I’ve met outside of my native Czech Republic that is able to explain the somewhat esoteric, but important, lot of the German-occupied Sudetenland of western (former) Czechoslovakia. Similarly, Dr. Preston is equally at home with world politics or carpentry. This pragmatic know-how compliments Preston’s philosophical latitude, and explicit knowledge of the African world and its artistic traditions. At MoAaO, you are certainly going to get more than theory. At any given vernissage, you are likely to run into just about anyone, ranging from Kurt Thometz, Preston’s neighbor the private librarian to the rich and famous, and owner of Jumel Terrace Books – “an oasis for the unrestrained pursuit of knowledge” in the “revolutionary and colonial Washington Heights” – to put it in the words of The New York Times; Fred Brathwait aka Fab 5 Freddy, the pioneering hip hop artist and visionary historian; Havana-born saxophonist and composer Yosvany Terry Cabrera and his brother, bassist, Yunior; Jamaican anthropologist and former Urban Bush Women dancer, Yanique Hume; humorist and writer Fran Lebowitz; Mrs. Jackie Robinson, widow of the major league baseball player (who broke the color line in 1947); the mystical Monaco-based painter Basil Alkazzi; two-time Grammy Award winning drummer Will Calhoun, as well as the late Dr. Werner Muensterberger, psychologist, author and esteemed collector of African art.
Preston is a living testament to the hidden truths behind the veil of cultural stratification, and at 73 remains fully engaged in his life-long love affair with art, humanity and ancient culture. As such, Preston is one of the few Afro-Descendants in the field of African art in the US. His interest, however, did not develop out of fashion, profit or a sense of cultural decorum. He was drawn to Africa due to a genuine compatibility of sensibility, both intellectual and artistic. Nana Anakwa moves effortlessly between his formal training in art history and the diverse contexts inherent to art-making in the African diaspora. Preston, who is professor Emeritus at City College, CUNY, since 2006, installed the permanent African collection at the Brooklyn Museum in 1968, and since then has worked on projects at the Smithsonian Institute, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The Museum for African Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, Museu AfroBrasil, Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires, Palacio Conde y Duque in Madrid, Galerie Kleber in Paris, and Museu de Arte da Cidade de São Paulo.
Preston in Accra, Ghana, 1998 (L). A moment of relaxation at home in Akuapem-Mamfe, southern Ghana, 2001 (R). Photos: Petra Richterova.
Preston posing with a Museum of Art and Origins poster designed by Aay Preston-Myint. The ceramic, made c. 1930 was a gift from the widow of the late Mamfehene Nana Manteyaw Panyin, Akuapem-Mamfe, Ghana, 1999. Photo: Petra Richterova.
As a scholar, Preston originated the exhibition “Sets, Series and Ensembles” at the Museum for African art and authored an accompanying publication bearing the same title (1985). This was the first exhibition in which African art works were exhibited in groups of the sets, series or ensembles to which they belonged – in contrast to what Preston dubbed “the museum aesthetic of solitary objects.” The books Emanoel Araújo: Afrominimalist Brasileiro (Brazilian Afrominimalist) (1988), African Art Masterpieces (1991) as well as dozens of articles in various catalogues and journals followed, and Preston is currently working on the forthcoming Clock of the Earth and The Black Hand of Orpheus: Four Hundred Years of African Presence in the Art of the Americas. Giving the reader a feel for Preston’s range, his lectures include “African Art in Context and the Museum Aesthetic,” “The Fante People of Ghana and their Flags,” “Why Are There African Masks? In Order to Clothe the Invisible,” “The Rubber Ball Game of the Americas,” “African, Greco-Roman and Renaissance Sources of the Art of Romare Bearden,” “What Does Gold Mean to the Akan? Everything and Nothing,” “An Iconography of Constraint,” “Herman Melville and the Art of the South Seas,” and “Mind Over Method.”
No student of art should miss the essay “African Art: New Perspectives” in African Art Masterpieces (1991) where Preston situates the field from a culture-historical perspective. Mindful of the fact that no single comprehensive text exists on African art comparable to Gardner’s Art Throughout the Ages, Preston brings us a bird’s eye overview of the field of African art and the problem of applying Eurocentric approaches to the study of non-Western lore in a succinct and elegant fashion. He examines geography, archaeology, linguistics and cultural trends – whether artistic or ideological – and builds the reader towards an African-based perspective. Preston illuminates grave conceptual discrepancies by demonstrating that terms such as “art” equate to a lingua mortal non dice in the African context: “For example, in the Akan language, what Westerners describe as art, crafts, or architecture is referred to generically as hand-thought. For the African, it was the doing that was named, not the object.” Preston reminds us that terms such as “art” do not provide any essential information about the nature of the work, problematizing its generic use to describe plastic works produced on the African continent and identifying it as reductionist. Who made the work? How was it made? How was it used and for what purpose? Who is the expected audience? What are the object’s formal qualities? What are the consequences for a culture without that object or ceremony? Given the array of circumstances, functions and motivations that have brought about an object’s existence in the African context, how could a single foreign term or “ism” possibly suffice? Moreover, Preston enters the philosophical realm and furthers his argument by asking another logical and basic question: “How does one approach the study of a culture entirely different from his or her own?” Unwinding from the West’s lingering tendency to ‘ahistoricize’ African culture, Preston goes on to point out that in any given culture, there is no correlation between the aesthetic and our platonic “the good.” We may appreciate an object for its aesthetic or intellectual merit, but may not understand or “like” its original function or meaning. Similarly, aligned with the teachings of Roy Sieber and Robert Farris Thompson, Preston reminds us that the Western “museum aesthetic” does not correlate with an object’s intended purpose, which in the case of African masks usually involves music and dance, without which the masks would not come out and become activated. Thus, with every object comes a way of life and a system of values, opening the door to a unique world, if we are willing and/or welcome to enter as scholars and explorers. Only through examining cultural context can we begin to approach a holistic appreciation of African art forms, and a well-rounded, wholesome appreciation depends on familiarity with the given cosmological framework and language – which includes verbal, visual, sonic and embodied knowledge. Setting the stage for exploring African artworks on their own terms, Preston’s essay provides the ABC’s for a common-sense Africa-centered approach to art history. He calls this “mind over method.”
Preston reminds us that we are dealing with cultures that don’t even heed our historically inherited epistemologies or our neat Aristotelian categories. Africans do not put all chairs, all tables, etc. into the same category. Take a careful look: neither do we necessarily. What if a tree, a stool seasoned with ritual sacrifices, a lump of prehistoric slag, an iron sword with a gold handle and another sword impaled in the earth outdoors where it will eventually vanish into rusted powder all belong to the same category and share more or less equal reverence? What if that sword is regarded in greater awe the more it begins to disappear? Suppose the fact that one of these objects (or as some of my colleagues would put it, sign-symbols) is proven to be chronologically older than the others. And that this seniority endows it with some special status? Well, then are all things of seniority given greater respect regardless of their material composition?
Preston’s active involvement in the art world dates back to his teenage years, when he traded artwork with fellow classmates at New York’s High School of Music and Art. He continued this practice into his years at Columbia University: “When I realized how much I liked the works of certain of my fellow students in high school, I began trading art for art. I did the same at The City College of New York, and later some of my colleagues became highly visible in the contemporary art scene.”
In 1959, by age 21, Preston opened the legendary Artist’s Studio, a storefront at 48 east 3rd Street, NYC, where he delivered his own poetry alongside the likes of Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, Dianne Di Prima and Allen Ginsberg.
Preston (right) during his Beat years at a poetry reading, October 25, 1959. (Photograph: Fred W. McDarrah)
Entering Columbia University’s graduate program in the fall of 1966 on a Title IV Grant (dedicated to the study of non-Western cultures and languages), Preston studied under pioneering art historians such as Formalist Paul S. Wingert, and Diffusionist Douglas Frazer, who concentrated on African, Oceanic, and American Indian Art. Preston comments, “Wingert, following Sir Roger Fry, used the same formal language and aesthetic values to describe and localize African art that were used to describe European art. This syntactical tactic had the effect of establishing the aesthetic value of non-Western art as equal to Western art.” From Hans Himmelheber, he formalized his fieldwork techniques that he had intuitively practiced during his personal sojourn among the Mazateca of Mexico in 1963.
As art historical studies became more theoretical, object-centered approaches grew obsolete. Formalism was not only challenged as obsolete, it was considered elitist and stained with the legacy of colonial hegemony. Few graduate students today will have the opportunity to study African objects as part of style provinces and in their context simultaneously. Preston pursued his PhD at the vanguard of African art studies, when classical styles were taught in relation to morphology and milieu and when vast subject areas were unchartered. Preston’s 1973 doctoral thesis, “Twifo-Heman and the Akan Art-Leadership Complex of Ghana,” took on a subject with little previous literature. Given this, for the first time, Preston demonstrated the manipulation of art in lieu of people, the relationship between systems of art, and the ethnic-aesthetic and religio-political authority among the Akan of Southern Ghana. This landmark study was often mined by scholars who visited Ghana fly-by-night and had little regard for citing it. For these reasons, his unique expertise should be attentively passed onto future generations through old-fashioned apprenticeships and multimedia documentation. This includes photographing Preston’s activities in the field, maintaining and becoming familiar with his collections and libraries, conducting interviews, and recording lectures.
Preston lecturing using the resources of the MoAaO while professor at City College, CUNY, 2000. Photo: Petra Richterova.
Preston discussing the iconography of Benin art with a group of NYU students at MoAaO, October 2010. (L) Lecturing about Dan art through direct contact with authentic objects, New York University, September 2010. (R) (Photos: Petra Richterova)
His hands-on, open-door teaching style provides students with a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn in an honest, experience-based environment. A generous mentor, numerous students such as Jazz at Lincoln Center Senior Staff Photographer Frank Stewart, who studied with Preston at Cooper Union in 1970, as well as Japanese ceramist Ayano Ohmi and myself who came on the scene in the 1990s, have traveled into the field under Preston’s tutelage. Preston advocates Yale’s own Robert Farris Thompson, the spearhead of a pioneering interdisciplinary and participatory approach to the study of African-based art and culture; he emphasizes fieldwork and language as prerequisites for anyone interested in establishing a ‘visual literacy’ in the art of a given culture. In the classroom, Preston embraces the Style-Area Method (for beginners), followed by the study of key monuments of African art in terms of their context. Thus facilitating students with a formalist way of seeing and writing which is the basis of connoisseurship. This is followed by further exploration of African-based culture at large. For advanced studies, single methodologies are abandoned for a holistic approach drawing on appropriate culture-specific sources and ways of seeing.
As Chief Curator at the Museum of Art and Origins, Preston stresses exposition in relation to history, aesthetics and exceptionality. His museum manifesto also reveals his broad-mindedness and esteem for the cultural and artistic worldwide: “MoAaO addresses the question what generates art and endeavors to exhibit art in dialogue with its origin: culture-historical, environmental, ideological, medium. MoAaO exhibits trans world, trans era, native and contemporary art that is both innovative and rooted in the concerns that gave birth to ‘first arts’ of mankind.” De facto, Preston holds no ethnic or generic preferences when selecting pieces for his collection, but he does favor objects that have a powerful humanistic appeal, “in the Italian Renaissance sense of the term.” In my understanding, Preston responds to the healing nature and inherent truth of art works. Kind, open-minded and deceptively knowledgeable, Preston is a living cultural institution.
MoAaO permanent collection: Preston with Punu bellows, MoAaO. (L) Photo: Petra Richterova, 2000. Tsogo relief panel, MoAaO permanent collection, H. 44cm/17 ¼.” (C) Ngbandi figure, Democratic Republic of Congo, wood, encrustations, kauri shells, H. 52cm/22 ½.” (R) Photos: George N. Preston, 2011.
Dan maternity figure H. 59cm/23.25 inches, carved by Zlan. (L) Dynasty 18, mummified falcon, H. 52 cm/20 ½.” (C) Photos: Petra Richterova, 2011. Akan/Kwahu commemorative portrait of a priest, H. 61 cm/24.” (R) Photo: Adger W. Cowans, 1968.
Preston has over forty years of first-hand experience in west Africa. In 1998 he was elected to the junior chieftaincy of Ankobea at Mamfe, the Kyidom (rear guard) town of the Akuapem Kingdom. In 2001 he was elevated to the position of Aboafohene by the Kyidom Traditional Council of Akuapem-Mamfe.* As chief of development – literally “he who moves the town forward or he who supports or uplifts the town” – Preston fulfills his role as traditional and non-traditional leader through contributing financially, ideologically, and as an ad hoc ambassador to the Akan hierarchy of power. One of his key duties also involves conflict intervention and resolution, and Dr. Preston makes himself available in this capacity at large. If you find yourself in New York City, schedule a consultation with Nana or visit the Museum of Art and Origins to experience the diverse collection of contemporary art, traditional African art, East Asian art, photography, and prints in person.
Installation as Nana Anakwa, The Aboafohene of Akuapem-Mamfe, January 19, 2001. The blood of a ram has just been offered to the ancestors after first falling on Preston’s foot. The herbs clenched in his mouth maintain the interregnum between commoner and royalty status. (Photo: Petra Richterova)
Preston mounted on the shoulders of a villager after being ‘captured’ for chieftancy. He was carried through the town of Mamfe for all eyes to see during his 2001 enstoolment. (Photo: Petra Richterova)
Preston walked through the town of Mamfe during his 2001 enstoolment ceremony. (L) Preston greeting villagers as Nana Anakwa II during a durbar following his consecration into chieftancy, Mamfe, Ghana, 2001. He is accompanied by one of his personal mentors, Obosomfo Kponlogo of Larteh. (R) (Photos: Petra Richterova)
Nana Anakwa II in state. Note libation to the ancestors poured in front of his footsteps at each important crossroads of the town. Left foreground, Kwesi Ansa, his linguist with linguist staff, okyeampoma .The finial of the staff depicts Nana Preston uplifting the town. At his left is one of his personal priests Nana Okomfo Kponlogo, of The nearby Guan city-state of Larteh. (Photo: Petra Richterova, 2001)
MoAaO collection: Anon. Makonde, portrait of man inhaling tobacco snuff. Wood, human hair. H. 60cm / 23 ¾.” Photo: David Babersky.
Nana Anakwa II (center) with his ‘carriers,’ Mamfe, Ghana. Courtesy of George N. Preston.
MoAaO – open to the public by appointment only
430 W 162nd Street
New York, NY
212 740 9999
 George Nelson Preston, African Art Masterpieces, 13.
 Preston, 16.
 Personal communication, New York City, March 2011.
 For Preston’s poetry, see “Africa, Mother Africa,” Black Renaissance Magazine, New York University, Vol. 4, No 1, Spring 2001. Also stay tuned to Clock of the Earth, a forthcoming book of photographs by Frank Stewart and Petra Richterova and poetry by George N. Preston.
 Vision and Design, London 1920.
 George Nelson Preston, July 2011, interview with Petra Richterova, Harlem, NYC.
 Museum of Art and Origins manifesto. Courtesy of George N. Preston.
 George Nelson Preston, personal communication, New York City, February 2011.
* The suite of photographs of George N. Preston’s enstoolement ceremony can be viewed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; curated by Dr. Howard Dodson, photographed by Petra Richterova, 2001.
About the author:
Dr. Petra Richterova was born in Prague, Czech Republic (1978). In 1996, she moved to New York City to study photography with Frank Stewart and attend a liberal arts program at Hunter College, CUNY. While at Hunter, she obtained several grants in support of fieldwork in west Africa which contributed to her Bachelor of Arts degree (2002). In 2004, Petra was awarded a scholarship to pursue graduate studies at Yale University where she then received her Master of Arts (2005), Master of Philosophy (2008), and Doctor of Philosophy (2010) degrees specializing in the Art of Africa and its Diaspora under the guidance of Robert Farris Thompson. As photographer, Petra has worked extensively with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Cuban rumba ensemble Yoruba Andabo, the NY-based rock group Living Colour, LA-based performance artist Angelo Moore, Moroccan Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun, and NY-based arts organizations Black Light Productions and The Black Rock Coalition, among others. As researcher and photographer, she has worked in Cuba, Jamaica, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali and Morocco. Petra has shown at Columbia University in the exhibit “Making Music with Light: Jazz and the Art of Photography,” as well as Museum of Art and Origins exhibitions titled “Sacred Bond: Mothers, Fathers and Legendary Ancestors” and “Delta to Delta: From the Niger to the Mississippi.” Petra is a board member and curator of art at the latter museum, which has branches in New York City and Ghana. Most recently, she has contributed photographs for the Studio Museum in Harlem Postcard Series project (2010), and and was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2011-12). Petra is currently revising her award-winning doctoral thesis on AfroCuban expressive culture (titled “Rumba: A Philosophy of Motion”) into a book manuscript. A book of B&W photographs taken on the African continent is also in editing stages (co-authoring with George N. Preston and Frank Stewart).
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on George Nelson Preston/Profile
Babs Reingold’s The Last Tree exhibit
A conversation with
& “The Last Tree”
With Dr. Midori Yoshimoto, Ph.D.
Artist Babs Reingold is about to complete her most ambitious project to date, which will be unveiled for a solo exhibition at the ISE Cultural Foundation Gallery in New York City this summer (May 4– June 28, 2013; reception May 10, artist talk May 22). The Last Tree will be a monumental installation of 193 tree stump sculptures encased in metal pails, placed in a grid formation to fill the gallery space. The number of stumps corresponds to that of the countries in the world, namely, those members of the United Nations. One large tree rises from the grid, as a symbol of the “last tree” which is in danger of its extinction from the earth. Accompanying video projections and sounds will caution the seriousness of environmental destruction by humanity.
Last January, the author (the curator of the exhibition) had an opportunity to visit Reingold’s studio in St. Petersburg, Florida, and was informed of the conceptual plan of The Last Tree. Several months later, the author also visited Reingolds’ studio in Bayonne, New Jersey, and saw the work in progress – “The Last Tree” and several prototypes of small stumps. Over the course of a year, the artist produced numerous stumps at a steady pace in preparation for the exhibition. During my most recent visit, I asked her about the project in detail, its background, inspirations, and her future aspirations. (For the artist’s brief biography, please see the bottom of this article.)
Midori Yoshimoto (Y hereafter): This is one of your most ambitious projects to date, isn’t it? How long has it taken you to materialize this into a tangible project?
Reingold (R hereafter): First off, I consider “The Last Tree” on par with an earlier installation called “Hung Out in the Projects.” That project had all the elements of “The Last Tree” plus a major scaffold for viewing. It was a bear to complete, much like The Last Tree. To the question of ‘how long’ on this installation, I heard Jared Diamond speak at USF Tampa in 2006 on the collapse of societies. It started me thinking about some kind of environmental installation, but tucked away as I worked on other projects. Poverty was the forefront of my work in that period and “The Last Tree” did not blossom as an idea until 2008. I did a small drawing of an installation idea in my sketchbook in October of that year. I must confess I had not read his book at that time, but I did later.
Y: You’re talking about anthropologist Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). In your installation statement, you cite his words “What do you imagine the Easter Islander was thinking when he chopped down the last tree?” as the direct inspiration for this project. Have you been interested in environmental issues for long?
R: During Mr Diamond’s lecture; that statement about the ‘last tree’ obviously resonated in me. Before that lecture, I was always interested in the environment in practical ways: recycling, organic foods, sensitivity to the use of natural resources, conserving of nature in national parks, these types of interests. Katrina in 2005 really affected me and pushed the environment in the foreground of my thinking — its effect upon the poorer population of New Orleans, our government’s poor response. That disaster crystallized into my sphere of interest, which has always been how human beings interact within a context, within a framework of time… and circumstances. Aging, for example, and how it affects a woman’s identity and her sense of self. Poverty and its hold on an entire population in the richest country in the world. The environment became another concern as Katrina and then Jared Diamond’s lectures on the Collapse of Societies — his illumination of climate change and our failure to adapt to environmental issues as two of the primary concerns — they got the juices flowing. “The Last Tree” installation, although directly related to our pressing environmental concerns, really harks back to my search of how mortals, me, you, interact within a given environment over time. Because, what is the environment? It’s nature and it’s humans and their interaction over time. “The Last Tree” is really a vision of a holocaust of sorts, humans destroying a vital part of themselves. When you think about it, the files of the stumps in the 193 pails, row upon row, resemble a historical battlefield where all that is visible are the rows of crosses silent over the graves.
Babs Reingold / The Last Tree
Y: Your analogy of “The Last Tree” to the holocaust and battlefield is striking. Now that you mentioned it, the installation does seem to resemble a graveyard as well. Is this work, then, intended as a cautionary requiem for the humanity, which has committed self-destructive acts in the past and will continue in the future?
R: Excellent insight. And to answer your question, in a word, yes.
Y: Although it’s not directly related to Diamond’s book, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred after the publication of the book. How do you see a connection between the historical incident in the 19th century and the recent manmade disaster?
R: The connection between the two disasters, man and by man, I mean all of us, man is destroying himself, whether it’s scalping an island or fouling a Gulf. I had started the large drawing before the spill – toward the end of 2009, and finished early in 2010. Ironically enough, in April of that year, I had a meeting with the director of the Tampa museum about “The Last Tree” project. It was a day or two after the oil spill and that topic, heavy on our minds, was a major player in our discussion. The oil spill confirmed my project and spurred me along.
Y: Previously, you’ve addressed the issue of poverty through your works, such as, “Hung Out in the Projects” (2010), shown at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. Do they relate to your current interest in environmental issues?
R: All environmental issues relate to one another; they cannot be isolated. The Gulf spill is an example of another Jared Diamond statement: “By now the meaning of Easter Island … should be chillingly obvious. Easter Island is Earth writ small.” Let me enlarge upon what I said earlier: The environment is what we exist in… and how we exist in it. How different is environmental destruction to the wreckage of humans trapped in a poverty situation? I have no trouble connecting the two. Both are enormous challenges that we — you, me, artists, writers, our schools, our religions, our legislators, our president, our Supreme Court, you name it — we have to face these challenges. We are the richest nation in the world and our greed, our self-interest prevent obvious obstacles from being overcome. My installations address these obstacles, and hopefully, in some small way, move people to a deeper understanding and action.
Y: I’ve witnessed some parts of your labor-intensive process of making each tree stump. You first stain silk organza with rust and teas, dry it, and, cut it into shapes, and sew those parts with strings and threads. Then, you stiffen the fabric and stuff them with human hair. When they are shaped like stumps, you embellish some patterns and details on them. As the result, they look like small creatures with lives of their own. How did you come up with an idea of making a tree stump out of hair and fabric?
R: Good, I get to talk about being an artist. Although we discuss issues vital to society, to me as an artist they are not intellectual, academic. They are visceral. They play around in my, what the psychologists call the unconscious mind. I do not want to invoke prehistoric Surrealist tenets here or poke into post-this-or-that theory, better to say, intuitive or instinctive reasoning or processes occur within me and are really not available to self-analysis. While objects evolve from these instinctive roots, the history of art comes into play… the sensibilities of artists, again over time, that all-important mark in our lives and past lives. Materials, patterns, colors come into being, formed from years of museum and gallery visits, of talking with other artists and looking at a lot of work. I think back to when President Obama said: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” The remark was taken out of context, of course, and became controversial. He prefaced that remark by saying that somebody helped you along the way, the American system helped you and allowed you to prosper – and so on. I feel the same way about my art career. I’ve worked very hard as an artist, but I know that all the artists around me, all the art before, has informed me, again, not in an academic or intellectual way, but underneath, sneaky almost.
From this vantage point, objects are formed, and yes, the process is real, whether a brush mark, a video image, a stitch on a fabric. Yet, before the real, the idea of marking a tree stump out of hair and fabric is an unfolding of my years of being an artist, of using stains on fabric to symbolize the scars on our skins, to using stuffed and stained fabric objects to hang from clotheslines to symbolize the wreckage of a human condition. For example, hair carries our DNA, which exists long after our death. The use of hair in The Last Tree installation exemplifies a human condition that exists even when an environment is destroyed.
Y: Hair creeps out many people. Do you intentionally want to repulse the audience?
R: Yes, I want to both repulse and attract. It’s the push and pull of hair that entices me, the ying-yang. Throughout history, hair has served as a mark of beauty, primarily with women, but also with men. It is a keepsake secreted into a locket or jewelry or pressed into a Bible or diary. Conversely, hair is repulsive. Consider the tendril on a dinner plate. What better than hair to represent a range of human conditions?
Detail from Question Of Beauty
Y: I heard that hair used to be considered precious before the modern age. Victorian women would save their own hair to make wigs, even jewelry, and mourning wreaths. Hair served as a tangible remembrance of someone. Somewhere along the modernization, we’ve lost the sense of considering hair precious, haven’t we? Is treating hair as one’s memento crucial to your work?
R: I am drawn to its polar opposition – the gorgeous head of hair equated to the wad plugging the drain. It’s a way of exploring the attraction-repulsion dynamic in many ways, one of which is of the unsullied beauty and innocence of youth, and what enduring implies in this context. I’ve kept my own bounty of hair, collecting it on a daily basis since 1998. I began forming it into doodles each day beginning in 2005. It became a diary, calligraphy of hair loss and subsequently, a loss of beauty, and then with the forming of the doodles, an aesthetic transformation, a new kind of beauty. This use of hair – as beauty lost and found – has been a major thesis in my work over the past ten years or so. In one exhibit at the Jersey City Museum, I displayed a large triptych where a year’s worth of hair doodles – 365 of them — were hand stitched over the same three blown-up photographs of me as an young child fading over time (see fig: Reingold_QuesOfBeauty). Women who had lost their hair through cancer treatments were deeply affected by the work, its capacity to transform hair loss into an aesthetic statement. I hope the use of hair as a symbol of humanity in the Last Tree installation has the same reaction with viewers.
Hair remains for me a most powerful medium, both metaphorically and literally. It contains our complete DNA and lives beyond our death. Adrian Piper in her piece “What will become of me,” has willed her hair (collected since 1985) to MOMA for this purpose.
Y: I was surprised to learn that you were primarily a painter until about 1995 when you encountered Eva Hesse’s work. Her wax-covered fabric hanging pieces are comparable to your “Hung Out to Dry” series, but yours have clearer social content, referencing to clotheslines ubiquitously found in the projects. Over the last eighteen years, how do you see your sculptural works developed, differently from Hesse’s, Louis Bourgeois, or even Mona Hatoum, all of whom you acknowledge as inspirations?
R: I should mention that it was not only Eva Hesse, but several other significant artists such as Ana Mendieta — she used many different mediums to focus on a variety of themes, feminism, life, death, and place. Petah Coyne is another. She was doing sculptural works with mud, sticks and wax. The mud and sticks pieces, her first big show in 1987 at the Sculpture Center, set her career in motion. I did not visit that show but saw her second show of wax chandeliers at Jack Shainman’s. It blew me away and I continue to follow her work. There are others – Tunga, an artist from Brazil. He experiments a lot with different mediums. Still another is Leonardo Drew, a sculptor who uses a 3-D grid projected from the wall in amazing ways. I realized all the work I was drawn to is sculptural or sculpture-like. These artists led me to rethink my direction and to experiment with a variety of materials. Eva Hesse was just the beginning. I believe I discovered her earlier than 1995, now that I think about it, coming upon her Fiberglas™ work just out of grad school. The others you name, Mona Hatoum and Louis Bourgeois, continue to impact me. Earlier in grad school, Elizabeth Murray inspired me to think of objects jutting from the canvas. I started to experiment in 1989 with fiberglass and projecting objects from the canvas and objects on the floor. I believe all these influences, too numerous to mention, are simply that, influences. I don’t think my work looks like any of their work. After years of being immersed in the art world milieu, I believe all artists strive for a singular voice. Whether they succeed or not is up to history to judge.
Y: Critics might see the elements of Surrealism in your work, in a sense that inanimate objects take on animate quality. Do you place your work in the legacy of Surrealism?
R: As I previously indicated, I think an artist is in debt to former art movements. I don’t put my work into the legacy of Surrealism. Though there are elements of my work that may have the feeling of a surrealist influence – the biomorphic shapes, inanimate objects taking on animate qualities – the connection ends there. I don’t consider myself a Surrealist.
Y: You’ve mentioned the importance of balancing the poetic and theoretical in your work. In case of The Last Tree, if the theoretical comes from the underlying concept of the environmental destruction, does the poetic come from the visceral use of organic materials?
R: That question kind of throws me. I listen to other artists come forth with these lovely articulate statements and I say, ‘Boy, I wish I said that.’ What I see is a balance between the socio-political and formal or aesthetic makeup of the work. The environment places the issue in my sight, then that instinctive jumble within me starts working on it. I like your use of poetic for what I consider the latter musing — the instinctive workings. Perhaps a visceral gut reaction comes forth as a poetic quality. I hope in the end result that my work elicits passionate reactions and not just theoretical contemplation.
Y: What are you thinking of creating next?
R: Two projects are in the works. One is “Hair Nests,” a continuation of the series on beauty and aging. It consists of twelve large drawings of trees each with a lone tree branch protruding from the drawing with one nest configured from a month of my hair loss. The nests will be larger than I originally anticipated for I’ve noticed more hair loss during a period in 2012 when I was ill. The second is “Luna Window,” which is part of my series on poverty. These are fabric ladder pieces set into crumbling windows, broadly stated, an attempt at escape from poverty. It is scheduled to open in September 2013 at AC Institute in Chelsea, NY.
Venezuela-born American Artist Babs Reingold creates alternate ambiguities with her wall art and installations. Current focuses are beauty, poverty and the environment.
Works from the “Beauty Series” are the more recent showings, including “I Have A Secret Wish,” University of Alabama’s Visual Arts Gallery and in 2011, the “Pulp” exhibit at Beta Pictoris Maus Contemporary Art, Birmingham AL. In Fall 2011, she created a special work for Miyako Yoshinaga Art Prospects in Chelsea for the “Till All is Green” Exhibition Benefit for Children Affected by the earthquake in Japan. Two works are in permanent museum collections, the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, Florida, and Newark Art Museum. The latter was chosen after she exhibited in the New Jersey Arts Annual.
Her wall art and a major installation, “Hung Out In The Projects,” earned a 2010 State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Poverty is personal and long-lived. Ms Reingold spent two-and-a-half years in a public housing project as a teenager. Her recent exhibits on this theme include the “Hung Out…” installation at the Morean Art Center, St. Petersburg; “Flesh Art,” Jersey City University, New Jersey; “Robes,” College of St Elizabeth, New Jersey, and “Media Mix: 4x” at Art Lot, Brooklyn, New York.
She has also exhibited during the past several years at the Art Center of Sarasota and Greene Gallery. Sarasota, Florida; Paul Robeson Galleries, Rutgers, New Jersey; Middlesex College, Edison, New Jersey, The Studio at 620, St Petersburg. Solo shows include galleries in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Savannah, Buffalo, and St. Petersburg; museum shows in Jersey City, Buffalo, Tampa, and Newark. She has works in countless private collections, including Savannah College of Art and Design.
Among other awards are three from Whitney curator Barbara Haskell, a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and patron awards from Michael Auping and Doug Schultz while they were respectively Curator and Director of the Albright-Knox Art Museum. Among her curatorial activities, Ms Reingold co-curated with Grace Roselli, a show at Franklin Furnace in Manhattan, titled “Voyeur’s Delight,” which motivated religious picketing at the White House.
Ms Reingold received a MFA from SUNY-Buffalo and BFA degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art. She has studios in the greater New York area and St. Petersburg.
About the Author:
Midori Yoshimoto is associate professor of art history and gallery director at New Jersey City University, who specializes in post-1945 Japanese art and its global intersections. Her publications include: Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York (Rutgers Univ. Press, 2005); entries in Yes Yoko Ono (Japan Society, 2000); an essay in Yayoi Kusama (Centre Pompidou, 2011); “From Space to Environment: The Origins of Kankyō and the Emergence of Intermedia Art in Japan” in College Art Association’s Art Journal (2008); and an essay in Gutai: “Splendid Playground” (Guggenheim, 2013). She guest-edited an issue on “Women and Fluxus” for the Women and Performance journal (Rutledge, 2009) and another special issue on “Expo ’70 and Japanese Art” for the Review of Japanese Culture and Society (Josai University, 2012). Yoshimoto has also served as a lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art, New York since 2004.
You may view more images of “The Last Tree” by Babs Reingold on her website: www.babsreingold.com
ISE Foundation: www.isefoundation.org
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Babs Reingold/Artist Interview
This material originated on the interactive Ancient Mediterranean Web site
(http://iamclassics.unc.edu). It is being used under the terms of IAM’s fair use policy.
Copyright 1998 Interactive Ancient Mediterranean
A “CLASSICAL ART” CELEBRATION
AT THE ADVENT OF SUMMER, 2013
An Art Historical Grand Tour of Ancient Mediterranean Cultures
by Dr. José Rodeiro, Art Editor
(Christie Devereaux, photo-documentor/image-researcher)
Usually, during times of affluence, acquisitiveness, and conspicuous consumption, art worlds (and art demimondes) thrive and bloom. The artistic opulence of the “Golden Age of Pericles,” the “Golden Age of Augustus,” the “High Renaissance,” the “Roaring ‘20s,” and “The 1960s,” all stand as prime examples of prosperous, historically viable, critically laudable, and aesthetically pithy “well-oiled” art worlds.
So it is that in the spring 2013, as employment figures rise, U.S. stock markets rally, and trickles of wealth reemerge in famished pockets, it is gratifying to observe the impending demise of the global bearish economic malaise, The Great Recession that has oppressed us far too long. Hopefully we are seeing the end of a protracted economic winter, and the resurgence of a healthier 21st Century contemporary art scene, one that is legitimate, that fosters and nurtures deserving and talented artists who come to it armed with true artistic ability. Thanks to the thaw, this long anticipated possibility seems each day more feasible, profitable, and on the verge of full realization.
Thus, it is a perfect time to suggest a celebratory and well-deserved art pilgrimage (“trekking” throughout late spring into the early summer of 2013) to visit both the Hellenic and Italo-Latin homes of many of the first great art historical cultural resurgences of the ancient Mediterranean world. In this journey, travelers will examine key examples of Mediterranean visual art in order to discover the Aegean and Archaic roots of Western Classicism, and ascertain how late-Classicism eventually sprouted divergent Hellenistic and Roman artistic vines, buds, and blossoms. This proposed “Classic” grand tour is the perfect reward for surviving the never-ending War-on-Terror, almost-ending “The Great Recession,” and a host of tenacious deadly mega-storms.
Hence, RAGAZINE’s somewhat optimistic Art Editor proposes another “soul-refreshing” grand tour. But, this time, going back “further” in time to explore ancient Greece and Rome, searching for the origins of Mediterranean classicism as well as concomitant Periclean and Augustan Golden Age “High-Classicism,” which has been often identified as the unplumbed anchor of all Western culture by an array of distinguished art historians and cultural-thinkers (i.e., Fr. Johann Joachim Wincklemann, Comte de Volney, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eugenio D’ Ors, Martin Heidegger, Sir Kenneth Clark, John Canaday, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Jacques Derrida and Alasdair MacIntyre). For example, while lecturing at the Ecole Normale Supérieur, Derrida, observed that Western civilization is preoccupied with determining a “center” as a normative ideal standard or model — a central core concept that furnishes a foundational base replete (“ideally”) with clear parameters (or boundaries) that serve(s) to restrict the amount (or degree) of possible variables, varieties, chance or play in relationship to what Derrida called “total form.”
As a result, Derrida argued that in the West, all philosophical thinking rises from either a confrontation with or against a core tenet (i.e. Western Classicism), or, on the other hand, during “Golden Ages” (“renaissances”), art and thought either return to, or maintain the central “tenet:” Classicism. In this same vein, in his shocking book, After Virtue (1981), the radical 21st Century Scottish thinker, Alasdair MacIntyre, suggests that classical traditions do more to support morality and ethics than most of the innovative social ideas generated during the 18th Century Enlightenment. In agreement with McIntyre, concerning Classicism’s intrinsic ethics and morality, is the early 19th Century pundit Count Constantin François de Chassebœuf (The Comte de Volney), who proclaimed that, “More than any other cultural force, the cult of Classical antiquity is responsible for the American and French Revolutions.”
Hence, the role of “Classicism” and the “Classical Traditions” in art and culture are sturdy guides for modern life and art as Fr. Johann Joachim Wincklemann advocated, seeing in Ancient Greek and Roman art something innately reassuring, noble yet simple, dignified and righteous. For Wincklemann, Apollonian Classicism afforded peacefulness, idealism, and control. In the 20th Century, Sir Kenneth Clark revealed that Classicism and Romanticism in artists of the first-rank always co-exist in degrees. Thus, renewed or recurrent classicism in the guise of Neo-Classicism is always a salient hallmark of a “Golden Age,” forever providing guiding aesthetic principles during any and all past and future “Renaissances.” This law of cultural revival is affirmed by such art-thinkers as G. W. F. Hegel, Heinrich Wolfflin, Alois Riegel, as well as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, who in 1941 in his book The Buildings of England, astutely calculated that, ‘Every phase in history has its style permeating all its productions, whether of fashion or finance, agriculture or architecture. . . [everything].”
The primary reason(s) justifying our pressing need for another grand-tour of Western art is found in the December 2012 issue of RAGAZINE, which furnished an illuminating article delineating rare art historical insights into the bold, inspired religio-artistic endeavors that marked the Hiberno-Saxon (“Celtic”) Renovatio of the 7th Century that nurtured The Frankish Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th Century. In that article (titled “The Gift of Art History”), RAGAZINE readers were treated to a grand-tour traversing Christendom from the British Isles to Rome and back again, visiting key locations, monuments, and artifacts directly associated with Western Europe’s triumph over the murky and barbaric forces of The Dark Ages, http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/12/a-gift-of-art-history/ . This winter 2012-2013 article was designed to reassure readers that civilization has often valiantly confronted chaotic and barbaric epochs (as in the first decade of this century), and by means of art, ingenuity, resilience and hard work, an unexpected revitalization and path forward miraculously emerged. Beat Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1958 described this “happening” in his prophetic poem “I Am Waiting” (from A Coney Island of the Mind), as “a rebirth of wonder”:
“… I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder … ”
No place on earth is more closely identified with an historical rebirth of wonder than the Classical Mediterranean world of Greece and Rome, commencing with the Cycladic Islands: Milos, Delos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini (Thera) and Amorgos, each of which divulges archaeological evidence of an ancient matriarchy via scores of abstract sculptures of lithe and slender triangular-headed women.
These Cycladic marble female funerary figurines are among the most abstract and startling images in western art, suggesting a possible primordial matriarchal culture that flourished throughout the Aegean Islands, between 2500 -1100 BCE. These statues of gaunt women, ranging in size from a few inches to three feet, are always found in burial sites, in which women (“priestess-queens”) were buried. Please note that male burials are rare, as are male Cycladic images, (although a few marble male musician figurines have been unearthed). The fact that men were not deemed worthy of burial implies a different societal structure. All of this is in accord with Robert Graves’s assessments (in The Greek Myths), which were based on his interpretation of ancient Greek texts and legends. Graves concluded that, with the exception of Crete and its colonies, powerful women ruled the Islands of the Aegean (both the Sporadic Islands and Cycladic Islands) around the third millennium BCE, before the arrival of the Bronze Age. Hence, with both Graves and Homer as guides, a trip to the Peloponnese to visit Mycenae is essential, followed by an “odyssey” to Crete.
Ordinarily, ancient Greek texts allude to Greek Bronze Age cultural events and personalities. These ancient authors convey historical information, which has valuable archaeological portent as proven by Heinrich Schliemann’s use of Homer’s epics to unearth Troy and Mycenae, in the 1870s and 1880s. In fact, a similar close reading of ancient epics and plays led to Christos Stamatakis’s discovery in 1878 of the Treasury of Atreus (1300 – 1200 BCE) just a few yards beyond Mycenea’s cyclopean walls. This marvelous find was the so-called “Tomb of Atreus,” which is very similar architecturally to the 3000 BCE Newgrange mound at Meath, Ireland. Both are early attempts at dome-making. Yet, Stamatakis’s Mycenaean royal tomb was probably not that of King Atreus, because the carbon-dates fall short of Atreus’s chronology. A significant text on this type of archaeological scholarship is Emily Vermeule’s Myth and Tradition from Mycenae to Homer, Studies in the History of Art # 32 (1991), 98 – 121.
But close-reading of old epics and mythological legends are not the only useful methods for attaining clues about ancient art history. For example, specific ceramic styles have been used in Aegean art history to determine precise time periods. Usually, these clay objects derive from cemeteries, which help determine exact dates. Among the finest examples are Kamares Ware from the Middle Minoan II Period, e,g., the famous “Old Palace” bird-beaked clay jug, decorated with abstract images of aquatic fauna and open-shell crustaceans (1850 – 1700 BCE), using blackish red-brown and yellowish-gold pigments. Its unique blackish-red button-like eye distinguishes this piece, which is almost a foot high.
The swelling shape of the jug’s form animates its bird-like features. Minoan vessels of this type are found in great number in and around the “old palaces” of Phaestos and Knossos. But, chiefly such ornate water-jugs are found far away from the Mediterranean Sea, on Mount Ida in the exact center of Crete, within the Kamaras Grotto, which was used for the sacred burial of Minoan royalty. Thus, the pots were used as part of Minoan funerary practices and rituals. Ida was the highest point on the island, and was deemed a divine mountain: the realm of the early Cretan gods. Fearing drowning even after death, the Minoans favored “on-land” burial, accounting for their selection of Mount Ida’s high-ground for royal-interment.
More than any other ancient imagery with the exception of Indian art, Minoan art always displays energetic vigor and vitality. By way of illustration, consider the famous Toreador Fresco c. 1500 BCE, from the Palace of Knossos, Crete, which despite its small size 24 ½ inches in height exudes enthusiastic élan. Even though, the work was undoubtedly retouched by the heavy-hand of Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th Century, there is still something of zestful liveliness in its “animation.” The scene depicts the central court of Knossos, where acrobatic taurokathapsia (“bull-jumping”) is taking place. This event functioned as a coming of age ritual in which youthful aristocratic debutantes (bull leapers) of both sexes danced almost naked with precarious Cretan bulls, before a vast Cretan audience, including the leaper’s proud parents and friends, who anxiously watched the daring spectacle.
After the Dorian invasion as well as the chaos of the Sea Peoples’ marauding, the dismal Doric Dark Age of the 9th and 8th Century produce peculiar and eerie primitive abstract Geometric Art. Luckily, for Greece, a luxuriant Orientalizing Phase arrived with the influx of the adroit and imaginative Ionian (“Aryan”) invaders who soon developed two significant proto-Classical styles: the Archaic, which by 500 BCE evolved into the Severe Style — the true artistic forerunner of the Classical.
During the Archaic period from c.800-500 BCE, rigid free-standing stone sculptures appear depicting specific male personages, who, by means of these (approximately six-foot-tall) austere stone-sculptures were being venerated and memorialized. The nude male sculpture is known as a kourus or plural kouroi (meaning “youths”) and female sculptures are called kore or plural korai (meaning “maidens). These statues are directly influenced by Egyptian Old Kingdom standing sculptures. Within Attican graveyards (i.e., Keratea, Anavysos, Dipylon, etc.), both male and female statues were placed on pedestals. Nude male sculptures had one-foot striding forward in the Egyptian manner. These works were used to commemorate as well as mark the location of a deceased person’s exact burial spot, which the statue obliquely, mystically, personified. Archaic sculpted women are always fully dressed in a peplos and inert, not striding, but also identify burial locations of specific women, or were used inside temples devoted to a specific goddess as representations of that particular deity. Some statues indicated the entrance to a temple or a tomb. Most importantly, Archaic sculptures’ facial features have many characteristics that evolve into typical Classical visages of human beauty, including the famous thought-provoking Archaic smile, almond shaped eyes, bridgeless “Apollonian” noses, high cheekbones, and other marks of alluring and exceptional Classic facial beauty. Also, the stone sculptures were brightly polychromed; but, over time, rain and weather erased the color. Hence, at night under moonlight and starlight, these stiff cold statues standing silent in cemeteries looked like ghosts.
The High Classical style is best exemplified by the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens, which stands as one of the greatest monuments of Greek art. Built using marble from nearby Mount Pentelicus under the careful supervision of the sculptor Pheidias, as well as the architect Iktinos of Elis and the engineer Kallikrates. It was constructed during the Golden Age of Pericles in 448-432 BCE. However, Pheidias did not use Pentelic marble on the sculptures; because (with the exception of the enormous gold and ivory cult statue of the goddess Athena), he and his workshop’s extensive sculptural decorations were carved using Parinian marble from the Cycladic Island of Paros. After the structure was complete, the sculptures were placed on the building; and then, each sculpture was realistically painted. This polychroming include the figures on both pediments, the metope reliefs, the Ionic inner frieze, and most importantly (also hued in tempera) the gigantic gold and ivory cult statue of the Virgin Goddess Athena (Goddess of Wisdom), from which the building gets its name: “parthenos,” meaning “virgin.”
Oddly enough, the building was not a “temple,” because it lacked an altar and priestesses. Rather, it was intended as a unique quasi-religious warehouse. The building was designed to function as a treasure house (bank). It contained vast assortments of precious objects; each item was inventoried on marble steles that identified wealthy individuals, who kept their treasures in ornamented crate-like deposit boxes, within and behind the large cult statue and along the walls of the inner cella. The cult statue, covered in sheets of gold and ivory with inlaid precious stones as ornaments, itself was the most valuable object in the “temple.” But, it was not the most sacred venerated object on the Acropolis. That honor fell to the ancient wooden statue of Athena that had fallen from heaven, and the ancient sacred tree. These two highly esteemed objects were maintained by priests of the nearby Erechtheion Temple, which was designed by the architect Mnesikles (430 – 405 BCE).
ANCIENT AEGEAN ART
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/ancient-aegean-art/thumbs/thumbs_cycladic_idol_021.jpg]130A Cycladic Woman figurine (Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens), marble, Paros, Greece.c. 2600 BCE
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/ancient-aegean-art/thumbs/thumbs_kamares_ware_jug.jpg]120Minoan Kamares Ware Jug from Crete, 2000 BCE (the fat bird-shaped vase). Archeological Museum, Iraklion, Crete, Greece.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/ancient-aegean-art/thumbs/thumbs_knossos_taurokathapsia.jpg]70Knossos Toreador Fresco Late-Minoan, Crete. C.1450 BCE, 24 ½" high
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/ancient-aegean-art/thumbs/thumbs_treasury_of_atreus_mycenae1.jpg]140Outside of the Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae, Greece, c. 1300 BCE
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/ancient-aegean-art/thumbs/thumbs_treasuryatreusinterior-11.jpg]110Inside the Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae, Greece, c. 1300 BCE
The Parthenon does not have a single straight line; from every angle it either curves or tapers. These unusual linear adjustments were designed throughout the building by Iktinos in order to fool the eye of on-lookers, into seeing the building from a distance as something perfectly squared — at exact right angles. He did these calculated distortions of perception, because he desired something idealized; Iktinos did not trust the false illusion of ocular perspective. In this, he was like the classical sculptors, who attempted anatomical idealization. In certain ways, regarding the falsity of perception, Iktinos is similar to Plato. For example, in Book 3 and Book 10 of The Republic, Plato was generally suspicious of all forms of mimetic art, distrusting human sensory empiricism, believing that mathematics afforded greater awareness of “pure (ideal) forms,” which alone, for him, were categorically “truly” real in his mind’s eye. But, despite Iktinos’s tricks, Plato would have questioned the reality of anything that was merely physical, including an architectural structure like the Parthenon.
The theme of most of the decorations is either, 1) the struggle between Poseidon and Athena over the control of the Acropolis, or 2) zealous pro-Pericles propaganda. This war between the gods is illustrated in the west pediment and in the “Battle between Lapiths and Centaurs” on the metopes. The other key theme is the “Greater Panathenea Festival,” (although it was an ancient rite), in the 5th Century BCE it took on a new meaning, celebrating the 479 BCE victory of Athens over the Persians, at Salamis. The Athenians claimed divine intervention as the cause of their victory and offered homage, in the form of a ritual processions to dress the wooden cult statue of Athena in the Erechtheion Temple with a new peplos (every four years). This quadrennial parade is depicted on the Ionic frieze, within the Parthenon’s portico. While the east pediment’s “Birth of Athena,” correlates to the fact that the festival was held on her birthday (July 28), occurring precisely one month after the summer solstice (June 28). Significantly, July 28 was the original date of the Attic “New Year” as well as the date of Athena’s birth — when she popped-out, fully armored, from her father Zeus’s head, after it was cracked open by her stepbrother Hephaistos’s hammer.
The giant cult statue also played a role during the 28 day mid-summer thanksgiving festivities (a divine birthday party), when precious gifts were given to the colossal effigy of the goddess. Pericles added musical contests in 446 BCE in the Odeum theater, that he built for these Panatheneaic concerts. Sporting events also were a traditional part of the extensive celebrations. The 2nd Century Greek author of tour-guides for Roman tourists, Pausanius provides the best descriptions of ancient Greek architectural sights and monuments, since he visited them before their ruin. The Parthenon was destroyed in the 17th Century CE, during a Venetian bombardment of the then Turkish controlled Acropolis. During the earlier Byzantine Period, the cult statue had been taken to Constantinople, where it accidentally perished in a fire.
The Greek artistic ideals were not restricted merely to architecture; sculpture also was a vehicle for ingenuity and integrity. The sublime 4th Century BCE sculptures of Praxiteles set a high standard for ideal beauty in art. His greatest masterpiece, Hermes and the Infant Dionysus was found in 1875 amidst the collapsed rubble of the Temple of Hera, Olympia. In this dazzling work, Hermes, the messenger of Zeus, carries the newly born god Dionysus (God of Lust, Concupiscence, Orgies, Fertility, Wine, Chaos, Drugs, Beer, etc.) to his aunt and adopted mother Demeter (Goddess of Nature, and sister of Zeus). Hermes is conveying the baby to her, because Demeter has been asked by Zeus to raise his new son Dionysus. The child had recently popped out of Zeus’s inner thigh. This immaculate birth (i.e., similar to the birth of the goddess Athena) is actually a reincarnation as a god of Dionysus’s human mother Semele.According to Graves, the myth goes something like this: Semele, a mortal princess, had fallen in love with Zeus while he was disguised as a mere mortal (in order to seduce her). Recklessly, Semele desired to love him fully and completely. But, his spouse, the divine Hera (“Olympia”) discovered their adulterous love and was determined to end it. Therefore, Semele was cleverly fooled by Zeus’s jealous wife/sister Hera (Queen of Heaven) into asking Zeus to reveal his full divinity when next they made love.
Knowing this would kill the mortal Semele, the divine Hera convinced the foolish girl to request Zeus’s unqualified omnipotence at their next tryst. Thus, through Hera’s bad council, Semele was obliterated, eliminating her as a rival for Zeus’s affections. Semele, having been incinerated during this sexual encounter with the supreme god Zeus, managed to impregnate the god; when in grief, he had torn open his flesh at the thigh with a golden knife and placed her ashes within as his tears fell on them, then sewing the wound shut with golden thread. Nine months later, a baby was born. In order to protect the child from Hera, Hermes was asked to wisp the infant away to live with his Aunt Demeter.
Another version (in myths, there are always several versions) claims that Semele’s human daughter Ino was the indentured recipient of child Dionysus. In this reading, this older sister of Dionysus raised the baby until she died. Then Hermes again was sent by Zeus to transport the child to be nurtured by nymphs on Mount Nysa, who taught him to prefer exaggerated extremes and chaos. In another versions of the myth, the child was given to the Hyades of Dodoma (the goddesses of rain and moisture), who brought up the child hidden in a cave for fear of Hera, whose vindictive jealousy was insatiable. It is interesting (and ironic) to think that this stunning sculpture about Semele’s divine son was found buried beneath the Temple of Hera, which was demolished by an earthquake that sadly devastated Olympia, Greece.
On a cosmic-scale, Dionysus, as well as other related Olympians (Demeter, Persephone, and Apollo) served the religious needs of ancient Greek society, by revealing life’s perpetual struggles between contrary forces: good/evil, life/death, joy/suffering, etc. Through their conspicuous roles in highly anticipated calendar feasts, Dionysus and other gods and goddesses offered ancient Greeks constant divine fortitude for solving intricate cosmic conflicts. By their supernatural actions and use of certain hallucinogens, foods, fruits and drinks, Dionysus, Demeter, Persephone and Apollo and others supported and maintained human sustenance, political and religious order, as well as a host of essential requirements throughout the universe. For the Greeks, the gods realized their cosmic responsibilities by differentiating their duties, e.g., cultivating Demeter, spring-bringing Persephone, brilliant Apollo, as well as chaotic Dionysus. And this same designation of cosmic tasks can be applied to other Olympian gods and goddesses. Greek cultures established specific ritual events that required the sacramental use of certain libations and foods, such as, the use of ambrosial drugs within Dionysian festivals at Delphi and at Athens, as well as their relationship to mysterious and enigmatic mysteries and rituals of Eleusis, associated with the goddess Demeter.
As the divine embodiment of certain hallucinogens, foods, and drinks, Dionysus played either a small ‘indirect’ role or a major ‘direct’ role within several Ancient Greek calendar celebrations. He is central to the autumnal New Year “Ambrosia” at Delphi and he appears in the ‘mystery’ festivals of at Eleusis (a sacred observance of ‘preparations for spring’ conducted in September), and in Athens, he is paramount in the spring “Greater Dionysia” (Whitney 14). At places like Delphi, ancient Greeks revitalized and preserved life through drug-based rituals that were fundamental to Dionysian worship (Schultes and Hofmann 88), which required the use of certain hallucinogens, foods, and drinks, which helped to spark an awakening awareness of crucial psycho-binaries or psychic-dualism(s), as well as nurturing other sublime or deep insights about the nature of existence, which permeated Greek life, as well as their art (particularly music and theatre).
PRE-CLASSICAL & CLASSICAL ART
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_kore_sculpture.jpg]290Kore from the Acropolis Archaic period (600 â 480 BCE) A detail of a Kore figure, 4' tall.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_vintaging_maenads_and_satyrs.jpg]380Maenads and Satyrs Romping in a Vineyard, Black-figure ceramic illustration (6th Century BCE), Cabinet des Medailles, Paris, France.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_satyr_maenad_and_a_goat-2.jpg]440Amasis Painter. Dionysus, Satyr, & Maenad, Black-figure ceramic decorations
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_the_parthenon_in_athens2.jpg]240The Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece, 447-432 BCE. Marble.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_calliope.jpg]240Achilles Painter, Female Musician, White-ground lekythos, ceramic, c. 450 BCE
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_satyrnymph1.jpg]580Detail of a mosaic mural of Satyr with Maenad from Pompeii, National Museum of Archeology, Naples.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/pre-classical-amp-classical-art/thumbs/thumbs_hermes_and_infant_dionysus.jpg]200Praxiteles, Hermes with Infant Dionysus, 7â1â Marble, Archeological Museum, Olympia. 4th Century BCE. c.335 BCE.
The first clue into the nature of post-Ionian Archaic Greek cultural aspirations (according to Robert Graves) is revealed in the frenzied sexuality of the maenads, wood nymphs, satyrs, centaurs, and other followers of Dionysus, who consistently used various Mediterranean magic mushrooms, as well as psychoactive plants like belladonna, and aphrodisiacal mandrake root, as well as fermented libations (wine, beer, ivy-ale, etc.) (Schultes and Hofmann 86 – 89). The maenads within the orgiastic cult of Dionysus, who ran wild through Delphic and Attic forests with dilated flashing eyes flinging themselves upon men, animals, children, plants and trees in order to ravish them, tearing them apart and then eating them. The maenads were under the influence of wine adulterated by belladonna juice (deadly nightshade) (88). In Euripides’s The Bacchae (or The Bacchants), the 5th Century BCE dramatist examines in detail this bizarre and berserk maenadical rampage as something not out of the ordinary as a Dionysian inspired bucolic female phenomena in post-Ionian Greece. This play inspired Friedrich Nietzsche to dig deeper hunting for the roots of Western art. However, the validity of Nietzsche’s numerous Pre-Classical suppositions and assumptions are often dismissed or questioned by 21st Century academics, who “thoughtlessly” favor facts over imagination.
Nevertheless, in the Birth of Tragedy (1888), Nietzsche draws our attention to unique binary phenomena, which he calls the “Dionysian” and the “Apollonian” (20). Nietzsche offers that in the persona of the great god Dionysus (god of drugs, mushrooms, wine, beer, ivy, and other intoxicants), ancient Greeks devised a “wild” supernatural agent that they relied upon to enhance the quality and energy of their lives, needs, and desires. Dionysus along with his drugs, and other edibles played the ‘resurrected-god’ role at Delphi in autumn, performing prominent ‘spring-duties’ in Athens, as well as being associated with autumnal regenerative spring-rites at Eluesis.
From its archaic inception c. 600 BCE, Greek theatre derived from rural comic satyr plays, a form of proto-theater, which consisted of repetitious parodies of feral interactions between satyrs and maenads (Hamilton 57) mimicking their wine-induced as well as drug-induced sexual pursuits, romps, and games. These proto-plays were acted-out, cavorted, or executed as dithyrambic choral-dances were performed around a thumele (an altar) of Dionysus in the center of an orchestra (“a place for dancing”) (Nietzsche 62). Young male actors played the gambol-roles of both the maenads and satyrs.
Since this dance commemorating Dionysus took place around an altar upon which a goat was sacrificed, correspondingly the chorus was called the goat-singers (“tragos khoros”), and their ritualistic song was called the goatsong (τραγούδι) tragudi. Hence, the Greek word “goat” tragos is the source of the word “tragedy” (Shanker 298), as kṓmē (meaning rural-village) is the source of the word “comedy.” In ancient Greek, the term tragedy originally meant “he-goat song.” Usually, this “he-goat concert” was performed before an audience that sat on an accommodating graduated slope of a hill (a theatron – “a seeing-place”), overlooking the assembled narcissistic, histrionic, and exhibitionistic romping of ritual-revelers chanting and dancing in the orchestra (Sir Paul Harvey The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, 1946 – 422). In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche suggests that repetitive dithyrambic choral-dances emulated the sounds of natural phenomena (62) and were used to excite the spectators into states of frenzied rapture just before the hero Dionysus would abruptly enter the swelling scene (66) to usher in the feverishly exciting komos: the wild, hysterical orgiastic “carousing” and “reveling” that culminated the goat-play’s final “orgasmic” climactic moment.
An important part of this euphoric and divine komos “earthly” cosmology is the Ionian Aryan religio-cultural connection between two indistinguishable “god-men:” Dionysus and the Hindu divinity Krishna. The links between Dionysus and Krishna are essential to understanding the Greek world, the Roman world, and Western Civilization. In his book Ploughing the Clouds, Peter Lamborn Wilson discovers similarities between secret ritualized European “Soma” ceremonies and those described in the ancient Rig Veda (1500 BC), demonstrating how Greek Ionian Indo-Europeans represent a continuation of Hindu-Aryan psychedelic (or “entheogenic”) shamanic practices.
Satyrs were uniquely identified with the worship of Dionysus, which demanded ecstatic sexual revelry, accompanied by wine, beer, ivy-ale, leaves of the atropa-belladonna plant (“deadly-nightshade”), henbane seeds, and the mildly hallucinogenic dung-mushroom (panaolus papilionaceus) as well as a powerful hallucinogen — the Mediterranean magic-mushroom (amanita muscaria) (Graves Greek Myths volume 1, 9). Graves includes amanita muscaria in the recipe for Delphic ambrosia in the essay “What Food the Centaurs Ate?” (Graves Steps. 319-343).
“This mushroom, named amanita muscaria – popularly ‘fly agaric’ – has now been proven by Gordon Wasson’s detailed examination of the Vedic hymns (written in Sanskrit about the time of the Trojan War), to have been the Food of the Gods. It is there named ‘Soma’. That it is also ‘Ambrosia’ and ‘Nectar’ (both these words mean “immortal”) which were famous as the food and drink of the Greek Olympian gods.” (Graves. Difficult Questions 96)
Yet, Nietzsche argues that the frenzied ultra-natural frolicking of satyrs and maenads was artistically systematized and stylized in comens (rural areas) into nascent forms of proto-theater, which in time evolved into ‘Tragedy’ (Walter Kaufmann’s Introduction to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy 11-17). These satyr-rituals also developed into theological and liturgical komos (orgies) that marked the autumnal new year (the “Ambrosia Festival”) at Delphi, and then later shepherded in spring in Athens during the “Greater Dionysia” (Campbell 183-184). So great was Dionysus’s identification with spring that at Eleusis, he was associated via his aunt Demeter and half-sister/cousin Persephone with the Eleusinian Mysteries (Graves 105). Since, drops of his sacred blood generated pomegranate fruits, which were sacramentally used in the early-September duo harvest festivals and ‘hope-for-spring’ ceremonies known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. (Campbell 58-59). Of course, the deepest insights into these rituals were provided by Károly Kerényi in his seminal book on the subject: Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (1962).
ETRUSCAN & ROMAN ART
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_villa-dei-misteri1.jpg]180Pompeii Murals: details from âRed Roomâ of the The Villa of the Mysteries of Dionysus Murals, Pompeii, fresco, 50 BCE
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_villa-dei-mysteri1.jpg]240Pompeii Murals: details from âRed Roomâ of the The Villa of the Mysteries of Dionysus Murals, Pompeii, fresco, 50 BCE
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_satyrnymph1.jpg]290Detail of a mosaic mural of Satyr with Maenad from Pompeii, National Museum of Archeology, Naples.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_pompeii-fresco-pasquius-proculus-his-wife-331.jpg]620Wall painting: Portrait of the Married Couple, Pompeii, Mid-1st Century CE. 25" H.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_imagescah5mia4.jpg]200Wall painting: Portrait of a Young Woman writing, Pompeii, Mid-1st Century CE.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_ceverteri_tomb.jpg]120Reclining Couple Sarcophagus from Cerveteri, Terracotta, 6’7”, Villa Giulia Museum, Rome, Italy, 520 BCE
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_arapacisfullfrontal.jpg]150Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace), marble. Rome, 9 BCE, 34’ 5” H. Rome, Italy.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_300px-romaarapacis_processionenordparticolare1.jpg]240Detail of Imperial Procession from Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace), marble. Rome, 9 BCE, 34’ 5” H. Rome, Italy.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_roman_theater_benevento.jpg]120Roman Theatre in Benevento, Italy.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/etruscan-amp-roman-art/thumbs/thumbs_traianos_arch.jpg]80Arch of Trajan, Via Appia, 114 CE, Benevento, Italy.
In harmony with Nietzsche’s ideas on the emergence of archaic theatre, as an inherent part of Ionian Pantheistic religion, ancient Greeks preserved the dichotomous nature of their gods and their myths: proffering key binaries: life/death, day/night, light/dark/ order/chaos, good/evil, etc., which identified dual spiritual predisposition(s) within Grecian theology, society, art and culture. For example, the cosmic juxtaposition at Delphi and Athens of the calm, logical, and perfect Apollo (god of Beauty, Poetry, Divine Inspiration (Illumination), Radiance and the Sun) and his half-brother, the inebriated, illogical, and chaotic Dionysus (god of Lustful Sex, Drugs, Wine, Beer, Orgies and Folly) (Campbell 183-184).
Nowhere is this duality between Dionysian madness and Apollonian sanity more evident than at Delphi, where both Apollo and Dionysus were worshiped (Easterling and Muir 135), for Dionysus’ tomb was allegedly beneath Apollo’s adyton inside the Great Temple of Apollo at Delphi (135). In the Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer describes that, “ The body of Dionysus was buried at Delphi beside the golden statue of Apollo and his tomb bore the inscription, ‘Here lies Dionysus dead, the son of Semele’”(Frazer 274). Hence, both gods were closely associated with each other. For example, each fall near the sacred precinct of Apollo at Delphi on Mount Parnassus’s plateau of Mamaria (95), thousands of pilgrim-worshipers marked the ancient Greek new year’s celebration (“Ambrosia Festival”) of Dionysus, during the months when Apollo abandoned Delphi (each October and November) either pushed out by Dionysus, or voluntarily leaving to visit the Hyperborean Titans. Overcome by the excitement of the fall new year festival, even the Oracle of Delphi temporarily switched her allegiance, during this Delphic celebration commemorating Dionysus’s death by dismemberment at the hands of the Titans (under Hera’s orders).
Dionysus died shedding his blood for mankind, which sprouted into the first pomegranate fruits (Graves Greek Myths. Volume 1 103-4). Then Dionysus was revitalized/rejoined through the intersession of his grandmother Rhea, who once again hid him with his aunt Demeter and cousin Persephone, making them Dionysus’s protectors from the wrath of Hera. Because he had been gravely weakened by his death, suffering from amnesia, Demeter and Persephone re-taught him agriculture and (as a tribute to his courage in relearning all that he had lost) the goddesses adopted the pomegranate as their sacred symbolic-fruit.
After regaining his agricultural skills, Dionysus used his re-acquired abilities to create plants and mushrooms that provided greater awareness. Wine-production and beer-making are rural activities, which were first taught by Dionysus to Greek satyr-totem peoples and centaur-totem people according to Robert Graves (Greek Myths 9). In gratitude, the rural (comen) cultures invented performances to entertain their divine benefactor. Dionysus then enhanced their rural primitive efforts, perfecting the satyr plays by expanding the farmer’s awareness through drugs and other inebriants. Soon this primal theatrical invention of comedy turned into drama; and then when it reached the great urban centers, it slowly grew as an art form, eventually becoming a high art. Nowhere was this elevated level of artistic excellence more glorious than in Athens, particularly during the Greater Dionysia.
The Greater Dionysia was an urban festival held in Athens for a week during the ancient Greek month of Elaphebolion (late March to early April). It included a parade and contests for the best theatrical performances. Along with Athenian citizens crowding the parade route and the theatres, this religious festival attracted countless pilgrims from both Attica and other Hellenic regions who gathered to watch the Dionysiac parade from Lenaeon to the Acropolis. The city of Athens would be splendidly festooned using decorations of Ionion white and gold. This festival was used to mark the advent of spring, where Dionysus the god of fertility, wine, beer, lust, drugs (the amanita muscaria mushroom) and chaos would be worshipped as the liberator of life from the bondage of winter.
Only the priest and priestesses were permitted to savor ambrosia. Revelers including priests, priestesses and other devotees of the Dionysian mysteries disguised themselves as his pastoral entourage playing the roles of salacious maenads, satyrs, and other inebriated woodland folk as they marched in a celebratory procession carrying a wooden polychrome statue of the god Dionysus from his official temple within the Athenian suburb of Lenaeon to his small temple-shrine on the Athenian Acropolis. During the procession and especially in the performances, males took on the guise of both satyrs and maenads, as well as performing both male-roles and female-roles in plays.
All along the parade route garlands of spring flowers would be thrown before the god’s statue, while spectators and revelers (primarily priests and priestesses of his cult) would imbibe liberal amounts of wine, ivy ale, beer, and ambrosia (containing ground amanita muscaria and other ingredients). Various choruses of young boys marched singing dithyrambs, while musical bands played joyful tunes. The procession ended at the small shrine of Dionysus on the Acropolis where the statue would be temporarily enshrined for six days.
After the annual ritual consecration of the statue, the glory of the festival would begin on the southern slopes of the Acropolis both at the Odeum Theatre and the Dionysian Theatre (Whitney 13-17). The new tragedies, comedies, and satyr plays would take place with lavish expenditure, on three consecutive days. At the end of the event, a board of judges would award prizes for the best plays in their respective categories as well as government officials awarding public honors to deserving politicians and citizens who had done great service to the state (14). These public awards were done at this time in order to take advantage of the enormous crowds who had gathered to see the plays. At the end of the festival, a torchlight parade returned the wooden cult-statue to its home in the Temple of Lenaeon (Campbell 241 and 324).
Before the festival, play rehearsals, theatrical set buildings for the plays and other preparations for both processions and all theatrical events, filled Athens with the energy of spring (Michael Cacoyannis introduction to Euripides’ The Bacchae vii – ix). But, the fact that merely small handful of plays by great playwrights survived antiquity – (i.e., Aeschylus (525-456 BC), Sophocles (c. 497-405 BC), Euripides (c. 485-406 BC), and Aristophanes (c. 448-385 BC) – nevertheless, what has survived (for the most part) results from “The Greater Dionysia,” which makes this “racy” feast worthy of recognition today by anyone who has ever been touched by any comedy or tragedy. Thus, we owe a great debt of gratitude to this wild Athenian festival: “The Greater Dionysia.”
Demeter raised her nephew Dionysus, and twice trained him in the arts of agriculture (first as a child and again after his Titanic assassination. As the goddess of grains (e.g., millet, wheat, rye and corn, etc.), Demeter knew that the ergot-fungus that fed as a parasite on grains was capable of engendering potent hallucinations. In this light, David Stuart claims that these nascent forms of ergot-based LSD were provided during secret sacramental Eleusinian communions invoking the Goddess (187). Dionysus also participated at the autumnal harvest-festival/”hope-of-spring” rites at Eluesis, since drops of his sacrificial blood generated the red pomegranate fruit. It is significant that the enigmatic secret nature of Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece also derived from the fact that “red-colored” foods were generally considered taboo (Frazer 205-207). Greek laws forbade public consumption of all red-juicy foods. Red foods were associated with divine sanctions against drinking human blood and other forms of cannibalism, which had purportedly dominated primeval Greece, especially throughout ancient matriarchal island-cultures on the Sporades and Cyclades archipelagos, although long after the Dorian invasion, King Tantalus, the maenads, the Minotaur, and others continued to consume human flesh.
Beyond their Dionysian origins, throughout the ancient Mediterranean, pomegranates are identified as sacred feminine symbols, which are associated with several goddesses of agriculture, from the pomegranate’s namesake Pomona (Roman Goddess of Fruits and Fruit Trees) (Bulfinch 77) to Demeter (Greek Goddess of Nature, Vegetation, and Fecundity) (Mikalson 118 119). As a preparation for ‘Spring’ in ‘Fall,’ Demeter’s nocturnal Eleusinian Mysteries provided two enigmatic mystic September festivals, involving an annual cyclical Chthonic “capture” and Earthly “release” of Demeter’s, beloved daughter Persephone. (Baring and Cashford 69-76). These rituals were performed in late summer and early-fall as harvest-home ceremonies guaranteeing the eventual return of spring (in seven months), as well as ensuring next-year’s plentiful harvest. These mysteries secured nature’s future bounty and abundance (Mikalson 195 – 196).
During these two ‘dark’ Eleusinian ceremonies, pomegranates, cherries, and water were used as religious symbols, connoting Persephone’s winter rape, as well as her Chthonic subjugation by her uncle Hades and then her joyous spring reunion with her mother Demeter, who arranged Persephone’s ‘liberty’ (Baring and Cashford 374-385). Since, Persephone was fathered by Zeus (the supreme Olympian god) (42-43), Demeter was able to negotiate with Zeus for their daughter’s annual temporary (spring-to-fall) freedom from the Underworld, by convincing Zeus to restrict Hades’s sexual access to their daughter, confining her only in the Underworld in winter (Mikalson 192-193). In this light, pomegranates and cherries conceivably symbolize Persephone’s maidenhead and are emblematic of her tragic demise into cosmic sexual-bondage, resulting from her loss of sublime innocence and freedom.
Dame Edith Hamilton describes how poor “inculpable” Uncle Hades was unwittingly provoked to rape his niece by the bloom and scent of the narcissus plant, which innocent Persephone had just picked (Hamilton 50). Hades was entranced by the aroma. Due to that seductive flower’s aphrodisiac enticements, the narcissus caused Hades to sexually crave intercourse with his niece (50). Along with various fruits and grains (50), the narcissus was also used sacramentally (as an aphrodisiac) in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Romans wisely renamed the Greek goddess Persephone: “Kora” as well as “Libera” (Liberty). The Roman goddess Ceres (Goddess of Existence and Subsistence), represented the Latin version of “Demeter.” Hence, the Greek “Demeter” is the Roman “Ceres.”
In fall, Romans participated in mother-daughter ceremonies celebrating Ceres and Libera/Kora, a Latin version of the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, occasionally substituting cherries (cerezas) for pomegranates. Nevertheless, in Homer’s Hymn of Demeter, the pomegranate is the very fruit by which Persephone is naively tempted, because she was forced by Hades to eat seven pomegranate seeds, which binds her to him for 1/3 of the year: late-fall and winter. Beyond its obvious bright red color, the real significance of the pomegranate is its affinity with Dionysus’s sacrificial blood and his Delphic new year resurrection from death, which serves as a perfect metaphor within the symbol of the pomegranate for spring’s resurgence.
Also, important is the pomegranate’s shape and internal structure, furnishing a unique ‘unity in diversity,’ reconciling a multitude of diverse elements within an apparent unity. Thus, the bitter-sweetness that ensues from Persephone’s Eve-like bite, which seals creation’s cosmic eternal dualities (e.g., Death/Life; Winter/Spring, or Stagnation/Renewal (“rebirth:” primavera), which is apparent in the barren/abundant seasonal cycles that brings about a sense of balance and atonement between the mother figure (Demeter) and incestual rapist/victim lover-figure(s): Hades and Persephone. Via the Dionysian as well as the Hadean chthonic connections associated with the pomegranate as a symbol of “death” / “resurrection” / “life,” Persephone exists in extreme juxtapositions between this world and the next (Chthonia: “the underworld”), which generally make Persephone’s use of red-juicy fruits a precious permanent staple of artistic expression, poetic allegories, and ancient transcultural Mediterranean religious rituals. The eating of pomegranates (as well as cherries) represents profoundly beatific experiences, divulging the godlike sweetness of nature’s sensory world. Yet, even these sensations are theologically and socially tied to the Greek insistence on duality; especially when you consider that in ancient Greece all red juicy fruits were suspect, poor etiquette, or illegal (Frazer 205-210); despite their divine derivations or because of them. For Greeks, even food incorporated stark binary implications.
This need for strong contrasts in Greek socio-religious life is also manifested in their art, where Nietzsche observed a psychological need for strong contrasts and conflicts, manifesting sublime dualities and primordial binaries. For example, with its dichotomous roots in the Delphic “Ambrosial Feast” and Athens’s “Greater Dionysia” celebration, in the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche presents two contrasting psychological tendencies that affect art and perhaps human nature: the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian.” In relationship to his analysis of Richard Wagner’s operas, Nietzsche contrasts these two archaic qualities in the following manner: the Apollonian conjures a dream state wherein art provides clarity, boundaries, conformity, an exterior façade and reflection.
In every way, Apollonian art relies on rationality, restraint, excellence of form, purity, perfection, completion/finish and design (Nietzsche 17-20). Contrarily, Dionysian artistic expression arises from extreme exhilaration, excessive passion, instinctual natural awareness, as well as innate perception(s). Dionysian art derives simultaneously from irrational conflicting contradictory experiences that bind opposites, e.g., great joy and great sorrow. Dionysian art fosters unexpected emotive juxtapositions, which allows art to be both odd and extraordinary, providing an absurd unity in diversity of all things. In this aspect, Dionysian art is anti-egotistical, because it disposes all boundaries and rules. Like Lorca’s duende, the Dionysian impulse is not concerned with form but with the marrow of form, representing art as itself (merging a human-artist fully with his/her work) – “creation made act” (Lorca Search of Duende 23). [Also, research this URL: http://duende-art.com/page1.html ]. Additionally, the orgiastic Dionysian spirit in art utilizes destruction as an aspect of creativity (Nietzsche 20).
At places like Delphi, Eleusis, and Athens, wherever Dionysus and his (drugs, food, and drink) revelries played either a small ‘indirect’ role or a major ‘direct’ role within ancient Ionian Greek calendar-celebrations (e.g., the new year or the advent of spring), Greeks preserved through his worship an awareness of the psychic-dualism that surround life, as well as art. Hence, Nietzsche was right to draw our attention to artistic Dionysian/Apollonian binary phenomena. As is evident above in the case of Dionysus, ancient Greeks used their gods, divine rituals (replete with an array of drugs, foods, and drinks) as supernatural agents that enhanced the quality and energy of human life, by answering basic needs, and desires. As the ancient playwright Euripedes described these longings in The Bacchae, stating:
We feel you near,
Stirring like molten lava
Under the ravaged earth,
Flowing like red sap
From the wounds of your trees . . . (81)
On a cosmic-scale, Olympic divinities served the religious necessities of ancient Greece by revealing life’s perpetual struggles between good/evil, life/death, joy/suffering, etc., and through the divine resolution of these cosmic conflicts, the gods supported and maintained human sustenance, political and religious order, the universe and all existence. For the Greeks, the gods realized their cosmic responsibilities by differentiating their specific elemental duties, e.g., nurturing Demeter, liberated Persephone, rational Apollo, as well as irrational Dionysus; and this departmentalization of divine duties and attributes can equally be noticed among all the other Olympian gods and goddesses.
Among the most elegant ceramics of ancient Greece are the Attic white-ground lekythoi jugs that were used for libations during funerals. These objects were often inhumed with the dead. A lekythos is a wine or oil vase with cylindrical body and long neck. It usually contained consecrated oils to anoint the dead.
The greatest lethythos painter of the 5th Century was the so-called “Achilles Painter,” who is known for his gracious linear virtuosity and subtle tempera colors. One of his finest works is the 14 ½” white-ground lekythos from the Attic tomb of a young girl, depicting a solitary Muse presumably Calliope (singing), playing a kithara on Mount Helicon (445 BCE). The bird at her feet is symbolic of the departed soul of the dead, who she is serenading; although, there is a strong chance that the divine Muse is actually accompanying the bird as it sings or they are in concert, singing a melodious and melancholic duet. To quote John Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn,”
Patterns of stylized geometric-volutes cross the shoulder of the lekythos. One of the most fascinating aspects of the piece is an odd and extremely enigmatic inscription from an alleged lover, which is written above the Muse’s head, stating, “Axiopeithes, son of Alkimachos, is beautiful.” Why would this expression of vanity be on this exquisite vase within a young girl’s tomb, why would her lover express his own beauty and not hers? Yet, art history, refers to this odd quote as the “lover’s inscription.” It is true that Greek 5th Century BCE burial ceramics had inscriptions from loved ones that were clearly intended for the deceased. Perhaps, the quote is not a “lovers inscription,” but the actual signature of the unknown “Achilles Painter,” implying that, “I, Axiopeithes, son of Alkimachos is capable of making things of beauty, like this lekythos” Thus, in this ingenious interpretation, this would be one of the earliest examples of an artist signing his work. Wouldn’t it be great, if we finally knew the real name of the “Achilles Painter?”
Roman art and culture have left indelible marks on human civilization. In fact, nothing insinuates a sense of long lasting “permanence” as the word “Roman.” And yet, nothing is as indicative of unanticipated “origin” or “end” as Roman Civilization. In many ways Roman values persist today in the guise of nations like the United States of America, with its Senate, its forums, “Pax Americana,” and its emphasis on world trade, civilization, engineering, violence, Stoicism and respect for the rule of law. In a way, “Rome” continues to exist in the guise of the Roman Catholic Church, with its pontiff, its Vatican in Rome, dioceses, and desire for universal accord and faith. Or, it is disguised within other religious institutions, e.g., the Greek Orthodox Religion, etc. These facts make the date of Rome’s historic collapse 410 CE seem meaningless. Yet, it is harder to fix an exact date for its slowly evolving origin, around 500 BCE. Prior to that, Etruscan (700 -509 BCE) Civilization set the stage for all that Rome would eventually become and achieve.
Among the earliest examples of Etruscan art are the fresco-murals on the back wall of the Tomb of the Lionesses, Tarquinia, which are preeminent examples of Ionian-Etruscan Archaic art (c. 700 – 475 BCE). Especially impressive in this work is the dance scene, with its ecstatic movements. The male figure energetically dances, holding a large ocher jug. His skin is a dark robust reddish brown, while his curly locks are blond. The female dancer is a brunette with pale white complexion and a flimsy transparent dress, her unique hand gesture, is reminiscent of the Mediterranean sign for the bull’s horns, implying adulterous cuckoldry, which means that the artist was being humorously irreverent at the expense of the dead. A beautiful still life of an urn is in the corner by a trompe l’oeil painted column, (which pretends to support the actual roof of the tomb). Funeral dances were part of Etruscan death rituals. This Tarquinian work is an example of the finest Etruscan art, at its highest point. Its vitality is suggestive of earlier Cretan Minoan art.
The Etruscan joyful approach to funerary art is also evident in the large terra-cotta sculpted sarcophagi that were used for burial in the 6th Century BCE. One of the finest examples is the almost seven foot-long coffin from Cerveteri, it was made in 520 BCE, depicting a husband and wife reclining on a couch, eating. The work functions like a double portrait, which captures the happy pair in mid-conversation. They almost seem to be getting up, awakening. Of course, wealthy Romans, as well as earlier Etruscans often ate formal and informal meals in comparable reclining position(s), while conversing with invited guest or relatives. The hand gestures imply eating. Unlike the Romans and especially the Greeks, notice that the image clearly indicates that women are treated as equal partners in Etruscan marriages.
Roman painting traditions began during the time of the Republic; and it is art historically marked by four main stylistic phases, which are referred to as the “Pompeiian Styles (I, II, III, and IV).” In general, examples of Classical painting from Greece and Rome are rare, fortunately, the eruption of Vesuvius (79 CE) preserved fine examples of all four Roman Pre-Silver Age styles. These paintings are considered among the highest achievements in that art form, in fact the 20th Century painter and educator, Josef Albers told his Yale students to go to Pompeii, if they wanted to learn “everything” about painting. Albers especially liked the geometric patterns that were evident in the 2nd Pompeiian Style.
A small amusing imaginary Roman portrait of the Muse Calliope, holding her tablet and pointed stylus was painted in fresco within a 1st Century tondo, on the wall of a Pompeiian home. The image is remarkable for its cool-tonalities and painterliness, with soft modulations of color. It is an example of a transitional work from the Third Style to the Fourth. Art Historians are fascinated by the young woman’s personality, as she is caught absentmindedly daydreaming, holding her beriboned teraptychon tablet (comprised of waxed-coated ivory pages, allowing for her easy editing of whatever she writes). Perhaps, she is not a Muse, but a young matron, bringing her husband’s accounts up to date, or she is the imagined portrait of the Lesbian poet Sappho. Her curled hair and hairnet suggest that she was painted during the Claudian or Flavian periods, when hair was worn in that fashion.
Another striking image done in fresco derives its subject-matter from Homer’s Odyssey, showing Ulysses in the Land of the Lestrygonians. It was painted on the wall of a patrician’s home (50 -40 BCE) in the “grand manner style,” which was invented by Apelles of Colophon in the 4th Century BCE. Apelles was a court painter to Alexander the Great, noted for painting many figures in dramatic narrative scenes. This is to this day, one of the most difficult achievements in painting. Therefore, Apelles is often called “the greatest painter, who ever lived,” although his art no longer exists. Yet, we know of his works, through Roman accounts by Pliny, Lucian and other authors. The “grand manner” concept also exists in sculpture. A wonderful example of this tendency is the dramatic marble relief frieze from the Ara Pacis in Rome (13 – 9 BCE).
Deep in the mountains about forty minutes northeast of Naples and an hour away from Pompeii lies the fascinating city of Benevento, formerly known as “Maleventum” (meaning “the site of bad events,” or some scholars suppose “evil air (or ‘wind’)”). However, following a Roman military victory over King Pyrrhus of Epirus (Greece) in 275 BCE; the site’s name was changed to ‘Beneventum’ (meaning “place of good fortune”). King Pyrrhus is the ancient source of the well-known term “Pyrrhic-victory,” defining a type of “victory” that is actually a “defeat.” Recently, your author (Dr. José Rodeiro) visited with the acclaimed artist Christie Devereaux, who lives part of the year near this quaint, but culturally sophisticated and exceedingly historic city. Devereaux took Rodeiro on a walking tour of the city to see the triumphal Arch of Trajan which was erected by the Senate and people of Rome in 114 CE to mark the forking-point where the Via Appia (Appian Way) splits in two, which locals distinguish as being the “old” road leading to the heel of Italy and the other the “new” road, leading to the toe. Because of its pivotal importance on the Appian Way, during Roman-times, famous men, and many emperors such as, Nero, Trajan, Septimus Severus, and others made numerous visits to Benevento. Proceeding down the Via Appia, La Taverna di Orazio rests; where once the poet “Orazio” (aka Horace) stayed during the early-years of the Roman Empire. Devereaux ended her tour at Benevento’s Roman Theater; a magnificent structure which has endured both wars and earthquakes. The edifice is still used today; moreover, as in Roman days, spectators must come with a cushion in order to comfortably enjoy performances.
The Ara Pacis was originally built in the year 9 BCE as a rectangular enclosure around an altar, glorifying Augustus’s divinity as well as his role in Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean world, (which was viewed as “peace” by the Romans: “Pax Romana”). Thus the title “Altar of Peace.” It was aligned with a pilfered Egyptian obelisk, which served as a sundial. During the fall equinox, on the exact day that Augustus had been conceived inside his mother’s womb, the obelisk pointed directly at the open door of the altar. This clock-like effect, not only indicated that August controlled both temporal “time” and distant lands (Egypt), it was also ripe with obvious sexual implications. The Ara Pacis was constructed in Rome on the banks of the Tiber River on the Campus Martius. Hence, this unique shrine to world peace was conspicuously placed on ground devoted and consecrated to Mars (the Roman god of War), implying that Augustus’s bold establishment of world peace defies Mars’ impetus for war. The sculptured reliefs that decorate the outer marble walls set the standard for all future Roman art. The main artistic influence on the carvings were clearly aesthetically stolen (excogitated) directly from the Athenian Parthenon’s Ionic frieze. Countless iconological interpretations by various art historians are associated with the Ara Pacis friezes, e.g., John Elsner and Barbara Kellum’s research into the altar’s narrative. Elsner’s text is titled “Cult and Sculpture: The Ara Pacis Augustae,” The Journal of Roman Studies, # 81(1991), 50 -61, while Kellum’s interesting title says a great deal, “What You See and What We Don’t See: Narrative Structures and the Ara Pacis Augustae,” Art History, # 17 (1994), 26 – 45.
Filled with “neo-classical” optimism in anticipation of a possible “new” Renaissance within all the arts; a veritable “rebirth of wonder,” overflowing with hope for a brighter future for human-civilization, our artistic grand tour of the ancient Mediterranean world ends upon this late-1st Century BCE Augustan “Golden Age” monumental altar devoted to the possibility of world peace (“Pax Romana” or “Pax Americana”), which is a worthy (yet extremely intangible) aspiration that has sadly and adroitly eluded mankind to this very day.
About the author:
Ragazine.CC art editor Dr. Jose Rodeiro is professor of art history at New Jersey City University. You can read more about him in About Us.
Work CitedBaring, Anne and Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess. New York: Viking Press, 1991. Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Fables. New York: Heritage Press, 1942. Campbell, Joseph. The Mask of the Gods: Occidental Mythologies. New York: Viking Press, 1969. Easterling, P. E., and J. V. Muir. Greek Religion & Society. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Euridides. The Bacchae: Divine Vegeance. New York: Meridian Books, 1987. Frazer, James. The Golden Bough. New York: Mentor Books, 1974. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Volume 1. London: Penguin Books, 1960. – – – . Difficult Questions, Easy Answers. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973. – – – . “What Food the Centaurs Ate?” Steps. London: Cassell & Co., 1958 Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Mentor Books, 1958. Harvey, Paul The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, London: Oxford University Press, 1946. Mikalson, J. D. Ancient Greek Religion. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New York: Vintage Books, 1967. Schultes, Richard and Albert Hofmann The Plants of the Gods. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1992. Shanker, Harry H. Stage and School. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005. Stuart, David. Dangerous Garden. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004. Whitney, Frank The Theatre. New York: Harper & Row, 1961.
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Art of the Mediterranean/Jose Rodeiro
About a sort of demented long distance affair gone bad based on two Jeff Crouch poems and tracks, and Steve Johnson cell video.
Cecelia Chapman video
Francesca Fini, mixed media, 2013
Also in this issue! Ginger Liu’s interview with Fini.
Lost in Manhattan
For Video Far & Wide submissions, please see guidelines at ragazine.cc/submissions/
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Video picks / May-June 2013
Enrico Tomaselli, Francesca Fini
and V. G. Venugopal
speak with Ginger Liu
The Project 100×100=900 celebrates the 50th anniversary in 2013 of Video Art. One hundred video artists from around the world are invited to participate; each will produce a video artwork inspired by one of the previous 100 years, with an international exhibit to follow.
Contributing editor Ginger Liu spoke with Enrico Tomaselli, the project director and some of the artists in the show, including V. G. Venugopal and Francesca Fini.
GL) What is the 9 Hundred project?
ET) 100×100=900 Project is a special program launched by ‘Magmart | video under volcano’, international videoart festival, to celebrate the 50th of videoart. The birth of this art is conventionally established on 1963, when artist Nam June Paik realized and exhitibed a video installation in Germany.
GL) How did you choose the 100 videoartists?
ET) The videoartists have been chosen between the selected artists of the previous edition of Magmart. Some of them have been chosen just by their artistic approach, the ‘profoundness’ that can be seen in the artworks… Others have been chosen to include the max diversity of cultures and ‘techniques’.
GL) Could the artist choose their year?
ET) I matched artists and years randomly. In this way the work will be more ‘intriguing’ and bracing for artists.
GL) How has videoart evolved in the last 50 years?
ET) There are two fundamental turning points in this evolution and one follows the other. Along its first phase, videoart worked mainly on videotape. It was very close to experimental cinema; the first turning point was the rise of digital videocameras that allowed a wide diffusion of production means and opened new perspectives. New approaches to art by video followed, such as video dance, video poetry and videomapping.
GL) Who are your inspirations, past and present?
ET) My personal ‘guru’ is unquestionably Bill Viola. I see in his video artworks an extraordinary talent to blend video technique and ‘pictorial’ representation.
GL) When and where do you hope to show the work?
ET) We are currently establishing a partnership program, but we have always achieved some agreements that allow to show the project in Italy, Argentina, China, United States, Greece, Russia, Spain, Peru, Colombia, Cyprus and Armenia. We are waiting to complete other agreements for Iran, Brazil, India, United Kingdom and Germany and we are always open to finding new collaborations. The full list is periodically uploaded on the project website. All the shows will be placed between April and December this year.
GL) I’m sure it’s difficult to pick a handful of videoart work that represents the vision of the 9 Hundred project but in the limited space we have and if you had a gun to your head…
ET) The idea base of the project is that to evolve, it is necessary to understand what past must be once and for all archived. In this sense, to call 100 videoartists to interpret anyone a year of the past century. Besides to constitute a really global narration of 1900s, represent an attempt to process the past, not by coincidence to artists and not by coincidence videoartists. The moving image (cinema, television, web) is one of characterising elements of 1900s.
GL) What is the future of videoart?
ET) Videoart has a great and relevant future and art has been so intimately close to languages of contemporary, at their ‘grammar and syntax’. And the progressive switchover to digital of any expressive form by images, render always more subtle the wall that separate the artistic use of medium by all other uses. In this sense, videoart can reasonably be considered like any art form more inner at XXI century.
GL) How can videoart fans access the work and learn more about the 9 Hundred project?
We are planning a wide range of shows around the world. We’ll publish on our website the calendar of shows and will signal the artists that will go at each screening too. When the public show program ends all the videos will be available on the website. In the next month, we’ll publish a catalogue, purchasable in digital and printed format. Currently it is possible to contribute at 100×100=900 project, at http://www.kapipal.com/9hundred_project;
Images from 100x100=900 Project celebrating 50th anniversary of Video Art, first installation by Nam June Paik in Germany.
Carl Knickerbocker[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/900-project/thumbs/thumbs_1922-elisabetta_di_sopra-remix-press.jpg]001922
Elisabetta di Sopra[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/900-project/thumbs/thumbs_1929-wall_street_crash-didier_feldmann-press.jpg]001929
Didier Feldmann[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/900-project/thumbs/thumbs_1940-lino_strangis-dreeam_on_40-press.jpg]001940
Emilio Rizzo[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/900-project/thumbs/thumbs_1965-francesca_fini-white_noise-press.jpg]001965
Francesca Fini[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/900-project/thumbs/thumbs_1966-zlatko_cosic-not_your_usual_tv_dinner-press.jpg]001966
Zlatko Cosic[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/900-project/thumbs/thumbs_1974-paola_luciani-xa-press.jpg]001974
GL) What is the 9 Hundred project and how did you become involved?
FF) 9 Hundred is a very original videoart project involving 100 international video artists. To each one of them has been assigned a year of 19th century that they have to interpret through their art. I’ve been contacted directly by Enrico Tomaselli, art director of the project.
GL) Explain your work and the work you have produced for 9 Hundred?
FF) I’m mainly a performance artist working also on video. I say that because in my videos the presence of the body in action is almost essential. In video performance there is a body that acts in space and time, in a sort of cinematic reworking of a piece of live art, or the image is crushed in formal abstraction and bright explosion of color. The body becomes pure energy, because those spots of bright color still arise from the electronic manipulation of the image of the body in action.
Regarding my work for 9 Hundred… we see a woman immersed in a neutral white. The woman sits in front of a television that transmits statics. But then we see something sticking out from the screen, a red woolen thread. The woman grabs the thread and pulls it; at that point the TV starts transmitting a series of images of the ’60s in America: propaganda films and old commercials, the journey of a man in space and a nuclear testing site. It ‘s like the red thread that she is now beginning to knit is the thread of time, as if in its unraveling it is unraveled the history of that period, in a web of contradictory images. The ’65 is a symbolic year that summarizes all the contradictions of the world recovered from the Second World War: there is a feverish push towards the future accompanied by hysterical terror for the present threatened by the Cold War and inflamed by the spread of the civil rights movement. So while the two superpowers challenge each other on Earth and in space, with the journey of the Soviet astronaut Aleksei Leonov and the achievements of the NASA Gemini project, while the world watches the moon with dreamy look, in the U.S. the first combat troops leave to Vietnam and the infamous Bloody Sunday is consumed, the first march from Selma to Montgomery when 600 civil rights activists were violently attacked by the police. While industrial design, fashion, art and literature are projected to futuristic scenarios, and all around ideas of freedom and equality are spreading, blind ancestral violence seems to dominate every day life. The images in the TV continue to run while the woman continues to knit as if she is some kind of divinity that weaves the plot of Time. For this reason the images end on the words of Malcolm X, which I chose as the emblematic image of a stage so intense and contradictory in human history. In 1965, Malcolm X was killed in a climate of intoxication and violence in which the highest aspirations of the human spirit seem to struggle to break free from the shackles of the lower impulses. The woman assists, inert, while the woolen thread is finished. The time is up. The images wrapped in the red woolen thread became a bandage with which she covers her eyes.
GL) How has videoart evolved in the last 50 years?
FF) Well the main thing is that in the past 50 years we have witnessed a widespread of prosumer and amateur technology. This phenomenon has made available to a larger number of people the basic instruments to express their visions and ideas through video. This possibility once was really a privilege of a few, because of the high costs of film production at any level. In particular, the digital culture has really democratized the world of filmmaking that in recent years has developed exponentially and thus the quality of the works around has reached the highest levels.
GL) Who are your inspirations, past and present (videoartists)?
FF) I madly love Vito Acconci, mainly because he was a performer like me working and experimenting – very very early – with the video and the body in action. I also love Matthew Barney and Bill Viola for their aesthetic and conceptual rigor.
GL) What is the future of videoart?
FF) I think that sky is the limit so to speak. We can see incredible things today: 3d filmic jewels, astonishing generative art, interactive cinema, graphic masterpieces from data visualization… I really cannot predict what will be the future of video art but I can say that the future of art is definitely the video.
Fini’s video FIVE ACTIONS WITH RED GLOVES can be viewed at:
GL) What is the 9 Hundred project and how did you become involved?
VGV) 9 Hundred is a Video art project conceptualized by ‘Magmart’ to celebrate ‘50 years of Video Art’ in 2013. It involves 100 artists from various countries who will work on each year of the previous century.
I was part of the VII edition of annual Video Art Festival of Magamart last year and my video titled ‘Elusive Entity’ was one among the 31 award winning videos. It was later exhibited as Magmart selection in ‘Vuotociclo’ Video Art Show at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples, Italy and the forthcoming 5th FIVAC, International video art festival, Camaguey – Cuba 2013. Since the selection for the ‘9 Hundred’ special edition is based on the previous winners of Magmart, I was shortlisted as one of the artists.
GL) Could you choose your particular year?
VGV) No, there was no manual selection system. It was done through an online procedure, where each artist is given a ‘username’ and password to enter a particular website link; once we login, it’ll automatically select a random year and display it.
GL) Explain your work and the work you have produced for 9 Hundred?
VGV) My recent works are attempts of a critical engagement with self imagery. It’s an experimentation using subversive strategies with the language of painting; humor and wit are part of these stances. There is a constant attempt to push the limits of representation and the use of the body with these strategies. The images are caught between complex situations and dilemmas of reality. My figuration portrays an interpretation of everyday reality and nurtures the fragile feelings of human emotions to construct meaningful imagery from the lived reality.
Basically I am an artist trained in Painting and Printmaking mediums. Since last 2-3 years I have started experimenting with the videos. Although I don’t consider myself as a full-time video artist since I am continuing my practice in Painting and Printmaking, I have been fascinated with using elements of drawing and painting in videos. So usually my videos are not completely shot in video modes. They are either a series of drawings or still photographic images converted into videos using ‘stop motion’ animation techniques.
The video I created for 9 hundred project is based on the year 1923 and it is titled as ‘INTUITIVE VOICES’ with a duration of 1:57 min. Following is a brief synopsis:
In the quest of freedom and democracy during the earlier part of 20th century, India witnessed a transitional phase in the socio-political scenario. When the world was embracing new scientific and technological developments, India was waking up for a new wave of change.
It was the time when Gandhi was detained and the agitation took many ups and downs; ‘Swaraj Party’ gathered steam by a group of people who sought a more aggressive approach. The voices were many, opinions varied, paths differed; yet the sense of determination and a specific destination kept everyone in a single thread.
GL) How has videoart evolved in the last 50 years?
VGV) In general the art of the 20th century has witnessed significant change with a number of artists responding to the changing world. I feel video art has become one of the defining part of contemporary art movement in the end of 20th century and early 21st century. Artists are doing a lot of experimentations with a tremendous support of the advanced technology. It has changed the way artists work; there are many artists who use computers today to develop their works and the ‘space’ of an artist is redefined in many ways. When artists started working on ‘video performances’, one of the major transitions happened — because of all these developments, the gap between visual art and performing art has been diminished.
GL) Who are your inspirations, past and present (videoartists)?
VGV) Since I find inspirations in many things around me and many artists in general, it’s a difficult task to select few names. But if you ask me among video artists, definitely one of my earliest inspirations is Alexander Petrov’s work ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ which is a stop motion animation using Oil colors. Considering the amount of work gone into the creation and time it’s been produced it’s a remarkable piece of work. William Kentridge is another artist I admire a lot among the contemporary video artists.
GL) When and where do you hope to show the work?
VGV) Magmart has already joined hands with some institutions to take the show beyond Italy. It’s really wonderful news. I hope it’ll reach a lot many people in different countries. I will also show the video within India whenever the opportunity comes up.
GL) I’m sure it’s difficult to pick a handful of videoart work that represents the vision of the 9hundred project but in the limited space we have and if you had a gun to your head…
VGV) It’s indeed difficult task at the moment; the main reason being I’m still not familiar with the artists participating and their works. Since the process of uploading and the availability of viewing are not established I have no clue about what’s in store…! But I’m sure, the entire set of 100 videos will be able to create a strong impact in narrating a century with different perspectives and artistic viewpoints considering the political, cultural and geographical circumstances.
GL) What is the future of videoart?
VGV) I feel with the advancement of time and progress in technology it will take more diverse changes in the years to come. Being an Indian, I think video art is still not so popular among our people. It’s also very new for us although it’s 50 years old globally. There are a handful of artists working on videos but there are hardly any artists doing only videos. For most of the artists here it’s an extended space to work and experiment. There are not much commercial aspects associated compared to Painting and Sculpture. But definitely Video Art as a medium will continue to advance with changing times.
GL) How can video art fans access the work and learn more about the 9hundred project?
VGV) I think almost all the artists must have sent their videos by now since 28th February being the deadline for submission. The details about the project and artists participating with their profiles are already put up in the website http://www.9hundred.org. I hope the online viewing of the video will be established soon.
For more about V.G. Venugopal, visit:
About the interviewer:
Ginger Liu is a contributing editor to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about her in “About Us.”
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on On Location-LA/Ginger Liu
Missouri 04/24 2010 1:13PM – Compressed
I am intrigued with the issue of reality. Traditionally, photography was viewed as an honest replication of the real world. But, as we all know, even from its inception, photographers used their medium to alter, accentuate and eliminate aspects of reality. While on the road in Missouri, my husband and I encountered a severe thunderstorm. I shot hundreds of photos through the windshield as we sped down the freeway (I as a passenger, not driver.) When I uploaded these shots to my computer, I was struck with the time-lines in the metadata. I found that I had taken up to seven shots per minute! So, working with blending software, I was able to compress and construct each one-minute into a final representation of the reality I encountered. Each piece is titled with its time and date.
— Ellen Jantzen
ellen janzten / photographer
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on ellen jantzen / photographer
Top: Kestrel; above: falcon, close up.
Billion Pixel Wildlife
Nature sharper than you have ever seen it before
These amazingly sharp images up to 52.000 pixels long and 20.000 pixels wide, combine the unique effect given by the shallow depth of field of one of the best telephoto lenses on the market and at the same time the immersive feeling of a wide angle. From the arctic forests of Finland, to the volcanic landscapes of Iceland and the Mediterranean backdrop of Catalonia, Ghislain and Marie David de Lossy reveal the invisible details that would normally be ignored by an untrained eye.
They spend hours waiting for the right shot, the moment where the animal fits perfectly into its natural environment to a point where you don’t know who’s watching whom. Despite an incredible precision and clarity of the image, you will sometimes need to scan the vast panoramic picture (more than 3 meters – 9 feet – in length) from one end to another, before realizing what you are looking at, and sometimes who’s looking back at you. A delicate yet troubling blur between the observer and the animal where you know you are not alone.
They have achieved these sets of pictures thanks to an amazing endurance to cold, boredom and hunger, and a very strict attention to the tiniest details. Using the latest 600 mm :4 at full aperture and a 24 mpx Nikon D3X, they have pushed the panoramic technique to its extreme, with a final quality merged by hand that no machine can match. Gh&M offer you the ultimate wildlife picture.
Printed at 400 ppi without having to blow a pixel on the best paper ever made (Fujiflex) revealing colors like no other and framed under Diasec™. Equivalent to 500 times the quality of a full HD TV (1920×1080), the feeling is a communion with nature. Enjoy the big picture and then come closer to discovering the smallest wonders of nature; take your time.
Click on an image to view larger size.
Bustard; Palokarki; Hirvi; Karhu; Helmipollo; Maca
Find out more at www.gmdaviddelossy.com
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / photographers
Prague_210 | Handmade silver gelatin photograph on 3/8 inch glass plate, back lit
with LED panel | 72 x 48 in. | 2013 | Unique print, Edition 1 of 1
An interview with Brent Williamson, aka Teknari,
whose recent work opened with a show
at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts in Binghamton
in March 2013.
With Mike Foldes
Q) Brent, your work appeared in Ragazine several years ago. Those images were more traditional, technically, meaning, you could look at them and have a pretty good idea how they were produced. Your new work, however, takes an entirely different approach, and one that most, if not all of us, have never seen before. It takes time to fully comprehend what you are looking at, and on top of that, the physical dynamics used to achieve the effect is unique to colloidal photography. These are not just large light boxes… they are one-of-a-kinds, as are paintings. Can you give us an idea how the concept for the work evolved?
A) Two stories that describe how my work evolved:
Story 1: At the time of the previous Ragazine article, I was doing digital photography, and uploading most of my work online for people to view. One day I was out at a local auction house to browse their weekly auction. On the wall were various paintings and prints that were up for sale, and they were pretty terrible. It was the kind of stuff that was in someone’s grandparents’ house who didn’t have much money, and lots of it was in poor condition. What surprised me though was that the stuff sold. Not for a lot of money, $30, $50, maybe $100, but it all sold. It struck me that all my work sitting in my hard drive will just die with me. It was likely that nobody will spend anything for it when I was gone. It made me realize that if I want to do something that people value, work that people were willing to spend money for and drive a nail in their wall for, I have to work toward making physical work, and not just work in the digital realm.
Story 2: I was at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts when the painter Charles Hartley came in with his most recent painting. We talked about it for a while, and I asked him how long it took him to paint it. He thought that he spent about 3 hours a day on it for maybe 6 weeks. I got thinking about that and I wondered: If I was to spend 3 hours a day for 6 weeks on one photograph, what would I do? It helped change my mindset.
As you stated in your question, because of the difficulty of making these prints, I am only making one of each, like a painting
Q) Your darkroom is a warehouse of chemistry and film, among other things. What is the darkroom process involved here?
A) I started exploring different historical photographic processes, and printing techniques. I played with many of them to see the results they gave, and what would be congruent with my work. I started making silver gelatin emulsion film from the basic chemicals, and printing out with silver gelatin emulsion on glass.
The reason why I make my own film, is that I am able to apply the silver gelatin emulsion to the film substrate roughly, and in a random manner. Early on, I found that introducing chance into the process created some images that would be impossible to get in any other way. I lose lots of photos this way, maybe most, but when the fates come together I find poetry.
The first time I really used this film was in shooting a model in Paris. I wasn’t sure of the film, so I used both a digital camera and my film camera with the homemade film. The shoot wasn’t going well and I could see this by looking at the images in the digital camera, but when I got home and developed the film, I was amazed at what came out. I was sold from that point out.
Q) What is actually involved in producing one of these pieces? How much do they weigh? What are the challenges in moving them around – and in finding a gallery able to hang and exhibit them to best advantage?
A) From the beginning I knew I was going to work with ABFA for my first show outside of my own gallery, so this was a given.
I didn’t realize what I was getting into in making the final prints until the glass delivery guys showed up with the glass. It took two of them to move one piece. It was at that point I started wondering how I was going to physically handle the pieces by myself.
Most of the prints in this show are 4’ X 6’ X ⅜” tempered glass and weigh 120 lbs. The frame is made of 3/16” steel, and with backlighting weighs probably another 100 lbs. All told, with the 10 pieces in the show they collectively weigh over one ton.
I found making these prints far more challenging than I had originally expected, and it was in fact physically exhausting. Each piece is right at the edge of what I can handle by myself, and I produced most all of these by myself.
Early on I was able to make small prints, let’s say 6” X 8”, and I figured that now all I had to do was the same process except larger. Big mistake. For some reason going large seemed to magnify every possible problem. It took me months and months of work to get this process down. Because of all the work I put into the process, you might understand that I am not all that interested in going into too much detail on how they are made. I will say that nothing is overly technical, but it just takes lots of care, specially designed equipment, and elbow grease. When you are reminding yourself constantly to “bend at the knees, not at the waist,” you realize you are not doing traditional photography.
SC_13 | Handmade silver gelatin photograph on 3/8 inch glass plate,
back lit with LED panel | 48 x 72 in. | 2013 | Unique print Edition 1 of 1.
Q) Is this a format you will continue with on the same or larger scale, or is it something that is transitional to another product?
A) That is something I am exploring right now. There are things I can do with this process to expand it, and I want to explore that more. I will probably always produce hand made backlit works on glass, as the end result is so impactful. I want to explore working with paper prints, probably on an even larger scale than these glass prints. As I am working from scratch producing the print, this gives me the ability to do things that a person who has to rely on photographic paper manufacturers could not do.
I also know I want to put this work together in a book, but I won’t be happy if it is a book is like every other photography book. Just like these prints that are unlike what anybody else is doing, my book has to be unique. I don’t expect it to be easy or quick.
Q) What do you see as the future of this work? Where are your markets?
A) My long term goal is to continue to make cool shit. I like that term “cool shit.” Kind of cuts through the art speak babble.
Secondary and subservient to that, I have a goal to be represented by different galleries around the world. My outlook is global. I want people to see the work. By “secondary and subservient,” I mean that if to get represented by galleries around the world, I have to do work that I don’t like, then I won’t bother.
My stuff is pretty different from what is currently in vogue in the fine art photography world, and I expect to have to do some selling, or probably more likely, seek out and find people who think like me. Like making my book, I don’t expect it to be easy. I think that is actually a good indicator of where I should be going: difficulty. It’s like a compass.
Q) You documented the process and put together a book/journal that is the record of your experience with this unusual photographic genre… Can you tell us something about that effort?
A) The end of 2011 is when I realized that I wanted to focus more on making physical works. At the time I was keeping a blog, so I decided that in concert with going with atoms instead of bits, I would keep a handwritten journal instead of a blog, then scan the pages of the journal and use that for my blog. At the end of 2012, I sewed together the 2012 journal and that is on display at the show. It is in essence a self portrait. All the photographs in this journal are hand sewn in. I don’t like using glue or tape.
What I didn’t expect to find is how important that journal has become to me. If there was a fire in my house, it is now at the top of my “things to grab” list.
DS_110B | Handmade silver gelatin photograph on 3/8 inch glass plate,
back lit with LED panel | 48 x 72 in.| 2013 |Unique print, Edition 1 of 1.
Q) Did you start with photographs you’d taken before, or were these images made especially for this series with a particular objective in mind?
A) None of these photographs had been displayed before, and there was no particular objective in mind with this series when I was shooting. It is simply my life. As I see my work going forward, it will be more and more autobiographical. Don’t expect, for example, to see a series of photographs focused on specific photographic topics unless that topic is part of my life. It may turn out that after you are done, you look back and see that there was a theme running through the work, and in this case the theme was chance; thus the title of the show “Whatever comes.”
It is somewhat like therapy, I suppose. You photograph your life, and then after the fact, you go back and see what you photographed, and analyze yourself through the work.
Q) Your show at Brunelli Gallery in Binghamton was very well received. How did your relationship with the gallery and John Brunelli in particular, play into the production? Why didn’t you just put up the show in your own space, JungleScience Gallery?
A) I had done several shows at JungleScience in the past. However, I realized that I have to start venturing out and get showings elsewhere. This show at Brunelli gallery is my start at that, but I expect to work with Brunelli gallery for the rest of my career.
A few days after the opening, when I had a chance to wind down and reflect, I realized that for me, the total effect of this show is greater than the parts. With the gallery being dim, and lit solely by the photographs, I think that John and I crossed the border into an installation art. This is something that is very exciting for me, and I am interested in thinking more about a venue and how to transform the entire space to create an impact on the viewer.
Q) Where will the show go from here? How will it get there?
A) Mike, I am going to recruit you to help me carry these photographs. Remember, bend at the knees.
Q) Anything you’d like to add?
About the interviewer:
Mike Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
April 27, 2013 1 Comment
The Camera as Companion
With Chuck Haupt, Photography Editor
Q: How did you get started taking photographs?
A: The camera has always been my companion. I always liked to shoot pictures, it gave me great pleasure. Artistically and more seriously I started it for more than a year ago. It was a nice start, and very personal.
I came to some place where two herons , in the fog in the middle of the pond on two small islands, began to talk to each other through various movements – for me it was a dance. That morning resulted in a variety of dances, stories and situations that we humans can relate to. For me so far this series is one of the most important. Because I also wanted to portray their emotions to music. Music of the band Riverside, because their music gives me so much inspiration. In this way and on that moment I started photography.
Q: Is it true you have only been shooting for one year?
A: Yes this is true . Since the start I have done a lot of pictures. I told a lot of stories. I had to put a lot of work and devotion into it to accomplish. Nothing came to the same thing. Always looking for inspiration, suitable locations, time of day, and props. But that doesn’t matter, even if shooting takes me a few hours or a few minutes, the enjoyment of what I do is always the same, and today even more than in the beginning.
Q: Do you consider your photography more than a hobby, a passion?
A: This is definitely my passion. Something that a man is paid for what he learns, something he really wants, and does not have, something that arouses strong emotions, from anger to great joy, something a man considers his life. That can not be just an ordinary hobby.
Q: You do a lot of concept photography, where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: In fact, we can draw inspiration from every corner of our world. You just have to be vigilant observer and to be able to enjoy what is around you. Music, film, photography, painting, relationships and imagination among other things, that if you are rich, it is a big treasure. These are a few sources of my inspiration.
Learning to Swim
Q: And I can see that you have fun with it. Is humor important in photography?
A: Even if we see something as our great passion, it does not mean that we have to treat seriously. Laughter is good, a laugh is needed, people need to laugh, so I try to deliver it to them. The first step was to give people a smile with the ‘rural series’. All taken in a small village in eastern Poland, a lot of photos show us that both the photography and the situations between people, can be treated with a grain of salt.
Q: It looks like your children are in several of your photos. Do they ever get tired of you photographing them?
A: Children, sometimes, can be demanding models and difficult. But they are natural and very mobile and just require a different approach but I can deal with them and during the shooting they do not complain of boredom.
Q: You have wonderful backgrounds to work with, full of texture. Is your home in a rural area in Poland?
A: No, it’s my family’s house, who live in eastern Poland. Every year I go there with my family on vacation. The village is the perfect place to not only shoot pictures, but also to relax and get away from everyday life, which is not always favorable to us.
Charon Messenger II
Q: And you’ve got the best country road to shoot on. Is the canopy of trees near you?
A: These are only a few miles away from my house. For a small moment of time, in the mornings, nature allows me to watch a beautiful situation and phenomena in nature, and it is also my happiness.
Q: Where do you see your shooting style going in the future?
A: I do not know, because I’m still looking. I still look and find new things for me, I do not want to limit myself. But despite the fact that at the present time it is not easy, if it were a possibility, I would like to take up photography professionally. Then I don’t have to distract my mind to other activities that do not interest or attract me!
Sebastian Luczywo / Photographer
I am sitting opposite you and I let your sensuality encounter mine.
Photography is my loyal friend, quiet and discreet and a great confidant of mine.
In the mist of the morning, I quietly meet the images of my photography. Between mine and your sensuality I have hung a line on which you walk in order to enter the room where I have placed my world.
About the interviewer:
Chuck Haupt is Photography Editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Sebastian Łuczywo / Photographer
the PHOTOGRAPHY spot
Contemporary Swedish Photography
Untitled | 2010
St. Etienne | 2005
Kiruna | 2004
Tied from the series Figure Out | 2009
Almost there | 2000
Robert Nettarp Estate/Link Image Art Edition
Contemporary Swedish Photography:
From factory floors to staged identities
Art and Theory Publishing presents Contemporary Swedish Photography, a unique and sumptuous book providing a much-needed overview over the field from the 1970s until today. With its generous format, the book introduces the reader to fifty-two acclaimed photographers, presenting their different styles and forms of expression in image and text.
In her introductory text Charlotte Cotton delivers her view of what defines Swedish photography from an international perspective, while an extensive essay by Niclas Östlind provides valuable insight into the development of Swedish photography since the seventies, outlining the currents and events that have formed the country’s contemporary photographic landscape.
In its time span and its underpinning ideas this book can be said to spring from the formative work of Christer Strömholm. In documentary as well as staged photography today one can make out clear influences from Christer Strömholm’s own pictures, his thoughts on photography and vision, and his uncompromising attitude towards the medium—besides a more concrete influence on a large number of photographers through his role as teacher and head of the legendary Fotoskolan, the school of photography that he co-founded in Stockholm.
In the past decades photography has established itself as an art form on equal footing with painting and sculpture. At the same time the boundaries between art photography and for example fashion or documentary photography have become increasingly vague, a development that is reflected in this book. Within Swedish photography today there is a relatively accepting climate where different photographic genres are presented side-by-side on more or less equal terms. We see a renaissance of classical and documentary photography—albeit with a clearer awareness of the photographer’s own position—parallel to a continuing interest in the staged. To many, photography is still an unsurpassable tool for dealing with issues of representation and identity.
The many different expressions that characterize the Swedish photography scene create a rich and vibrant climate, and among the fifty-two artists and photographers included in the book there are big differences in age, background, and education, in which arenas they have been active and visible, and not least in their styles and expression. Some of them garnered early acclaim in the world of art, fashion, or photojournalism, while others will be new to readers despite having been around for a long time.
Contemporary Swedish Photography is a forward-looking book that does not summarize a past but opens up to future development. The book is an attempt at providing a guide to the multifaceted, boundary-breaking production that characterizes the Swedish photography scene of today by presenting and highlighting the work of a number of photographers from the different genres. At the same time the book paints a picture of contemporary Sweden, as seen through the eyes of the foremost photographers of our times.
Photographers featured in the book: Andreas Ackerup, Lotta Antonsson, Bisse Bengtsson, Erik Berglin, Miriam Bäckström, Aida Chehrehgosha, Dawid, Cecilia Edefalk, Anders Edström, JH Engström, Johan Fowelin, Maria Friberg, Hans Gedda, Carl Johan De Geer, Peter Gehrke, Catarina Gotby, Denise Grünstein, Paul Hansen, Annika von Hausswolff, Maria Hedlund, Jean Hermanson, Julia Hetta, Walter Hirsch, Linda Hofvander, Martina Hoogland Ivanow, Pieter ten Hoopen, Mikael Jansson, Jens S Jensen, Gerry Johansson, Annica Karlsson Rixon, Eva Klasson, Clay Ketter, Hyun-Jin Kwak, Jenny Källman, Åke E:son Lindman, Fredrik Lieberath, Tuija Lindström, Maria Miesenberger, Tova Mozard, Robert Nettarp, Anneè Olofsson, Mikael Olsson, Petrus Olsson, Julia Peirone, Anders Petersen, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Gunnar Smoliansky, Karl-Johan Stigmark, Christer Strömholm, Lars Tunbjörk, Pernilla Zetterman, Camilla Åkrans.
Contemporary Swedish Photography
Editor: Estelle af Malmborg Writers: Irene Berggren, Charlotte Cotton, Bo Madestrand, Estelle af Malmborg, Anders Olofsson, Niclas Östlind. Production: Art and Theory Graphic designer: Stefania Malmsten Language: English and Swedish
197 pp | Hardcover | ISBN 978-91-979985-7-4
Art and Theory is a new publishing house dedicated to contemporary art, photography and aesthetics. The focus lies on publishing quality books within different fields of art and aesthetics and on creating a forum for the meeting of aesthetics and art.
For the PHOTOGRAPHY spot submissions, please see guidelines at ragazine.cc/submissions/
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Photo Editor’s Choice / May-June 2013
Melville, New York, 11747
I formed in your belly of white fences
empty pillared porches and HD TVs the drone
of lawnmowers in summer sing of
Hispanic labor, blank expressions behind angry machines
luxury cars steered off to offices and back to driveways that
seem to go up forever behind the trees.
a man has died in the street.
He was going for a run and his heart
gave up he dropped dead on the leaf-laden pavement and
it didn’t make a sound.
It is months later I am told and
he had a wife and three small girls
strangers somewhere close and
it is Christmas time but I sicken at the thought
of leaving my room
trekking up into some unknown
vacuum behind trees –
What is there to say to them?
Something is dead here.
* * *
I realize now
you have a poet’s name.
I also know of Walt Whitman;
A mall near you I have spent money at.
There are curved stacked words in giant leaf prints painted
on the cement walls outside the Nordstrom Macy’s McDonald’s
I never read them.
are you silent because we have built pool sheds
on artists’ graves?
I can only offer what I know;
custom-print holiday greetings
the pure-breed’s pointless howl
my own Caucasian skin.
About the poet:
Paige Gittelman is a Long Island native and junior at SUNY Binghamton. She is studying as a creative writing major and art minor.
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Paige F. Gittelman/Poetry
Butterfly the Table Crack
having people over
butterfly the table crack
make a bridge across the crick
cut the path
invite the guests
pro’ly not comin’
climbin’ back into bed now
would love a massage
but thanks for the choice
I have so few
love your scent
and crumbling building
will bring buckwheat
with apotropaic sauce
it’s just a vehicle
for the ginger
to settle her stomach
after working all day
in the sewer
with toxic plastic
I think I’ve thrown
the troll off my track
just have to shake the twigs out of my hair
squeeze into new jeans
slip on a top
remember that summer day
the light poured through the window
and seemed to freeze time
the day I photographed
your yellow body
looking forward to
attack by black bear
tick and coyote
all afternoon bees in the reeds
keep guests from the bridge
‘til at twilight
under a noctilucent cloud
they manage to cross
doors fly open
the fort bright and hot
Qué plus one
trailing the hems of their capes
through moonlit leaves
navigating the night with goggles and clocks
electronics woven into their brown bustiers
detecting tree limb and mushroom
We will adopt a horse, they think
and give her all our love
a horse can see in the dark
can show us the future
a troll in a truck
with a movable light
comes rushing down the lane
scattering guests into the woods
like altruistic gazelle
they leap to attract attention
all of a sudden with a crack
the searchlight goes out
leaving guests in the semi-dark
frolicking like antelope
in platform pumps
and lots of industrial
takes the time-space
to play in the meadow
with her bonobo
Firefly and Star
in an apron
of silver thread
to shield her seed
finds a hiding place
in the brush by an ephemeral pool
comes out to skims stones
her aroma smoke and coconut
splaying bare feet as she walks
the birthday person
in fin de siècle homespun
like a ragged orphan from Indochine
Georgia came late
after all the walks were over
in a manga boy blouse
with colors that transition
when they touch warm skin
brought a present
when she said thank you
Georgia pointed to her lips
she likes to watch the words
dance across the paper
she had to scrunch up the first few pages
kick over the writing table
About the poet:
Andy Doyle facilitated the Ithaca poetry slam at Juna’s in Ithaca for many years, competing five times in the Nationals, twice making the semi-finals. His brush with fame came when the bouncer at CBGB’s mistook him for Taylor Mali’s father. He still performs at the poetry open mic on the second Friday of every month at 6 p.m. at The Shop on 312 E. Seneca St. in Ithaca, NY. Last month he almost got to read at Barnes and Noble with a Pushcart prize winner, but they strangely stopped the event, as if someone spotted him and said, “Wait! That bald guy with the bad shave, that’s Slamtractor!” When he is not wandering aimlessly over ruined landscapes, he makes very slim books and slips them to you. If you want the illuminated, paper slip-book of this work, send 2 dollars to 1510 Altay Road, Rock Stream, NY 14878.
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Andy Doyle/Poetry
I will come home from work
and there will be a black
Durango parked beside the curb.
Two men in crisp polyester uniforms
will exit the vehicle, approach me,
and ask if they can come inside.
They will float in the door
on a cloud of aftershave and honor,
tell me they have stopped by
only to say the next twelve months
will be worse than the past year doubled,
that I should expect a man
to arrive soon who will appear
to be living but may be dead,
a strange condition
they are working to understand,
and I will need to sustain
this possibly dead man
with the only anecdotes available to me:
a rented cabin in snowy woods,
two flights to Hawaii,
a renewal of vows or a pregnancy,
some of which will pack his coffin
tighter, fluff the silk of memory
around his battered skull.
They will remind me,
and this is very important,
that he will need to rest at night
on a bed wide enough
for his body, mine, and the wild dogs
arriving one by one, soon,
following his scent out of the desert.
SIGN OF GREATNESS
I was driving home from Target with cat litter,
paper towels and cereal in my trunk
when I-25 was abruptly gridlocked.
For fifteen minutes we waited inside our cars,
then we got out, us, the public,
on the concrete of the freeway
we never knew was so detailed,
little stones like eyes of varying shades
of blue and grey, and we started to talk,
all of us, about what the hold-up could be,
why we weren’t moving, it seemed, for miles,
then one woman, a teacher – having introduced
ourselves by occupation rather than name –
said Obama’s in town, and we lifted our chins,
a long, slow nod, the signal of acknowledging
what we remembered that morning
while brewing coffee but had forgotten
before we rinsed the mug and pitched the grounds,
and the motorcade pass unobstructed
two exits away, the only movement in town,
and we told each other to have a good one
before jogging back to our cars like buddies
who met every Wednesday on the freeway for a chat
and the lanes opened up like a bathtub drain,
swirling with neat lines of Americans
looking for a sign of greatness
in the wake of an important man’s arrival,
a patch of rogue lilies resurrecting itself in the median
or a pothole filling up with new gravel.
The skin lady sells otter, moose,
bear and deer hides on the corner
of Northern Lights Boulevard
and Seward Highway,
beginning in September
all the way through first thaw.
As a community we have more sympathy
for her than the man who sells whale baleen
on the same corner all summer,
who smiles into our open car windows
and waves in his bare hands
enormous, bristle-edged fronds.
The skin lady, whose face
I have still never seen, whose face
is the memory of a hood cinched
around a scarf-wrapped mouth,
keeps her hands layered
in as many mittens as she can find
in gutters or lost in parking lots,
whose hands I imagine
look like they have been carved
from wood. All my years
in Alaska I have never seen her
with her arms at her sides
but always swaying above her head,
furs hanging down from each
and filling with wind, as if to suck
their spirits from the air.
She keeps extras piled by her boots,
heaped on the crusted snow
that glitters with salt.
I never catch her setting up shop,
pulling furs from her trash bag
or rolling them back up at night,
nor do I see her reel in a single customer.
In April, she disappears
and Anchorage is at its ugliest,
all of us so sick of the slush
we barely remember there was a woman
selling animal skins on the corner
so recently, a woman we only guess
is female because we never can
make out the shape of her body
and the way she returns
every year makes us feel terrible
about a crime we know we’ve committed.
First we learn some light bulbs make noise even when they are not turned on;
rows of fluorescent bars hum above us like electric white fence posts
while the girls of my seventh grade class learn what an erection is.
It is a slide projector, though, and Mr. Spatz has to manually click
from limp to halfway to what Mary Rodriguez calls ‘wood’ quickly,
so we can imagine the changing shape. There is a shoebox on Mr. Spatz’s desk
with a slit cut in the lid for anonymous questions to be dropped in,
and we are each required to ask something about the body.
I want to know why my mother won’t let me grow out my bowl-cut,
why I still look like a boy from the side, why Mike Apana gave my sister a dollar
to put her head on his lap on the bus. Everyone laughed so long
it made Katherine, the quiet girl who left school early for piano lessons,
whisper from the front row, slut. I wanted to ask what a slut was,
why my sister was one, if I was one too, and what about Mike Apana’s lap
was so dangerous. I wanted to ask why my mother was raising six girls alone,
why the neighbors said she wouldn’t have to worry, at least, about me
getting knocked up early with my glasses and bandaids and smart mouth.
Instead I asked about CPR, scribbling, what if you accidentally bust their sternum.
Mr. Spatz said don’t get crazy, only light pressure, hands clasped together like so.
This is the year I stop taking the bus and walk home the long way
so I can climb into the apple and plum trees off Church Road,
guess my weight on the thinning branches near the top.
About the poet:
Abby E. Murray earned her MFA from Pacific University and is currently working on her PhD in English from Binghamton University. Her second chapbook, Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier’s Wife, released in autumn 2012 by Finishing Line Press, was largely inspired by her husband’s continuing experiences as a deployed army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. She lives in New York.
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Abby E. Murray/Poetry
Lisa Flowers reviews ….
Digressions on God
By Emily Vogel
Main Street Rag, 2012
Inebriate of air am I, and debauchee of dew!
Emily, your light and memorial soul,
absolve me of this despair.
Writes Emily Vogel to Dickinson, adding: “What long drink of ale would quell my fear before the announcement of the Holy Trinity?” and “Kirkegaard, for instance, would say the despairing are only happy once they have died.” Indeed, if one wanted to turn the Nietzschean idea that humankind is subconsciously working towards self destruction to a theological conundrum, one could say that our memory of heaven is unremembered; that we subconsciously wish to be dead because we wish a return to paradise. Digressions on God, though in many ways templated, so to speak, on existentialism, is a rare and beautiful reminder (in a world of inevitably impenetrable and complex philosophy, yearning, and fears) of how simple and elegant answers and resolution can be. In today’s intellectual climate, where atheist intellectualism is the new black (and the new presumption), Vogel returns us to the much-missed contemplations of people like John Donne, Anne Bradstreet, and the sublimely agnostic John Berryman of Eleven Addresses to the Lord… a world where the morning sun still flooded the valleys and reverence for the higher meaning of existence wasn’t merely wistfully ironic, or a brilliantly imaginative but ultimately futile escapist indulgence in magical realism.
“The moment, the death I had kept conjuring up for three years was as simple as a bit of dry wood,” said Nabokov’s most famous protagonist, and Vogel gathers up that wood and makes a resourceful kindling out of it…one that often provides more than enough warmth for rapt fireside trysts; for Digressions is very much a celebration of the sacred erotic. The book is a dialogue—hopeful, profound, just a touch cynical and self-deprecating—with eternal life’s promise, and the divine forces behind (ostensible) invisibility: “My love is a body with a mind and it is a mind/I cannot see,” Vogel writes. It’s so, of course; since we can never enter the unseen mind of another, the beloved (like everyone else on earth) remains a kind of ghost, regardless of any physical communion lovers might attain. Yet, lines like “It is rapturous—my eyesight/thanking God for the oblivion of blindness” encapsulate the exhilaration of free will into gratitude for being absolved of the responsibility for one’s own salvation, which has already been taken on by God. So it is in Shroud, where the turning and turning of Yeats’ widening gyre is transformed into the sacred:
out of woman, totally woman,
prior to the essentiality of woman,
and agility of unexpected light, in the mind,
the swelling gap of nothing, turning and turning
like a grain of sand
in the vacancy of absolute pleasure.
Blue flight of stupidity…
Even so, intention—which of course must precede result—can only unroll back to itself for fulfillment, if its methods don’t get it there; a goal is a symbol until it’s reached, and dissolves in itself. This is the conundrums of ambition and perfection, and begs the question of how the life force—in flesh or ghost—can continue to thrive in both ambition and the fulfillment of it. All of this is articulated beautifully by Vogel in poems like Drinking the Eventual Sun:
The story of yesterday entailed a flawless plot,
unraveled from point to crucial point as expected,
like the sun becoming less and less the sun…
But eternal life, too, is an “eventual sun,” one whose warmth we cannot feel until we enter paradise. When we are on earth, life is a possession we can rightfully consider ours:
Once, you claimed death as your own, and then
Let death go like the eventual sun, let it slip into the river
Meaninglessness is always a consideration, but it’s circumstantial rather than innate, a tool that’s only an object until it’s picked up and used. “We must consider the distress of objects that lack utility” writes Vogel, adding:
When I woke, you had an imaginary tuba
propped next to your leg,
and the tuba was not making any sound,
trying its best not to be dead.
Even the air is dead matter, without God:
When I’m alone inside a house,
it’s like something quiet and dead has fallen,
urgent as snow…
But there are lines that seem to speak for the very appearance of God—or meaning— in the cosmos; the argument that our existence on earth, itself, is all the evidence we need of the existence of something higher.
And then I appeared and loved you
without even knowing what I had done.
What of poetry itself, of words? “I cannot write them and I cannot die with them. I am seeping/They drift in the brain, lift as if mist/into God’s territory/and linger, elegant as dross,” Vogel says. Yet this fine book is also a celebration of “a good universe: a destruction, a restoration/and the darkness between them/nothing disappearing/except on the verge of its disappearance.”
* * * * *
Emily Vogel reviews …
diatomhero: religious poems
By Lisa Flowers
Vulgar Marsala Press (July 26, 2012)
The manner in which I would classify Lisa Flowers’ debut book of poems (diatomhero: religious poems) is (in the tradition of “midrash”) a “retelling” of certain narratives in the Bible. She manages to accomplish this without making the Biblical elements too conspicuous (or obvious), but by threading aspects of her own personal and imaginative narrative with events and characters mentioned in the Bible.
This entails a certain juxtaposition of postmodern ideas (often represented by way of “artifact” or by experience which can only be referential in our present time) with the age-old epic ideas in the said primary religious text. What she also accomplishes by this means is the “invention” of her own religious dogma, which is applicable only to the speaker’s own subjective “retelling.”
The speaker of these poems possesses all the childlike whimsy of someone who might tell “tall-tales,” in the sense that the readers are made to assume that the tale she is telling is the factual account of what “has happened.” The first five part poem in the book, (and also in many other of these poems) “Emere’s Tobacconist” hinges on a perspective perhaps of someone that is already dead (in the Dickinsonian tradition: “I heard a fly buzz when I died;” “Because I could not stop for death”)—so that we are made to imagine what it might be like to be dead, and have the capacity somehow to then write the story about it, complete with purgatorial and resurrection experiences, and what [this] particular heaven is like (and it is a “heaven” very particular to the speaker). In this way, Flowers manages to describe religious experiences in a very interpretive manner, so that the Christian ideas could be anything, and that these religious experiences are very particular to the “individual.”
Through these very surreal poems and fragmented narratives, Flowers succeeds in making the point that nobody truly knows what a real “Christian” or religious experience might entail, which allows her complete freedom and authority in conveying how these experiences occur. By this self-appointed authority she is also not liable for anything which might be rendered inaccurate or misinterpreted, since the speaker is claiming these religious experiences as her own, and perfectly plausible.
On the other hand, a serious and (might I say very limited and parochial) Biblical scholar might perceive this as some sort of blasphemy against the key ideas and stories in the Bible. That said, why wouldn’t God want us to experience something religious (in the subjective sense) as long as it is spiritually fortified and does us some reflective good? It seems as long as we’re spending some contemplative time considering concepts such as heaven, hell, and redemption we are not divested of the Bible’s intentions. The poems are radical interpretations, but also seem to achieve the landscapes they are attempting to negotiate.
Meanwhile, the way the poems move is in a dreamy, flighty sort of way – (and I mean “flighty” in the sense that the speaker seems almost to be “taking flight” through various milieus by chance) – so that as readers we are meant to follow her wherever arbitrary whim leads us. This enables us to experience a very exciting “journey,” without the predictability of any conventional journey. In this way, we cannot anticipate where she’s going to take us next, which informs a very skillful telling of these unique and revelatory narratives.
About the authors:
Emily Vogel is poetry editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about her in “About Us.”
Lisa A. Flowers is a poet, critic, vocalist, cinephile, ailurophile, and the founding editor of the NYC/VA based Vulgar Marsala Press. Her poetry has appeared in The Cortland Review, elimae, and other magazines and online journals. She is the author of diatomhero: religious poems. Visit her personal website here or here.
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Flowers & Vogel/On Poetry
Of Mires and Butterflies:
The Third Eye of Lucha Corpi
Review by Lilvia Soto
Eulogy for a Brown Angel, the second of Lucha Corpi’s novels, is a murder mystery set against the background of the Chicano civil rights march of August 29, 1970. The heroine, a young Chicana who participates in the Los Angeles march “to protest U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia and the induction of hundreds of young Chicanos into the armed forces” (17), gets caught up in a bizarre story of protest, murder, vengeance, and international intrigue, which she brings to a dramatic solution eighteen years later.
That bloody Saturday, when Rubén Salazar, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times and a well-loved television news personality, was killed by a sheriff in the Silver Dollar Café and hundreds of Chicanos were clubbed and tear gassed, became known as the National Chicano Moratorium and as one of the most violent days in the history of California. Gloria Damasco and her friend Luisa Cortez together with 20,000 Chicanos gather at Laguna Park and march down Whittier Boulevard in the heart of the barrio “to celebrate [their] culture and reaffirm [their] rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as Americans of Mexican descent” (18). After the march gets disrupted by the police, Gloria and Luisa find a four-year-old child dead on Marigold Street, right off Whittier Boulevard. The child’s body has been defiled with feces in his mouth.
Gloria calls the police, speaks with homicide detective Matthew Kenyon, and gets embroiled in the investigation. A young, “not quite fifteen,’ Chicano member of the Santos gang, had witnessed a tall man putting the child’s body on that spot. “The dude who brought the chavalito here dropped this,” he says handing Gloria an old newspaper clipping (24). He says his name is Mando and whispers to Gloria, “The dude— the one who brought the chavalito? He wasn’t a member of the Santos. I know ‘cause he was wearing a wig. Era gabacho. He had a scar, a media luna, a half-moon on his right arm” (25).
The dead child is identified as Michael David Cisneros, son of Lillian and Michael Cisneros and grandchild of Otilia Juárez, from whose house the child had been abducted forty-five minutes before Gloria found his body. Michael and Lillian live in the San Francisco Bay Area and came to Los Angeles to attend the Moratorium march. Michael and his brother Paul are the owners of Black Swan Enterprises, Inc., a successful Mexican-American company in Oakland.
Early on Monday morning, Mando, the young Santos member who gave Gloria the clipping, is found dead on the same spot on Marigold Street where Gloria and Luisa had found the dead child. Kenyon suspects Joel Galeano, a free-lance reporter who had threatened Mando when they met around little David’s body on Saturday afternoon. The detective asks Gloria to help him set up a trap for Joel. She goes to Joel’s house wired up, and when he realizes that she’s working for the police, he gets ready to shoot her. At that moment, Kenyon walks in and Joel runs to the basement and kills himself.
Kenyon believes that Joel killed Mando and that a second assassin is responsible for the child’s murder. He also thinks that the same person masterminded both murders. When they are unable to make any progress in the investigation, Gloria goes back home to Oakland where her husband and young daughter are waiting for her. Over the next year, she is unable to put the case to rest and continues to follow leads and to do research about the incident mentioned in the newspaper clipping that Mando had given her. She also follows the news on Black Swan Enterprises in the business section of the paper and on the Cisneros family in the society pages, and she develops a friendship with the child’s grandmother, Otilia Juárez.
At the end of 1971, Gloria ends up in the hospital with anemia and over-all exhaustion. Her husband is upset with her and accuses her of thinking that “tinkering” with the Cisneros case is more important than her daughter’s and her husband’s, or even her own, well-being. Again, she goes through an existential crisis. She remembers her promise to Michael David and to Mando to bring to justice whoever is responsible for their deaths. But she also remembers that earlier, on the day her daughter was born, she had promised her that her well-being would be foremost in her life, so she reluctantly decides to close the book on Michael David’s murder.
Eighteen years later, Gloria’s husband dies of a heart attack, and with her daughter grown up, she decides that she is again free to pursue her investigation of the murders. She feels herself starting to come alive again. She realizes that she wants to experience once more “the excitement and all those other powerful feelings that, eighteen years before, had made [her] look forward to each day with such anticipation” (129).
When she puts the missing pieces of the puzzle together, the story that emerges is a variation of the first story of a murder in history — that of the original Biblical fratricide (Cain and Abel) and its motif of usurpation. Gloria discovers that the murdered child’s father, Michael Cisneros, is really the son of Cecilia Castro Biddle —the adopted daughter of a prominent Mexican family that played an important role in the history of California from the time of the Spanish explorations. Michael had been conceived out of wedlock, and Cecilia had gone to Mexico to give birth and to put him up for adoption. The newborn infant was adopted by Miguel Eduardo Cisneros Belho and by his wife Karen Bjorgun-Smith. They registered him at the American Embassy in Mexico as their own child. The only person who knew that Michael was adopted was Karen’s father. When Karen gave birth four years later to her natural son Paul, her father felt that Karen loved Michael more than her own son, and he even had Cecilia Castro Biddle, who by then had become mentally unbalanced, kidnap her own son, who, fortunately, was found wandering in the Peralta Historic Park several hours later. Old Man Bjorgun wanted his natural grandson to be the only heir to the family fortune. He spent the rest of his life showing preference for Paul, taking him to live at his house for long periods of time, and instilling in him a racial pride in his Swedish ancestry and an insane jealousy of his older, adopted brother. Paul grows up with feelings of love and hatred for his brother. When his father dies, Paul re-establishes the Brazilian Irmandade that his grandfather had originally founded before World War II, but this time, instead of it being a socio-financial think tank, the international organization functions as a military hierarchy and plans to take over Black Swan Enterprises. The Irmandade also recruits people like Joel Galeano to do their dirty work, such as killing Mando.
Gloria figures out that Paul could not kill his brother directly, so he tried to destroy everything Michael loved — his son, his wife, and his business. Paul himself had murdered little Michael David on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium. Over the next 18 years, he not only tried to take over Black Swan because he resented his brother being the President of the company and owning a larger share of the stock, but he also gained control of Lillian’s mind by slowly feeding her “Elixir de Pereira,” a Brazilian febrifuge which gave her hypothermia and robbed her of her will to live.
In the final showdown at Solera, a small winery just outside of Saint Helena in the Napa Valley and Lillian’s favorite place to live, she begs Paul to kill her and put her out of her misery.
Paul promises to do so as soon as she writes a farewell note to Michael confessing her love for Paul. Lillian is enraged and tells Paul that she has hated him since the day 22 years earlier when he raped her. She also tells him that little Michael was his son, that he had murdered his own son. Paul wants to shoot her, but he ends up shooting Gloria’s friend Luisa instead, when Luisa, Gloria, and Otilia try to protect Lillian. Immediately afterward, Justin Escobar, the detective Gloria had hired to help her solve the case, kills Paul.
Even though the first story of a murder goes back to the Bible, it tells of a crime without mystery, and even though, according to Frederic Dannay and Marfred B. Lee, the first detective of history was Daniel of the Greek Tales “Susana and Daniel” and “Bel or the Uncovered Fraud,” almost all students of the genre agree that the first modern detective is Edward Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin (1841, 1842, 1845). Detective literature can only be born, says Roger Caillois, of the new conditions of life at the turn of the 19th Century. According to him, when Fouche installed the political police in France, intelligence, investigation, and deception became more important than speed, persecution, and strength.
Eulogy for a Brown Angel has all the elements of a detective story: a murder (actually, four murders), an attempted murder (Lillian by Paul), and one or more professional detectives, in this case, Matthew Kenyon and Justin Escobar, plus the protagonist herself becomes a de facto sleuth. There are also several references to famous literary detectives: Kenyon calls Luisa Dr. Watson, Luisa calls Gloria Miss Marple, and Gloria says to Kenyon: “I thought detecting was accomplished through the analysis of evidence and lots of leg work. Ze little gray cells, mon ami. Doesn’t a detective have to be a combination of Hercule Poirot and Phillip Marlowe?” (76). This murder mystery, however, is a whodunit of transcendental dimensions. The detective apparatus of this novel serves to conceal the true theme — that of Gloria’s spiritual journey. Her initiation follows in general terms the structure of the monomyth of the hero’s adventure, which Joseph Campbell, applying the principles of Jungian psychoanalysis to the study of mythology, has systematized in three classic stages: 1) the departure or separation from the world, 2) the initiation or entrance into a fountain of power, and 3) the return.
The initiation aspects of the novel plus the fact that the main characters are men and women who cannot escape the existential crises of their epoch, suggest that Eulogy for a Brown Angel partakes more of the characteristics of the thriller than of the detective story. The police story presents a problem to solve, but the thriller presents a spiritual quest. The thriller is metaphysical. In this thriller, the protagonist is a heroine in the classical sense who, like Oedipus, discovers that she is simultaneously the hunter and her prey, the detective and the criminal. Her scenario is the eternal struggle of the soul between evil and goodness, and her true goal is transfiguration. Gloria says:
I found myself following Kenyon’s every move in my mind in a kind of frantic match, and I envied his detachment and objectivity. For Kenyon, this was a puzzle or a game of deduction and strategy. He took his personal and moral concerns for granted, for in the solution of a crime, justice was somehow served and goodness always prevailed. But goodness, like justice, was only a relative notion, depending on who interpreted or administered it (61).
The thriller represents a literature of crisis. It is, in Karl Jaspers’ existential terminology, a literature of boundary situations (death, fate, culpability) and options that carry a human being to the frontiers in which she must make vital decisions, in which she must question everything, even the very essence of existence.
When Kenyon asks Gloria to serve as bait to catch Joel Galeano, she hesitates, for it is not only dangerous to her life, but also a political risk given that in the summer of 1970, anything any Chicano did had to be considered according to its political impact on the Chicano community. Gloria says: “But we were a people within a nation. Our behavior was constantly under scrutiny, our culture relentlessly under siege” (64). She feels that she and Luisa are treading “on a quagmire of the conscience” (65).
As she sits in Luisa’s kitchen weighing her two options, she observes “a late butterfly slowly crawl out of its cocoon, . . . oblivious to its earthbound instincts as a caterpillar, the butterfly was emerging, ready to suck the nectar of flowers and to keep company with the wind” (64). A few minutes later, she thinks:
For years, I’d walked around with unresolved anger delicately balanced against the hope in my heart that one day our social and political condition would improve for us. But when I found little Michael’s body during the most violent confrontation I had ever had to face, the balance was upset, the fragile order broken (65).
Then she adds: “Obeying the outrage, I felt there was no other course of action but to serve as bait to lure Joel out in the open” (65).
She agrees to be wired and to go visit Joel. Before walking out of Luisa’s apartment, she checks herself in the mirror and says: “Except for some outward changes, I was still the green caterpillar I’d always been, stepping onto the mire with clumsy, uncertain feet” (70). Her transformation is not complete at this point, but two days later, after confronting death, on her way back to Oakland, Gloria says: “In the span of five days I had travelled a hundred years. On the plane’s final approach, the light in the cabin came back on. My reflection flashed briefly on the window. I looked away for fear I might see a century-old woman staring back at me” (105).
Ralph Harper says that as crisis literature, the thriller “has arisen in the same century as a crisis theology and an existential philosophy, as a response to the crises of our civilization” (46). He adds that because the world of the thriller is Heideggerian, “[A]ll thrillers are basically concerned about two things: death and responsibility” (60). In Eulogy, Michael Cisneros realizes and acknowledges his responsibility for having internalized and accepted society’s racial prejudices. His brother Paul looked like his mother Karen and like his Swedish grandfather: tall, blonde, blue-eyed. Michael was shorter and his skin was darker. He says to Justin and Gloria: “In a way, I must admit I too have succumbed to this way of thinking. In our company, I let Paul take care of public relations, I let him deal with our clients. I was willing to run things behind the scene” (183). Michael’s admission of responsibility for colluding with America’s racial prejudices becomes more ironic when we remember that on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium, Gloria had thought, “In time, perhaps someone would admit to the real cause of what happened that day. But perhaps we already knew the name of the insidious disease that had claimed three, perhaps four, more lives that late August afternoon” (28).
Gloria herself goes through an existential crisis three times. The first time, in August of 1970, she encounters death (little Michael’s and Mando’s), questions her priorities —her political responsibility to the Chicano movement and her human and moral responsibility to try to apprehend one of the killers, makes her decision to help Detective Kenyon trap Joel Galeano, and faces her own death. The second time, a year later, she faces her own illness and has to choose between her desire to continue her investigation of little Michael’s murder and her responsibility to her husband and daughter. She reluctantly chooses her marriage and her daughter’s well-being. The third time, eighteen years after the Moratorium, free of familial responsibilities, she chooses to endanger her life once more to solve little Michael’s murder and to save the life of his mother, Lillian Cisneros.
The beginning of her first spiritual journey in 1970 is marked by her first encounter with the psychic phenomena that would remain with her the rest of her life. When Mando hands her the old newspaper clipping about Cecilia Castro Biddle, Gloria has an out-of-body experience — she feels herself flying above the dead child’s body and observing herself, the child, and Luisa below her on the ground. From that moment on, she experiences dreams, visual and acoustic premonitions and memories that belong to others, going all the way back to events in Michael’s and Paul’s childhood. At first she questions her own sanity, but slowly she starts to accept what she calls her “dark gift”: intuition, vision, and courage. She begins to call on her psychic powers to aid her in identifying the killers. “Eventually,” she says, “I learned to accept this dark gift and to build the delicate balance on which my sanity rested” (123). When she decides to resume her investigation in 1988, her dreams and visions increase and change in nature (129). In the end, she solves the mystery as much through intuition and psychic phenomena as through reason and strategy. Even though she claims that her husband Dario was a good man and that they enjoyed a good marriage, in the novel he plays a minor role, and the reader does not get to know him. He seems to be a symbol more than a full-bodied character. The two people who play an important role in her life and act as her assistants in solving the case as well as in her spiritual journey are her friend Luisa (Dr. Watson) and Justin Escobar, the detective she hired to help solve the case. Justin is the opposite of her husband. Gloria explains to Luisa that Dario is a good man but, as a medical doctor, he’s a man of science who can only believe what is scientifically verifiable. He would not understand the psychic phenomena Gloria was experiencing and later calls her interest in the Cisneros case “tinkering.” Justin, on the other hand, accepts her dark gifts as natural, becomes as interested as she is in the case, joins her investigation, shares her interest in Chicano issues, and falls in love with her. Luisa, a childhood friend, is a poet and Gloria’s confidante. She believes in fate and naturally lives with intuition, psychic powers, and poetic inspiration. When Gloria first tells her of her out-of-body experiences, Luisa says:
There are things one may not understand, but, still, one accepts them. I don’t know where poetry comes from, but I know I’m moved to write poems and I accept that. There are things that can’t be grasped intellectually. Maybe all this seems strange to you because you don’t rely much on your intuition and perceptions of people and things (48).
At the end, Luisa is killed by Paul. On my first reading of the novel, I was surprised and thought her death unnecessary, but upon a second reading, I realized that Luisa is really Gloria’s alter ego. Towards the end, she encourages Gloria to resume the investigation. She says “Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about death, and today, looking at Otilia, I realized that what brought us together with her and the Cisneros was little Michael’s death. I guess I’m just being morbid. I’d like to find out who killed little Michael before I die” (127). After her husband’s death, Gloria starts having a recurring nightmare in which she sees Lillian and Otilia crying by her graveside with her bloody clothes strewn around it. During the dream and for hours afterwards, Gloria has “the strange feeling that only a part of me was buried there as if I had been cut up into pieces and only a few of them had been found” (128). Luisa dies because Gloria is no longer cut into pieces. She has solved the mystery and integrated her intuition and poetic powers. They no longer need to reside in someone else. Her spiritual transfiguration is complete.
 Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel, Houston, Texas: Arte Público Press,1992.
 He was killed with a tear gas canister fired by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Although his death was found to be a homicide, Tom Wilson, the deputy sheriff who fired the canister, was not prosecuted.
 There were four people killed that day: Rubén Salazar, Lynn Ward, Angel Gilberto Díaz, and Gustav Montag, a Sephardic Jew who supported the Chicano movement.
 It has since then been renamed Salazar Park.
 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ companion, known for his brilliant analytical faculties.
 Agatha Christie’s detective Jane Marple, known for her interest in abnormal psychology.
 Agatha Christie’s French detective Henry Poirot.
 Raymond Chandler’s detective.
 See The Hero of a Thousand Faces.
 The World of the Thriller. Cleveland, Ohio: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969.
 the incident of the pet rabbit droppings
In his “Preface”, Harper says: “My intention is to suggest a phenomenology, as it were, of reading thrillers. What is the nature of our involvement? What do we expose of our secret selves, our desires and ambiguities, our morality and idealism? What is the stream, the trouble, the pertinence of our inner life, as we find some “verisimilitude of satisfaction” in our reading? If I am right, the thriller’s purpose is “transfiguration” (IX).
We Chicanos are like the abandoned children of divorced cultures. We are forever longing to be loved by an absent neglectful parent – Mexico – and also to be truly accepted by the other parent – the United States. We want bicultural harmony. We need it to survive. We struggle to achieve it. That struggle keeps us alive.
— Black Widow’s Wardrobe
About Lucha Corpi:
Lucha Corpi was born in Jaltipan, a small town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. She moved to Berkeley, California, as a young wife of 19, had a son, divorced, and received degrees from UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State University. She was president of the Centro Chicano de Escritores and is a member of the international feminist mystery novel circle, Sisters in Crime. Corpi has received many awards, among them, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Prize in fiction, and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Book Award of Excellence in Adult Fiction. She edited Máscaras, a collection of essays by 15 Latina writers, and is the author of two books of poetry, two children’s books, and six novels. Eulogy for a Brown Angel is her second novel and the first of her murder mysteries.
Lucha Corpi writes poetry in Spanish and fiction in English. In 2005 she retired after 28 years as a teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program.
About the Reviewer:
Lilvia Soto. Chihuahua, México, 1939. Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literature from Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. She has taught Latin American and Latino literatura at Harvard and other American universities. She was the co-founder and first director of La Casa Latina: the University of Pennsylvania Center for Hispanic Excellence. She was the Resident Director of a Study Abroad Program for students from Cornell, Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania in Sevilla, Spain. She has participated in numerous international literary conventions and festivals in Spain, Mexico, and the United States. She has published poetry, short fiction, literary criticism, and literary translations in journals and anthologies in the United States, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela. She has an English-language manuscript of poems about the American Iraq wars and another English-language collection of poems that dialogue with Iraqi poems. She has also completed an English-Spanish collection about language and her experience living in Spain. She is currently working on a bilingual collection about her return to Mexico in 2004, where she lived for six years, and the recovery of cultural and familial roots. She has published essays and given lectures on Spanish, Spanish-American, and Chicano writers (Leopoldo Alas [Clarín], Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, José Emilio Pacheco, Alejo Carpentier, Fernando del Paso, Salvador Elizondo, Guadalupe Villaseñor, Laura Esquivel, Lucha Corpi), as well as on the history of the U.S.-Mexico border, the culture of Hispanics in the U.S., and the poetry of Chicana writers. As a consultant she offers Spanish-English translations and workshops on intercultural communications. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Eulogy for a Brown Angel/Book Review