Sunday, July 27, 2008

Perhaps we're all originally from Denmark...

What a wonderful film.

Aside from the potent evocation of love, it makes a strong comment about art. In a way, the narrator is a daughter of Sigrid Undset. Undset begat that which begat the narrator, and it is only through Undset's art that the narrator came to exist at all. Even though it was not apparent to the artist, the creative power of the art stretched far into history.

In this context, art can be seen as an occult science. The methods are obscure, the rationale is debatable, and the results are hidden. The artist moves the lives of others and inadvertently manipulates the stream of events. This film is a is a rallying cry to all artists. Keep pushing, it says, our success is measured far beyond our purview.

Though we may never think ourselves to be great or noteworthy, we may nonetheless create great things from our efforts. This is, to me, a fundamental refutation of the notion that art is a purely commercial enterprise. We move the world in a way that does not follow money. We move the world along paths of love and imagination. We move the world, because we allow ourselves to be moved by it

To me, this is the very definition of an act of faith. We have faith in the practice. We have faith in the rightness of being.

We move the world because we must.

Picture Credits: Hermes Trismagestis as the Alchemist by an unknown artist via the Kybalion, Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur by Leonora Carrington via Eve's Alexandria, Le Bateleur tarot card via Neue Gruendlichkeit. The sweet sterographic projection of the Église d'Auvers-sur-Oise is part of the Wee Planets series by Gladl via Flikr. Thanks to Damon for recommending the video.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Prayer for the Lost

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Credits: Prayer by Thomas Merton as posted on Audacious Deviant (also lots of great religious art). Image from the mighty Bibliodyssey.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Crocodiles and Combs

Yesterday, I saw a customer reading Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles. Though I have never read the text, I have long been a fan of the Brothers Quay and of their rendition of Shulz's work. Once, I was lucky enough to see a collection of their work on the big screen at Richmond's historic Byrd Theatre. I was blown away. The Brothers attended the screening and fielded questions from the audience. It was amazing.

Unsurprisingly, YouTube has these animations in their entirety, albeit tiny and low quality. I highly recommend getting your hands on a DVD version, because the powerful imagery suffers under the degradation of YouTube-- but, hey, it's free! I also recommend checking out more of the Brothers' work, much of which can also be found on YouTube.

I'm looking forward to reading Schulz's writing... just as soon as I clear my massive backlog of library fines.

The Street of Crocodiles: Part 1

The Street of Crocodiles: Part 2

Originally, I had intended to post just the Street of Crocodiles. While poking around, however, I came upon (read: hunted down) my favorite Quay brothers animation. It is called the Comb. In addition to being wonderfully colored, it has the moebius strip feeling that permeates many of my restless dreams. Enjoy.

The Comb: Part 1

The Comb: Part 2

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cleaner is Better: From Protest to Advert

Terror grips me as I hear these truths
without embellishment. As for the rest,
hearing that just makes me lose my way.

I tell you you'll see Agamemnon dead.

Poor girl, calm yourself. Tone down those words.

No—no one can heal what my words prophesy.

Not if they're true. But may the gods forbid!

While you pray here, others move in to kill. 

What man is going to commit such crimes?

What man? You've completely missed the point.
You've failed to understand my prophecies.
from Agamemnon by Aeschylus

In 2007 Alexandre Orion wiped soot from the walls of a Sao Paulo tunnel to create a sweeping vista of skulls. His reverse graffiti piece was an elegant act of protest, which drew images of death in the very poison itself. The authorities were confounded, because cleaning is not vandalism and is not a crime. Unable to punish the 'offender,' they were forced to clean the entire tunnel and, later, all the tunnels of the city.

Orion documented the process and released this YouTube video:

I first read about Orion on Bioephemera, and he has been knocking around in my brain ever since. He is, like so many of us, Cassandra wringing her hands at the gate. We can see the tragedy unfolding around us, but are left with little to do but cry out. While the story of Orion seems to have a victorious ending-- the tunnels cleaned, the world singing his praise-- it is little more than a cheerful note in a gloomy, discordant opera. The cars still drive, and, as Orion's own video points out, the toxic soot is simply transformed into a black, bubbling ooze that vanishes into a storm drain.

Yet, Orion's unembellished statement has suffered a curse far worse than what Apollo handed down. Cassandra's contemporaries simply refused to believe her words. Orion, however, lives in the Orwellian world of corporate advertising. His dire message has been co-opted, purged, and re-used to sell the very gasoline that created the poisonous soot.*

76 Commercial - Cleaner Is Better from Chris Jaemin Yi on Vimeo.

Gone are the dark tunnels and sulfurous light. Gone are the furtive resistance and melancholy hope. Gone are the grime and the gas mask.

Instead, Yi's protagonist, cleanly dressed and smiling, stands in a well-lit parking garage. On his way to his condo, no doubt, he is seized by the the notion to do something that is just... well, dang it... it's just darn nice! Moved by altruistic vigor and unabashed corporate zeal, he fills the walls with pretty swirls, a happy sun, and a meticulously executed 76 logo. Then he steps back, pats himself on smugly on the back, and nods. Gosh darn it, cleaner IS better.

Looking at the two videos side by side reveals some interesting differences. To me, the most striking are the color and the music.

Filmed in situ, Orion's documentary footage is dark and reminiscent of the classical 'Spanish Palette.' Yi's video, in contrast, is light and airy. Notice how skillfully Yi uses the white walls to highlight the bright notes of primary colors that are in frame for virtually the entire video. Here we have Goya vs Playskool, and it's little surprise which is featured in a corporate ad.

Similarly, Yi's music, for which I can find no author credit, is full of pep and verve and virtually shouts 'OMG!' and 'LOL!' in all caps. It's upbeat music for a sunny afternoon. The music feels repetitive and empty. 76 does not want you to think too much. Just get the message and feel good about the brand. In contrast, Orion's music, which is credited to Instituto, prompts introspection and thought. It changes and swells, pulls back and expands. Combined with the imagery, it paints the portrait of a small, hopeful man in a dark and complex world.

To be fair, Yi's soundtrack, clocking in at 23 seconds of music, doesn't have as much room to maneuver as Orion's, which, at 161 seconds, is exactly seven times longer. It would be easy to write the difference off to scale and move on. Yet, if you listen only to the first 23 seconds of Orion's video the contrast is striking. Coincidentally, the first 23 seconds of Instituto's music is composed entirely of a single repeating motif. Notice, however, the subtle permutations and inversions of that motif. A great deal of thought has gone into creating complexity in that one simple segment. I get the impression that both Orion and Instistuto would appreciate an equal amount of thought from their audience.

I do not begrudge Mr. Yi his success. The other video that he has posted on Vimeo is longer and belies a thoughtful and concerned mind. He is a skilled commercial filmmaker, and I have no doubt that we will see more of his work. Nevertheless, even as I congratulate him on winning the 76 competition, I am saddened by the insidious influence of corporate advertising. As individuals, we all have our disparate and justifiable motivations. We work to fill our bellies and protect our friends, families, and interests. Yet, somehow and inevitably, we advance the plot of the tragedy. From the mighty Agamemnons to the soot covered Cassandras, we all play our part to fulfill the curse on the House of Atreus.

* I recognize that this commercial is to promote a cleaner burning gasoline. Taken at face value this is certainly a lesser evil. Yet, in the end, it is an ad to promote the sale of gasoline, and only a fool takes commercials at face value.

Credits: Photo from Alexandre Orion's site; Agamemnon text from the website of Ian Johnston

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Black Squares" or "People Are Silly"

Scientists cooked up the idea of Dark Matter as a way of explaining why the universe doesn't fly apart. The more they work, however, the more they are able to find evidence that confirms its existence. Now, thanks to the fine folks at the Particle Zoo, you can own your own plush bit of Dark Matter for just $9.75 + shipping. I love that the ad says " remains a mystery as to what exactly it is" and then lists the construction materials. They had to be laughing when they did that.

Addle your melon here.

In 1915 Kazimir Malevich painted his famous Black Square. When he exhibited it, he hung it in the corner of the room that was traditionally reserved for the family icon. The message was pretty bold. These days it's about as revolutionary as a sock and helps ignorant people bad-mouth art.

"A black square? Really? I could buy one of them at Sherwin-Williams for a couple of bucks!"

It's all context.

I respect Suprematism in its historical perspective, but I think it's pretty silly. Evidently so did Stalin.

Not entirely safe for work, though not all that lewd.

Censor bars are inherently silly. Proven fact (see full study here). I love the Pong part. Oh retro, you are so hip.

The music, by the way, is a fantastic song called 'Toe Jam' by the British superband BPA. It features Fatboy Slim, David Byrne, and Dizzee Rascal. Another great Dizzee Rascal video here(highly recommended).

Photo Credits: Dark Matter ad yoinked from the Particle Zoo website. Black Square courtesy of Wikimedia.

Hey Ladies!

I know it works for some folks, but I could never pull off the "I am Giant Blue Face" routine. The ladies always saw right through it. Perhaps I ought to spend more time tidying up my display area.