Archive for February, 2008

DAN PALUSKA – The Holy Toaster

The Holy Toaster, Dan Paluska

Dan Paluska, a MIT media artist, came up with this brilliant artwork, which he claims to have found in the back of a thrift store in summer of 2005.
For occasion of a show in the Axiom Gallery in Boston, and when asked what kind of reactions he had got, the artist replied: „On opening night, I went through eight loaves of bread and three jars of jam. I was surprised that people were so happy to slather Jesus and eat him“.

February 28, 2008 at 7:25 pm 1 comment

Freedom of Thought

I just saw Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn, and realized that all that I´ve been writing and thinking about lately has got to do with the search and meaning of freedom.
Except, as S. pointed out, freedom is such a vague concept. Most people tend to confuse it with being able to fulfill one´s wishes, which would make us fall into a discussion about happiness. It is impossible to use words as such today, without a context. The only sure thing is that there are people deprived of freedom, but again being in prison for instance, doesn´t necessarily mean you´re not free.

“Rather than Love, than Money, than Fame, give me Truth” Thoreau

Into the Wild is based on a true story, that of Chris McCandless, who left everything and everyone behind and went North. He was searching for trueness as a resistance and heroic act against capitalism and consumerism, which in his case seems to have been an excuse to rebel against his parents in the first place. Despite this, one´s admiration for his action doesn´t diminish. Though some did call it plain stupidity, for Chris died alone and in pain in Alaska, and according to the mountain patrol if he had had a simple hiking map with him he would have known that there was a bridge just a couple of miles away from where he tried to cross the river to get back to civilization.

His personal quest was about finding truth and freedom, and it involved getting into the wild, only to find in the end that there´s no point in happiness if you cannot share it with someone else.

This made me think. For my conception of freedom doesn´t involve getting back to nature and experience wilderness. But again, people keep telling me that I have absolutely no sense for nature. And it might be true… This week, I found out that my orchidee is dying from excess of water and, meanwhile taking a walk in the woods last weekend, I kept complaining about the smell of wild garlic, which is all over Leipzig this time of the year!!

For me, freedom means freedom of thought, to be able to surpass one´s apparently given limitations (educational, the condition´s one was brought in, the part of the world one was born in, life´s experiences, etc). At a certain point, in The Dogs Bark, Truman Capote interestingly says:

„the perils, the dooms of not perceiving and accepting the limits of one´s supposed identity, the classifications imposed by others – a bird that believes it is a dog, Van Gogh insisting that he was an artist, Emily Dickinson a poet. But without such misjudgments and such faiths, the seas would sleep, the eternal snows remain untracked“.

And that´s exactly on the point. For me, freedom of thought is the synonym for freedom itself. And it happens when you keep breaking out of the cage other people, and also yourself, imprison you in. Its a constant search for improvement, not settling for the role others attribute you or, you condemn yourself to.

When your mind is set in achieving freedom of thought, you are truly in a process to fulfill your potential.

February 27, 2008 at 11:59 am 1 comment


Installation View

Did you know there is a slum in Leipzig?

Living in or off a dump was the leitmotiv for Arte a Full, a three-day-exhibition presented by the Ser Humanos Foundation, which gathered artists from different countries working in different media in the Westwerk in Leipzig.

Art a Full brought forth several topics currently under discussion. See the full list of participating artists here >>
Concerning the concept of identity and the need to redefine it; Julia Gaisbacher for instance, questioned how our identity is being redefined in the information age, creating what she calls 21st century portraits by enlarging human finger prints thus stressing how portrait has changed from the depiction of a face to biometric data, more in accordance with our present surveillance society. Baluri Kim brought the gender issue into discussion by questioning what does it mean to be normal, in this way demanding an update of attitudes. Katia Klose´s installation, with photographs and recorded testimonies, also addressed how one builds one´s own identity, narrating one´s own story through, sometimes traumatic, past memories.

Martin Blankenhagen

Concerning the image of the foreigner/ enemy, Alexander Jöchl and Victor Lopez reflected upon the concept of the „Other“ in relation to linguistic, territorial and economical borders. And Arcadio Ciccarese , Hein Petschulat and Martin Blankenhagen explored the different impacts the Media is having on our life today. In “The Next Best Superstar”, Ciccarese asks us to reflect if religious motivated fundamentalist attacks somehow don´t share a sort of 15-minutes-of-fame strategy we see on television castings every day. Unfortunately his question is far more interesting than the installation itself.
Hein Petschulat on his turn, considered the importance of headlines and breaking news, which we absorb both consciously and unconsciously on a daily basis. And Martin Blankenhagen´s manipulated photos not limited by trueness nor faithfulness to reality – just like the Media – which make use of violence and destruction, bringing it to a new aesthetic level, which – the author hopes – remind us of the responsibility each and any one of us has while dealing with such images today.

Konstantinos Goutos, Pietà
Questioning (the end of) ideologies in today´s world, Lucia Baruelli´s nomadic installation, playing with the interchange between the concepts of propaganda and communication, joined Kontantinos Goutos´ film “Pietà” in underlying exactly the schizophrenic gap between the political ideals of a few and reality for the most. As a flanêur, Goutos shot the scene without purpose nor plan, he tells us only when and where it took place. With our necessity to rebuild narratives, we presume that, meanwhile his accidental walk through the city of Athens just a few days before the parliament elections of 2007, he witnessed a girl lying on the ground – maybe because of drugs – and a friend possibly trying to help. On the background we hear a part of the elections campaign of the communist party in Greece, with popular, protest songs from the sixties, of Mikis Theodorakis… It unpretentiously shows the separation and incommunicability of worlds; how the blind struggle for power runs side by side with individualist escapist reverie.
“Wolfen Nord”, a documentary by Hagen Wiel, speaks exactly of the vacuum left behind by the failure of the socialist dream. Taking a new building style developed since the 50s that was part of a visionary project and what came out of it, he seeks to discover through his camera a possible meaning for a ghost landscape showing the essence of a time standing still.

Roosevelt Asmani, Kairo Intervention
Also concerning the passage of time and its consequences, Mirko Tzotschew´s „Moskauer Strasse“, depicted the frailty of thoughts and things under the unstoppable march of time. Experience which was dramatized by Roosevelt Asmani in his film „Kairo Intervention“, where velocity and our current hectic pace took the leading role.

Claudia Balsters, Dallas.Von Menshen im Müll
Concerning documentary strategies, Claudia Balsters´work „Dallas.Von Menshen im Müll“, depicted exactly the daily life of those living off a dump. It made me think of Agnès Varda´s film Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse, in which the director focuses exactly on gleaners, those who gather the spoils left after a harvest, as well as those who mine the trash. Throughout Varda´s documentary, different people present their reasons for living off a dump. Against what one might think, it doesn´t always happen for economic reasons. Of course that the majority exist on the leavings of others for poverty reasons, but there are also those who choose to do it following their consciousness, exercising their ethic, turning their findings into art or, believe it or not, just for fun. In Varda´s film we are surprised to find out about a man with a high-degree education who choose to live his life off a dump and sleep in homeless shelters as a reaction against a capitalistic consumerist society. In his case it´s a moral, ethic and political attitude, an utopic act of resistance. Varda´s film manifolds how much more complex the subject in fact is.

Diagnosing social, economic, political restraints and, in Oswaldo Macià´s case even proposing a revolution on how we should apprehend reality, all artists present at Arte A Full seemed engaged in examining the causes and problems undermining today´s society. And in this way making the limits of the systems that entrap us more visible. Though some works didn´t quite deliver the complexity they promised on a theoretical level, after visiting Art a Full one does get the feeling that the limits of our cage are a bit more recognizable.

February 18, 2008 at 5:47 pm Leave a comment

ON CLEMENCY – On the reevaluation of values

»Götter, wenn zum Regieren ein hartes Herz nötig ist, nehmt mir entweder die Macht oder gebt mir ein anderes Herz.«

Composed in 18 days and premiered on the 6th of September of 1791, „La Clemenza di Tito“ was Mozart´s last opera before he died on the 5th of December that very same year. As usually happens with final works, this opera was regarded as an inferior effort, for everyone praises the ingenious music but the plot has always been the subject of delicate contempt.

The libretto, adapted by Caterino Mazzolà, was based on a former textbook by Pietro Metastasio from 1734. Its central character, Emperor Tito, has been the source of all controversy, for he forgives everyone around him, which has been seen as an unusual and incomprehensible behavior for an emperor.

When the woman he decides to marry tells him that she loves someone else, he forgives her, when someone admits having attempted against his life – the ultimate crime – he shows mercifulness and so on and so forth. He says, that if the world wishes to accuse him of anything, it can charge him with showing too much mercy rather than with having a revengeful heart. As a re- conciliator, he wants to rule without victims. In the end, he finds himself completely alone.

Some have read Tito´s mildness as a revolutionary attitude offering a new perspective, one of forgiveness, against the vicious circle of violence and brutality taking place during the Ancient Regime. Others, less positive, have classified Tito´s amnesty acts as a feint, as if he would only forgive so that the people are touched and he continues to rule, and this would make him a sort of tragic hero clinging on to an epoch due to to be over. On the contrary, there are also those who have pointed his ability to forgive as a sign that he is only human, no longer invested with the act of forgiving through a sacred higher power, thus stressing a secular and progressive aspect to the plot in syntony with the forthcoming Enlightenment.

I happen to find all this very interesting. On the one hand, who is to say that Mozart wasn´t only fulfilling a commission, his interest being the music in itself and not the plot. I sometimes think that narratives are overestimated – but one would have to research more to find it out. Second, what is interesting about Tito´s character is that one cannot decide if his idealism is either good or bad. Or perhaps that´s the point, that we are left to judge if standing alone is an obligatory price to pay for one´s idealism or, a definitive sign that it makes absolutely no sense to be good-hearted in this world.

One thing is for sure, we are forced here to reflect if our traditional values are still operational or not; we are asked if revenge is a good strategy; if one should stick to one´s ideals passionately (which would justify revenge) or, instead choose not to disturb nor destroy or as Tito, to reconciliate; we are left to wonder the price to pay for one´s own idealism; if it is a good strategy, even if it sometimes implies uttermost loneliness.

February 15, 2008 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

Kate Nash-Habanera

February 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm Leave a comment

Wie Man wird, was Man ist/ How one becomes what one is

Ecce Homo, the last book written by Nietzsche (1844-1900) before he lost his reason in early 1889, adopts an unusual megalomanic tone. At a certain point he declares: „I am not a man, I am dynamite“. For long many philosophers didn´t consider this specific work when analysing the german author´s corpus. Only recently, given several translations in the english language, the work has received more extensive attention.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche proposes to write his own biography, but doing so in a very unorthodox way, deliberately subverting the conventions of the genre. As observed in the introduction he fails to speak of periods of his life and is not accurate when it comes to dates. But this only happens because Nietzsche is speaking more about his ideas than about himself, and in a tone of exagerated self-esteem purposefully choosen in opposition to socratic humiliation.

Nietzsche wrote Ecce Homo as a sort of explanation for the overall of his work, in order to make some points clear enough just before the work he was projecting, which was supposed to be the major work of his carrer but never saw the day of light.

„Wie Man wird, was Man ist“, „How one becomes what one is“ is Nietzsche´s central thesis here. There´s a passage where the german philosopher states that he never fought for things in a combative manner but just learned to accept them as they came into his life. I was surprised to read this, for Nietzsche was frequently sick and achieved little recognition during his life time, which would lead one to think that he could have felt miserably.
But somehow he endured, and this is connected with his theory of the eternal recurrence and the idea of amor fati, which speaks of the acceptance of the events that occur in one´s life, despite all the suffering and pain. One needs to live life in such a way that one could accept its eternal repetion, cheerfully.

As a coincidence, I just saw Aeschylus´ “Oresteia” on stage this week. A theater play that speeks of the ethic of revenge, revenge being exactly the opposite of accepting one´s life calmly. In Aeschylus´ play, our deepest sense of any possibility for enduring justice in our community is deeply violated, we are submitted to a never-ending cycle of retributive killing and over-killing. And this had the interesting effect on stage, of making me think how theater is sometimes stronger than life itself.
Thought written before the advent of Christianismus but ruled by a similar metaphysical logic, the “Oresteia” seeks to come in terms with it. Aeschylus proposes that traditional goddessess of vengeance be incorporated in the justice system and not ruled out. He also says that though justice should move beyond pure personal emotion, ultimatelly it will not work if it doesn´t take our personal feelings into consideration somehow.

While Aeschylus is convinced that we cannot remove the Furies from our lifes, Nietzsche´s cut is of course of a radical kind, as he proclaims himself as the Antichrist for announcing what is to come, the transvaluation of all values. Interesting and coincidentilly, they seem to share the same view that we must move beyond our brutal and unworkable traditions. And this point revealed very important to me, as lately I am wondering about how one can be free, think and act freely.

February 11, 2008 at 7:03 pm 3 comments

OPENING NIGHT, a film by John Casavettes and TARNATION, a documentary by Jonathan Caouette

Opening NightTarnation
(Google Bilder)

When I was seventeen I could do anything.
It was so easy… My emotions were so close to the surface.
I am finding harder and harder to stay in touch…

(Gena Rowlands in Opening Night by John Casavetes)

Your greatest creation
is the life you lead

(Tarnation, a film by Jonathan Caouette)

Both Casavettes film and Caouette´s documentary deal with performance as a way to handle one´s own feelings and life experience. Jonathan Caouette says that film saved his life, since it was the way he found to reorganize his toughts and experiences and make some sense out of his childhood and teenage years. He started to document his own life at the age of 11. Film has helped him to deal with traumatic events, such as witnessing his mother being raped as a yound boy. His complete self-exposure through the medium film is for him something of a necessity, a survival strategy. He plays with facts from his biography, addressing his mother´s mental clinic history and his own sexuality at the same time.

This exposure finds a parallel in Myrtle´s process to understand and deal with her character in John Casavettes´ film. Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) is a talented middle aged stage actress, playing Virginia, a middle aged woman. As an actor surrounded by other actors, the difference between real emotion and performance becomes blurred for Myrtle. She starts to dillusion under the pressure of playing a role on stage that forces her to come in terms with her own age. She is also off balance due to the death of a fan that had come to see her on opening night and ends up run over by a car in front of the theater. Myrtle builds a phantasy around this second seventeen-year-old woman, who becomes her double throughout the entire film.

Myrtle´s struggle is about finding a creative way to play her character Virginia, dettaching herself from the age constraint. And so she subjects herself to a process of research which is also a process of self agression and destruction, which goes from alcohol consumption, to allucinations and self-injure. Myrtle will finally be able to coupe with the role at the end of the film. On the opening night in New York, though she arrives at the theater falling-down drunk, she proceeds to work her way through the opening-night performance. Gradually sobering up, she gains control of herself by the final scene of the play and finds a creative solution, by forcing her stage partner to improvise and discuss openly former emotional problems between the two, in face of an audience.

Both film and documentary deal with theatricality, with playing a role, with the fluidity of identity as a performative process. This concern with performing, strongly relates to an on-going blurring between reality and fiction, and how we crescently make use of the medium film in order to both objectify our lives and dettach ourselves from it, and build fictions around ourselves and the world around us. And this is why, Jonathan Caouette says: „Your greatest creation is the life you lead“. And because reality and truth are no longer nowhere to be found Myrtle states that she finds it harder and harder to stay in touch with her own emotions, probably because they are trapped inside mediality – a topic that has been extensively explored, also by Lynch´s last film, „Inland Empire“.

February 5, 2008 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

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