Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Great Intensity

Long Sorrow could also have the title, “great intensity”. Anri Sala’s 13 minute film immediately draws in the viewer, with the mystery of sound and sight. The initial scene of Long Sorrow is placed outside a door, leading to a room. The camera gradually moves inside the room, towards an open window. A mysterious sound is heard in the distance and an unknown figure appears to move, which resembles a plant, bird wings or flowers. As the narrative unfolds, the sounds continue sporadically. The camera moves closer to the moving object and it eventually becomes recognizable, as flowers placed in the dreadlocks of a male musician.

The intensity of the narrative is increased as the viewer can see the man is suspended outside the window, many stories above ground. The viewer is drawn in further, as the sounds are intensified, with the sounds of free style jazz, played by the musician, Jeemel Moondoc. A type of call and response, with the background sounds of both traffic and a church bell are eventually heard. The view shifts from inside the room, to the outside. The method of the man’s suspension remains unknown, but the camera scans the area, surrounding the building and eventually settles on sporadic fragments of the man’s face. Michael Freid notes that the viewer is often closer than the viewer would like to be. Embodiment is experienced as the camera permits, with the fragmentized view throughout the film.

The musician’s playing is sharply captured in a fragmentized view of his eyes. Towards the end of the film Monod’s eyes slightly close and open, not appearing to focus on any of his surroundings. He seems to be unaware or interested in the camera. His spirit, the surrounding and music have merged, as evident in his physical response to playing the saxophone. Michael Freid states, that “theater and theatrical are at war today…”. This refers to an image that is contrived, where the subjects act as if there is no camera versus one that is considered authentic, as it depicts a candid moment. While it’s clear from the location of his performance the musician is aware that he is being filmed, the sincerity with being in the moment is also evident.

During Freid’s presentation he explains that the work is not the most significant, but the experience of the work. It is evident that the concept of free jazz is integral to the film, as Moondoc performs in response to his surroundings. There was not a musical composition written for the film. At the end of the 13 minutes of Long Sorrow I desired to experience more; more sounds of the saxophone; more sights of the greenery surrounding Jemeel Moondoc and most importantly a view not controlled by the camera. I wanted the camera’s wall to be torn down or at least ripped. I wanted to put the fragmentized frames together, I wished to experience the moment as Jemeel Moondoc, or at least someone with a ‘bird’s eye view’.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Walking through a museum is always overwhelming.  There is so much to see and observe.  The Cantor Center is full of every genre of art.  I was specifically drawn to the Native American Collection.  When I stand before these works I am mesmerized by the simple line work, and of the beautifully painted animals and patterns so simple and elegant.I appreciate that these pieces tell a story, recording their past. It is like deciphering code. The longer I gaze at the work I start to notice the smaller things, where the fire licked the side of the pot, small chips and wear and tear..  I am continually reminded how beautiful and timeless they are.  For me this experience is embodied more that visual, mainly because I relate so closely with clay, I know the process in which the piece was made and what the steps were to finish it.  While observing the work I  want to sear the images in to my memory, but I generally end up sketching them, trying to capture the strong simplicity of line and design.

Perhaps I'm Being Too Literal...

So, perhaps I'm being a bit literal but Duane Hanson's Slab Man is a piece that has caught my eye every time I have been to the Cantor and could, perhaps, be the literal embodiment of embodiment...(?)  Now, I am an object maker so it makes sense that I might be drawn to Hanson's piece due to it's display of technical mastery, or perhaps it's the fact that I have done my fair share of manual labor and can relate to this disheveled, rough, depiction of working-class fatigue.  While these things may be true there's more to it than that.  The most intriguing thing about Slab Man is that no matter how much I know that he is an artificial construction of synthetic polymers and everyday clothing, the fact remains that he constantly startles me!  During my time in the gallery he remains in my peripheral field as a member of the general museum goers and then I turn to focus on him and I am startled once again!  Is there a problem with my short term memory?  Do I fear manual labor that much?  Or is it the instinctual reaction to the perceived physical presence of a large human  in my vicinity that causes this reaction.  I do empathize with him; the apparent fatigue, the dirt, the disheveled appearance, all reminders of a past life that I honor, but have made great efforts to enrich in other ways.  There is honor there and pathos...  Yet I am still impressed by my repeated physical reaction to the piece.  Though I value a controlled perspective in my own work I think Hildebrand got it wrong with this one; it's the fact that we can interact with this work, that it does come into our space as an equal member of the crowd and that we appear to have no control over it except our ability to retreat from it that gives it its power.  Plus, I'm pretty sure he had B. O. ...

Gender and Embodiment at the Cantor

The work of Tom Rippon, Women Finishing a Novel, 1982, is an excellent example of an embodied experience, as well as the embodiment of a woman. While it appears to be a painted wooden chair, the piece is porcelain with glaze on a wooden base. The size is approximately large enough for an average ten year old to sit comfortably. If it weren’t for the raised position of the piece displayed, the thin legs of the chair and the size, one would assume it was a utility piece. Additionally, the familiarity of the object, the physical openness of the chair and the open book resting on the arm of the chair draws the viewer into the work.
Society has established colors which are more closely associated with each gender; this includes the pink for girls, blue for boys and yellow for gender neutral. The gender associations are often established from birth. The use of colors of pink, light orange and green seem to have the sparkle of fingernail polish, instead of the deep colors of red, blue or brown, which are often considered masculine colors. Colors contribute to gender performance from an early age. The artist also suggests feminine qualities in the use of lines, curves and the pattern on the floor, which seems similar to kitchen tile-again references presumed gender associations.
The experience of viewing this piece in the museum setting, provides a different result than had I viewed the image in a book. The supporting text further leads the viewer to the same conclusion of the importance of gender and embodiment.

Empathy, Embodiment and Abstract Art

My first experience of an empathetic response to a work of art happened in the second floor galleries of SFMOMA when I encountered Mark Rothko’s prosaically entitled No. 14, 1960. I was magnetically drawn to this 9 x 9 foot painting that seemed to project its presence from across the room. I felt compelled to enter the gallery and seat myself on the bench in front of it. What happened next was totally unexpected and slightly unsettling. After I calmed my mind and focused on what was directly in front of me, I experienced the sensation of literally falling, tumbling directly into the artwork. It wasn’t that the art had become an extension of myself or that I had disappeared and had merged with it, it was more that I had entered the universe that the painting had opened up to me and that I was experiencing this new world from within the frame.

Reproductions of this work do it no justice. I was aware of myself sitting on the bench but at the same time I felt enveloped, almost smothered, by the hot stickiness of Rothko's glowing golden rectangular. I was inside this fiery mass looking out through its orange-red skin. I could smell the dusky, smoky, sweetness of honey in beeswax and could feel the sensation of heat, like the hot summer sun, on my body. I felt as if I could explore the outer contours of this viscous but fluid mass by swimming through the channels created by the artist’s brushstrokes until I slipped through one of them and plunged into the deep indigo blue below. I hit the cold, brown bedrock beneath it that silenced all sensations and I continued to slide right out of the painting. I could imagine that the drips and splashes on the surface of the work were the traces, the visible evidence of my presence.
What came to mind immediately was Icarus of Greek mythology who was able to fly using wings made of wax and feathers. In his exhilaration with flight he ventured too close to the sun, his wings melted, and he plunged to his death into the sea below. Icarus became my own personal title for this painting. I learned later that in an earlier Surrealist and more figurative stage of his career, Rothko’s interest was in developing an art based on myth. It was later that he began to create softly contoured rectangles of luminous color that seemed to float within their monumental canvas enclosures of which No. 14, 1960 is a prime example.

I didn't realize it at the time, but in a contemporary art museum, I was creating my own narrative that connected an ancient Greek myth, 19th century German aesthetic theory, and an American abstract painting. Robert Vischer and his theory of empathy has given me a framework for understanding my own experience. I've learned that the experience of an artwork does not have to be limited to the intellectual and visual, but can be fully embodied in unanticipated and rewarding ways that can open us to a greater understanding of the world beyond our limited view of self.

feeling of death

The most interesting work to me was "Splendid Grief: Darren Waterston and the Afterlife of Leland Stanford Jr". At beginning, I didn't know that closed black gate was a gate could lead us to a exhibition. I only found some black paper butterflies decorated on a small room outside. I followed these butterflies and then I pushed the gate and entered into the Ruth Levison Halperin Gallery, which has been transformed into a mourning parlor that serves as a memento mori to the late Leland Jr. Well, be honest,  I didn't plan to stay in this gallery for long. I started from the left side. When I pass by some oil paintings on the wall, felt some communication with the paintings on the wall.  I stop in front of the panting. I felt something is surreal.  

The first one that got my attention was a painting about Leland and an angle. This is one of the museum collection. In this painting, the size of leland and angle is in an interesting contrast: the angle is in front but she is small. Leland is behind the angle but the size is much bigger. The angle is crying and Leland is staring at the lens. The color is in contrast too. The crying angle hide her face in her arms, the overall color is dark and brown. Leland is standing straight behind wearing light blue, and everything is in details. As all of his other portraits, Leland looks proud and no face. I felt some connection because I know this life (Leland) was exist, and this panting was painted after his death. It was a strange feeling.  Every time when I  take a walk in a cemertary park, I feel I have some connection with these passed people, especially if i see their black and white photos on the stone. Does Darren Waterson had the same impression when he saw Leland's portraits in the museum? Does he has some special interest of "death"? The first time when I saw his water color painting, the flowers were beautiful and inspiring, but they remind me the dying flowers. And then I start to think why Waterson use "after life" on his title. From a Buddhist perspective, the current life is a continuation of the past life. Does Waterson want to build up a connection by making this show? In eastern philosophy, we should not bother lives in the other world. It is all about "feeling", I realize I cannot explain too well.  

I have to pass by a large installation that placed on the center of the gallery. It was from the ground to the ceiling. The bottom was designed a circled couch that allowed the visitors to sit and rest. A The installation was fully decorated with black butterflies. They were elegent but it was a little bit too pretty and too busy to my taste. 

Some pictures of our fieldtrip to Stanford

Gates of Hell, Auguste Rodin
Photos © Hedwig M. Heerschop 2009