1/30/2009 2:15:39 PM
The laptop screen still can’t compete with the silver screen for cinematic grandeur, but what the computer lacks in scale, it compensates for in breadth and immediacy. Visitors to the Europa Film Treasures website will find themselves just a few mouse clicks away from a 1919 Hungarian Revolution parable from the director of Casablanca, a 1928 Russian mini-epic of animated marionettes, and an elegantly astute 1955 Macedonian documentary on a fraternal order of dervishes observing Ramadan.
This welcome trove of the motion picture medium’s formative juvenilia aggregates dozens (so far) of short-form relics—many with new original scores, most in pristine restorations, and all searchable by title, date, nationality, genre, director, cast, and more. Each is appended with a concise scholarly history, synopsis, and production specs; subtitles, where necessary, come in your choice of five languages. It’s the brainchild of compulsive film archivist and restorer Serge Bromberg, whose company Lobster Films houses more than 100,000 reels in its labyrinthine Paris offices and is one of the 28 European film archives from which Europa Film Treasures gathers its remarkable content.
The site isn’t all serious and scholarly. There are also pure entertainments—and impure ones—running a gamut from the 1917 John Ford western Bucking Broadway, in which a cowboy loses himself in New York City, to the understandably popular 1948 erotic short aptly known as The Apple-Knockers and the Coke. Best, and most web-appropriate, is that it’s a work in progress, adding content and interactive features regularly.
This review was originally published in the January-February 2009 issue of Utne Reader.
Image from Bucking Broadway by John Ford.
1/27/2009 4:04:47 PM
bills itself as the magazine for “technology on your time,” and its blog spotlights all manner of DIY tech projects. But the site’s eye for creative, unusual work, and its tone—cheeky, accessible, and infinitely curious—makes it one of my favorite web destinations for art. The blog presents pieces with the exploratory ethos of a science fair, reveling in the geeky pragmatics of process and construction. Here's a sampling of projects that Make has covered recently:
Magdalena Kohler and Hanna Wiesener built a voice knitting machine that translates vocal frequencies into knitted patterns:
Robert Wechler's public art relies on the natural curve in a line of shopping carts:
Chris O’Shea and Cinimod Studio’s kinetic light installation “Beacon” interacts with visitors as they move through a gallery space:
1/22/2009 1:41:19 PM
For an interesting slice of life, check out Simon Hoegsberg's latest project, “We're All Gonna Die—100 meters of existence,” a photo that is 100 meters long and includes 178 people. The Copenhagen-based photographer shot photos from the same spot in Berlin over the course of 20 days, and stitched them together to create an image that is funny, sad, touching and mundane all at once. You can see more of his work here.
1/21/2009 3:37:25 PM
Once an obscure subset of reggae, the music known as dub has mutated into a remarkably broad category, with digital-age DJs applying its looping, backmasking, slice-and-dice aesthetic to all sorts of music, from punk to house to world. On A Town Called Addis, veteran British producer Nick Page—a.k.a. Dub Colossus—taps traditional Ethiopian sounds and state-of-the-art mixology to create a modern dub classic.
From the first bright horn bursts, psychedelic sound effects, pulsing groove, and honeyed vocals of “Azmari Dub,” the album grabs listeners’ attention with its hyper-defined sounds. It’s the exact opposite of a murky mix, tantalizing the ear with a Sgt. Pepper–like landscape of sonic doodads and textures while respecting the Ethiopian music at its core. Page creates spectacular settings for rustic instruments such as the messenqo one-string fiddle, the washint flute, and the kraar harp and unveils surprise talents including the singer Sintayehu Zenebe, whom Page has called “the Edith Piaf of Ethiopia.”
If the music at times resembles jazz, it’s the cosmic, far-out jazz of the Sun Ra Arkestra, and if it occasionally enters the Afrobeat realm, it’s the funky turf of the master, Fela Kuti. But the music owes perhaps its largest debt to dub innovators from Lee “Scratch” Perry to the Clash, who were mashing up music long before Pro Tools came along. Dub is no longer dismissed as the work of stoners who spent too long at the mixing board, but has come into its own as a vital form full of endless possibilities. Dub Colossus exploits them to their fullest.
STREAMING TRACK: "Azmari Dub" by Dub Colossus from A Town Called Addis
1/21/2009 11:50:59 AM
The winner of last year’s Tropfest Australia film festival was recently released over YouTube. The film, directed by Michelle Lehman, is funny, well-made, and absolutely compelling. You can watch it below:
1/21/2009 10:43:51 AM
If you weren't completely satisfied by watching former president George W. Bush leave Washington D.C. in a helicopter yesterday, check out this retrospective of Bush images by award-winning photojournalist Christopher Morris. You may recognize the first image in the slideshow, “The Three Amigos,” which appeared on the cover of our July-August 2007 issue. The images will also be exhibited through February 16th at 28 Jay Street in Brooklyn.
(Photo courtesy Christopher Morris /VII)
1/19/2009 4:16:46 PM
The Czech Republic, in celebration of its new appointment as temporary head of the European Union, commissioned Czech artist David Cerny to spearhead a sculpture to commemorate the distinction. His assignment was to create a sculpture mosaic in collaboration with an artist from each country in the EU (27 in all).
However, he soon figured that such a project could not be completed on time and under budget. So he and his team, without telling the government agency that donated the funds, “decided to create fictitious artists who would represent various European national and artistic stereotypes."
The result is Entropa, a mosaic of giant snap-together plastic parts, with each piece depicting the stereotypes of a particular country. Romania, for example, is shown to be a Dracula-themed amusement park, while France is draped with a banner reading “On Strike!"
Needless to say, the uproar has been considerable. Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra has since apologized for the incident, but Cerny remains adamant that Europe simply needs to lighten up. According to the artist, the aim was to raise the question “What do we really know about Europe? We have information about some states, we only know various tourist clichés about others. We know basically nothing about several of them. … We do not want to insult anybody, just point at the difficulty of communication without having the ability of being ironic.”
In the end, Cerny agreed to return the Czech government’s ₤300,000 grant for the project, but there’s little chance the sculpture will actually be removed from its display at the EU Council in Brussels
View more pictures of the work and read the official brochure, complete with the fake artists’ explanations.
Image courtesy of centralasian, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/19/2009 2:52:40 PM
Mountaintop removal coal mining isn’t just destroying Appalachia’s landscape. It’s also also fracturing the region’s culture, including its traditional music. The "faith, politics, culture" magazine Sojourners reports on the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School in eastern Kentucky, which trains youngsters to play—and be proud of—the old-time music that has been losing its foothold in the hollers.
“East Kentucky is a very poor area, and it gets the short end of the stick in a lot of ways,” school founder Beverly May tells Sojourners. “There are terrible problems of environmental devastation and economic devastation from the strip-mining of coal. The kids see all this, and they know where they stand in the American scene. They’re hillbillies. The Cowan Creek School counters that. It says you have a heritage that is honored all over the world and is one of the main sources of all American popular music. Saving this music is a part of saving this regional community.”
Banjo player Randy Wilson, who teaches at the school, tells Sojourners that coal mining is still a touchy subject in the area: “We got some flak last summer because so many of our music school teachers publicly voiced opposition to strip-mining and mountaintop removal. Some people said we needed to be aware that many of the local people at our events also work for a coal company. It is a shame that we have to pit jobs against honoring our heritage, but that is how it is here in Appalachia.”
This internal conflict is also the thread running through the forthcoming book Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal, which will be published in April by the University Press of Kentucky. The authors, Silas House and Jason Howard, both grew up in families with coal-mining backgrounds, and in the introduction they describe the pressure exerted on those who dare to speak out: “Many Appalachians find it difficult to oppose this practice because of the coal industry’s long history of convincing people that to protest any form of mining is to oppose an industry that has long been a major supplier of jobs within the region.”
The book goes on to both puncture that argument—mountaintop removal actually doesn’t provide many local jobs—and give voice to 12 courageous local witnesses to the devastation, including many who also draw connections between coal and culture. One is 86-year-old songwriter Jean Ritchie, sometimes called the “mother of folk,” whose music was recorded by famed musicologist Alan Lomax. In a song that still rings true, she sings of “black waters run down through the land” and says, “The memories, they just push right down on me sometimes.”
Look for more coverage of the book at Utne.com closer to April.
Image courtesy of Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.
1/19/2009 2:38:34 PM
Aaron Copland’s rousing Lincoln Portrait is on several orchestras’ programs for the weeks surrounding the inauguration. The piece, scored for symphonic orchestra and narrator, integrates text from Lincoln’s speeches and writing with musical material that celebrates the American folk tradition, quoting tunes like “Camptown Races.”
Here’s a short clip from the Chicago Symphony’s September 11, 2005, performance, with Barack Obama as narrator.
(Thanks, Opera Chic.)
1/19/2009 11:41:43 AM
In a fog of photographs and video footage showing Palestinians bloodied and bandaged in Gaza, the arts community of Gaza has effectively been disappeared with countless other indicators of a thriving human community interrupted by unthinkable violence. Maymanah Farhat specializes in modern and contemporary Arab art and has written a compelling piece about Gaza's artists which we've reprinted here with the permission of Electronic Intifada.
"I am working under the voices of fire, Israeli warplanes ... I still breathe, take some pictures everyday"
- Shareef Sarhan, Palestinian artist, 12 January 2009
Israel's vicious attack on Gaza has already claimed more than 1,200 lives and has injured thousands while destroying the infrastructure of the tiny coastal territory, including the handful of nonprofit venues that make cultural life possible. Even before the invasion, the combination of 41 years of Israeli occupation, frequent military incursions and attacks, infighting among Palestinian factions, and a dwindling economy created a difficult, if not impossible, environment to sustain an art scene. Yet, with the determination that has defined Palestinian art for decades, artists in Gaza have continued to create and organize, including establishing artistic associations and collectives and organizing frequent exhibitions both at home and abroad. A look at some of Gaza's seminal artists reveals an artistic tradition that has survived years of conflict while contributing greatly to Arab culture.
Born in Lydda in 1930 and forced to live in a refugee camp in Khan Younis in 1948, Ismail Shammout was one of Palestine's leading modernist painters. He organized his first exhibition in Khan Younis in 1953 and lived in exile throughout most of his career, residing in Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon with his wife and colleague, Palestinian painter Tamam al-Akhal. Often incorporating local folklore and history in portraits of women and children amidst scenes of expulsion and conflict, his monumental compositions and expressionist style became an important part of Palestinian visual culture, influencing generations of artists seeking to articulate their collective narrative. In addition to creating an impressive body of work and exhibiting across the region, Shammout produced Art in Palestine (1989), one of the first English-language texts on Palestinian art.
Returning to Lydda after a 50 year absence, Shammout found his ancestral home occupied by Israeli settlers. The experience launched him into creating a large-scale series of paintings with the hope of having it on permanent display in Palestine. "Palestine: the Exodus and the Odyssey" (1997-2000) contains some of his most memorable work -- several mural-size canvases chronicling the Palestinian existence from the Nakba, or expulsion in 1948, to the first and second Palestinian intifadas with the visual prowess and historical magnitude found in the work of those he admired such as the Mexican Muralists. In "Life Prevails" (1999), a woman stands as an anthropomorphic representation of the Palestinian spirit -- defiant and stoic above dozens of children while the mosques and churches of Jerusalem and shores of Gaza are shown in the background. In an inscription accompanying the work Shammout stated that "The Israeli occupation was oppressive and ruthless. But we struggled to survive, to assert our presence, to preserve our traditions, and sustain our dreams." He died in 2006, just days before Israel's assault on Gaza and Lebanon, which devastated the neighborhoods near his Beirut home.
The pen and ink drawings of Abdel Rahmen al-Mozayen have become synonymous with Palestinian liberation struggles. Born in Kubyba in 1943, al-Mozayen's mother was an expert in the art of embroidery and while serving as a resistance fighter with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) he produced a number of political posters in the 1970s and 1980s, iconic works that incorporate a unique combination of embroidery, ancient history, and stylized figures. Using the complex symbolism found in Palestinian embroidery to communicate steadfastness, his references to Canaanite heritage testify to the ancestral roots and longevity of Palestinian art, an element that is paramount to combating the co-option of local culture by Israelis and the near erasure of historical evidence by the occupation. Simultaneously, his employment of embroidery is significant -- with occupational forces often clamping down on the displaying of flags or material related to the resistance, the art form evolved into an intricate coded language of signifiers used as an act of defiance.
In "Children of the Intifada" (1988), al-Moyzen depicts two young children dressed in traditional Palestinian garb sitting atop a horse. The horse is adorned with an embroidered tapestry that reads "December" in Arabic and "1987" in English -- the month during which the first Palestinian intifada erupted. From the horse's bridle hangs a key, a familiar symbol for Palestinians, as many took the keys to their homes when forced out by Zionist militias in 1948, expecting their expulsion to be temporary. The children have slingshots in their hands and a supply of stones nearby, a reference to the rock-throwing youth that were essential to the protests of the uprising. In mid-journey, the horse takes the children over a bed of rocks, perhaps suggesting the Jordan River as they enter to liberate Palestine or a metaphorical road that is paved with the very tools needed for their resistance.
In contrast, the pensive and morose paintings of Fayez Sersawi underscore the psychological and physical effects of the Israeli occupation. Working to document the brutal tactics used by Israeli forces, he paints images capturing the daily experiences of Palestinians under widespread violence. Concurrently, he has created such works as "Two Men" (2001), an introspective portrait of two figures, presumably a father and son. The positioning of the men, as they lean against each other, occupies the foreground and center of the composition, leaving little room for an identifiable setting. Instead, the same expressionist brushstrokes that detail the age and wear of their faces appear in the background, unifying the figures with their surroundings. Rendered with aggressive markings that suggest chaos, the violence of the background continues on the bodies of the figures as though consuming their entire beings. The intimate posturing of Sersawi's subjects is also of interest, as it resembles that of Christian icon painting. Tracing its roots to early examples of icon painting near pilgrimage sites such as Jerusalem -- an observation brought to light by painter and scholar Kamal Boullata -- much of contemporary Palestinian art can be viewed within this artistic practice. Resembling compositions of the holy mother and child, the artist's iconification of Palestinian men under siege is a bold take on the tradition with weighty political inferences.
Sersawi has also greatly contributed to art education in Gaza. Using a YMCA facility equipped with the workings of a university-level classroom, he taught dozens of artists, many of who are now actively taking the reigns of the cultural scene. Today this new generation continues the movement formed by these visionaries. Unlike the Western model, in which commercial venues and public and private institutions shape artistic output or at least determine what is shown, the Palestinian art scene, which transcends Israeli checkpoints, Israel's wall in the West Bank and the continuous annexation of land, has relied on a dynamic community-based system of nonprofit galleries and art spaces that remains in line with the everyday political realities of its surroundings.
Artist organizations play an important role in providing a much-needed environment for creation and the furthering of art through public events and education. Two leading Gaza organizations comprised of young and emerging artists are Eltiqa Group and Windows From Gaza. Boasting a variety of artists working in photography, sculpture, new media and painting, these groups regularly produce exhibitions and workshops open to the public.
Among its eleven members, Eltiqa Group includes painters Rima al-Muzayen and Mohamed Dabous. Al-Muzayen's colorful compositions explore the experiences of Palestinian women. Dabous teaches visual arts at Gaza's al-Aqsa University and creates striking abstract ink and pastel works on paper. In 2008, Eltiqa hosted a number of noteworthy events for its members including the solo exhibitions of al-Muzayen and Dina Matar at the French Cultural Centre and a group show of Palestinian art featuring Abdel Nasser Amer, at the Rashad Shawwa Cultural Center. Outside of Gaza, Eltiqa was part of an impressive lineup of events such as Without Preparing -- From Gaza, a joint exhibition with artists from Windows From Gaza at Makkan House gallery in Amman, Jordan and Morceaux Choisis Gaza, a group show at the Universite Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France.
A number of Windows From Gaza members concurrently work in video, installation, photography and painting such as Basel al-Maqousy, an art instructor at the Jabalia Rehabilitation Centre who was recently featured in the AM Qattan Foundation's inaugural London exhibition Occupied Spaces, and Shareef Sarhan, whose art comments on the destruction of Palestine under the Israeli occupation. Sarhan has been photographing the damage, turmoil and civilian toll of Israel's current assault on Gaza.
The impact of Israel's latest act of barbarity on Gaza's cultural infrastructure has yet to be fully assessed. Reports have circulated that the Rashad Shawwa Cultural Centre has been bombed and the Institute for Palestine Studies has confirmed the destruction of the newly founded Gaza Music School, which taught children aged seven to 11, the majority of whom were girls. Located in a building owned by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the Music School was hit in the first wave of shelling on 27 December. The fate of such important venues as the French Cultural Centre, the Municipality of Gaza's Arts and Crafts Village, al-Karam Center for Cultural Arts or the YMCA in Gaza City is unknown. Even if these centers were to sustain little or no structural damage, their futures are still uncertain as the cultural workers whose dedication they depend on are sure to be facing dire circumstances.
Images: Ismail Shammout, "Life Prevails" (1999). (Image courtesy of Al Jisser Group); Abdel Rahman al Mozayen, "Children of the Intifada" (1988). (Collection of Souha Xochitl Shayota, New York)
1/16/2009 12:55:48 PM
For a guy who listens to John Coltrane, Barack Obama has an inaugural celebration musical lineup that’s playing it pretty safe: You’ve got your Beyonce, your Bono, your Boss. But I suppose we ought to cut him some slack. For one thing, it’s not like the guy booked it personally. He’s got a few other things to think about. Also, if you think about it, the sprawling, middle-of-the-road bill is in keeping with his whole big-tent approach. He’s reaching out to rural America with Garth Brooks, boomers with James Taylor, the hip-hop nation with Mary J. Blige. It’s going to be a party to which everyone is invited. (I guess that’s why 800,000 people are showing up.)
But there’s one performance recently added to Sunday's bill that I’m really keyed about : Soul singer Bettye LaVette will perform Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Just watch this clip in which LaVette sings “Love Reign O’er Me” at last month’s Who tribute at Kennedy Center Honors to understand why I think her performance might be the Barackathon’s emotional showstopper. You don’t even have to know, let alone revere, the original version to be swept up in her soul-searing rendition:
1/16/2009 12:21:48 PM
You don’t have to be a resident of Chicago to love the People’s Atlas Project. Through their website you can download a map of Chicago with nothing but the outline of the city, a spot for notes, and a blank legend box. It’s like a Thanksgiving turkey-coloring contest for adults—all you have to do come up with something to map. Chicago is just the latest city to be visited by the People’s Atlas Project—they’ve done it in Syracuse, New York and Zagreb, Croatia.
Some maps are personal, others are political—and some are both.
To see the collection visit the People’s Atlas website.
1/15/2009 2:53:03 PM
The way artist Miriam Kilali sees it, access to beautiful spaces shouldn’t be a perk reserved for the wealthy, or even those who can consistently make rent. Kilali is the visionary behind two high-design homeless shelters, one in Moscow and another in Berlin, with a third hopefully to follow in New York City.
“I knew from experience that beautiful buildings give strength,” she told Spiegel Online, “especially after gruelling times. People living on the street need that, twice over.”
To that end, the Berlin shelter boasts glistening chandeliers, wood floors, original artwork, and designer furniture, according to Spiegel Online, and is a living refutation of critics who thought it “was a waste of money to so extensively decorate a home for men many regard as just alcoholics on the margins of society.”
“It is about getting people to take control of their own lives, creating their own environment,” Kilali said. Residents of the shelter were involved in the redesign throughout the process, from helping to pick the new furnishings to tearing out decrepit, old carpeting. Each resident selected a piece of Kilali’s artwork to hang in his bedroom.
See pictures of the Berlin and Moscow shelters at the website of the organization that runs them, Gebewo.
(Thanks, Design Observer.)
1/15/2009 1:05:52 PM
Wonka Vision has shipped its first “Women in Rock” issue. Copy editor (and former NYC crime reporter) Ellen Thompson sets it up with an editor’s letter:
…Our main administrative staff is now 90 percent female, yet we’ve managed to fill the pages with articles in which notable women bitch about the disparities between males and females from the metal and punk to the indie and hardcore genres.
Sure we highlight bands like Bleeding Through Walls, along with solo acts such as Kate Nash, illustrating the contributions these women have made to their genres, but those are contributions that merely add glossy shine to the surface. The disparities the notable women in the following pages are bitching about have more to do with what’s not meeting our eyes and ears. It’s the disparities in the boardrooms and recording studios of record labels and in the lighting booths at clubs and venues.
…There are more teenaged girls who know [performers like Avril Lavigne] and what they’ve done than there are adult women who can tell you who Trina Shoemaker is…Shoemaker is the only woman to have won a Grammy for sound engineering.
Inside the magazine there are interviews with Feist, Tegan & Sara, Amy Millan, and a mix of women with far less notoriety.
Band manager, tour manager, and record label lady Kate Hiltz says: “I think it used to me more of an issue than it is now. I used to get a lot more comments like ‘whose girlfriend are you?’”
“Often people think that women in the music business are sluts who got their jobs because they slept with guys,” says freelance photographer Cindy Frey.
Movement is slow. Ohio State women’s studies professor Susan Burgess speaks to this: “Just like in feminism,” she says, “there are these conflicting threads of oppression and stereotypical norms and progress in rock that continues until this day. But then you also have to acknowldege that serious scholars have said that rock music is most responsible for popularizing feminism.”
That reminds me...
1/14/2009 10:20:05 AM
In the art world, graffiti is sexy, the subject of fawning attention from galleries, museums, and collectors. Tagging, though, largely resists the limelight. Photographer Martha Cooper’s book Tag Town, released last year, celebrates its stubbornly unglamorous aesthetic and documents the rise of tagging in 1970s New York. The art website Fecal Face recently sat down with Cooper to discuss the collection.
Sadly, the interview doesn’t break much new ground. The questions conflate Cooper’s interest in tagging with her interest in graffiti more generally, so we never get to hear what makes it a worthy photographic subject. It’s disappointing, because there are intriguing hints of insight. At one point, asked if she’d ever tried tagging, Cooper observed she’d never mastered it—she “found out how hard it was to repeatedly write with style.” Her respect is apparent in her photos, and I wish Cooper had been given a chance to elaborate.
It’s still worth a look, if only to hear Cooper talk about her experiences documenting a piece of budding hip-hop culture and to get a look at some of the Tag Town pictures.
1/13/2009 4:10:09 PM
In a clever example of life imitating art, one Flickr group gathers images in which people photographically re-create "The Far Side" cartoons. The results are often accurate, detailed, and humorous.
Image courtesy of Kevin Steinhardt, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/5/2009 10:00:38 AM
Normally, art reaches us as a finished product. We see nothing of an artist’s process, of the tentative first steps, the mistakes, the experiments and abandoned ideas. I found two blogs that make me think we’re missing out:
Jonathan Burton documents the evolution of his drawings, from their scribbled seeds to final drafts, in The Unreachable Itch. He keeps pretty tight-lipped, providing little comment on his process, but he includes enough drafts to let you register his shifts in thought yourself.
In Salamunic Illustration, Tin Salamunic posts pages out of his sketchbooks, many of which never develop into polished, full-fledged pieces. But these images possess an immediacy that’s even more compelling than his finished work. He layers doodles with more meticulous studies and snippets of text, creating unfiltered peeks into his day-to-day musings.
(Thanks, Lost at E Minor.)
1/2/2009 3:02:22 PM
Billboard’s top 25 songs of 2008 have been compiled into one mashup by DJ Earworm. The result is synthetic, understandably, but surprisingly well done.
Here’s the video:
(Thanks, National Review, of all places.)
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