Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two videos that pretty much sum up my DC cultural milieu.

Video the First.

Voici the performance piece Milk and Honey, which I saw performed at the opening reception of the GWU student-curated, student-created Verbal Input/Visual Output show (Go curators Caranine, Susan, and the art students Evan Hume and Blair Bainbridge!!).

Just as background, each of the BFA and MFA students were given copies of a poem and asked to create artworks of whatever images came to mind. The show demonstrates how one set of words can go into people's minds the same and emerge as TOTALLY different visual images and symbols... and, in the case of this performance piece... groceries!


Yes, that IS Mariah Carey's Honey playing in the background. :) The poem the artists were all given is part of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1820 poem "Love's Philosophy." Haha, I just realized that by giving it to you now, I'm doing what the curators did, backwards-- I gave you a visual, now I'm asking you to see if you can fit it into the scope of the following beautiful verses:

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?

Sigh. It's lovely. As is the rest of the show. What visual images come to your mind when you read that? I still have landscapes on the brain from last semester, I saw winds playing with each other (they're visible cuz  autumn leaves and trash are floating in them) and then everything gets gusted out to sea.

Here are some photos of what the other artists envisioned in connection to those words (most of these pics belong to my friend Caranine, the proud curator and talented photographer- I couldn't figure out how to link to the whole exhibition album online, so you just get my favorites).

Hehe. I'll tell you my interpretation on this last one, I didn't get it for a while: Sweet emotion, nothing is single. Hence, two matching ice cream sundaes! Like.

Video the Second.

Warning: This is a slightly more, uh, banal video. Right after I witnessed Milk and Honey being performed (by the way, you only saw the very tail end of it- the duo emptied out SEVEN honey and milk bottles, it was quite mesmerizing), my friend Ashley and I tromped on over to DuPont Circle, where the 24th Annual High Heel Race took place at 9 pm. It was a, uh, Halloween drag race. As in, those are not women sprinting down 17th Ave in heels. I snagged a primo spot in the crowds right by the finishing line (the fellas sprint for three blocks in them heels!) Keep a look out in the video for Marge Simpson, Liza Minelli, Alice in Wonderland and "Michelle Rhee."


Welcome to Washington.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Les Pieds

Our lesson on Sunday got me thinking about the beauty of feet, which is weird. Voila the starting point for our discussion:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isaiah 52:7)

Feet from statue of Musician of Amun Tasherit-Khonsu,
Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 332–30 B.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 The teacher asked us why Isaiah would wax eloquent about feet in particular. My comment to the class was that this passage of scripture is just a beautiful, ancient literary expression of gratitude for someone who has come far and potentially traversed mountains to bring you the words you need most, words of redemption. Of course you are so grateful for whatever brought them to you. I can envision that type of gratitude now at age 25-- I can imagine the sensation of being so happy and thankful that you fall on your face-- but it's been a weird road to get me to that understanding. I remember vividly when I was little being really disgusted by the idea that people loved the Savior so much that they would kiss his feet. It bugged me on multiple levels; I remember thinking to myself "I hope he won't make me kiss his feet, I will just jump up and hug him, and he'll let me, because he's MY Jesus!"

Madonna di Loreto, 1604-1606, by Caravaggio, in the church of Sain'Agostino in Rome. Incidentally, this was the very, very first painting I saw on my 7 week art history tour of Europe that I talked about last week. I didn't cry in front of this painting but I remember so well, it was my first shot of , "Holy crap I'm standing in front of something priceless and world reknowned." 

There he is. Would you believe this painting was controversial? The monied family that paid the artist Caravaggio to paint it (Caravaggio, incidentally, is one of art history's most infamous rogues, getting kicked out of Rome after killing someone at a tennis match) HATED this painting when they saw it. Can you guess why? See the dirty peasant feet that jut out of the bottom of the painting towards you? That was just not up to their aristocratic tastes. (Incidentally, the nasty feet are right about at your eye level when you see the painting in Rome). Can you blame the stuffy richies? Yes, you can. Although they were looking for something a little more regal, probably more along the lines of the Roger van der Weyden altarpiece we looked at last week, they got a dash of realism, which, in my humble American opinion, is not bad. In fact, it's much more democratic, dramatic, and in keeping with the story of Jesus as the actual kind of man he was. As a proud American girl (who owns a modest 32 pairs of shoes but always opts to go barefoot if possible), I really appreciate Caravaggio including the common man and his common feet in this portrait. FYI, we also know that the patrons were double incensed by the lack of aura or glory around the Virgin and child-- for all we know, Caravaggio was painting some poor mom and kid off the streets, tsk tsk-- if you'll notice, only the faintest of halos, the duo's fine porcelain skin, and the step they stand on signify that they are holy beings, removed from the realm of dirt and grime and poverty literally beneath them. But, hey, Italian patrons, shove it! That was the whole point of Jesus, he loved everyone!

Ahem. I digress. The other thing I think is fascinating about this painting as I look at it is the line you can draw from the male peasant to Mary and Jesus; where do they come closest to meeting? Between baby Jesus' outstretched foot and the peasant's clasped hands and mouth. You can bet that Caravaggio understood the value of beautiful feet and was thinking about the gratitude of those who loved Jesus when he created this composition.

Now, I feel like mentioning the fact that I am NOT a foot fetishizer by any means, in fact I think they're funny and sometimes, on the wrong person, gross. But the more I thought about it yesterday, the more examples I could think of where the scriptures reference a person's feet in a sacred way, which made me appreciate them anew. Moses was instructed to remove his shoes as he stood before Jehovah on Mount Sinai. Nephite missionaries brought the plan of salvation to Lamanites who had no idea even what heaven was, and they fell down at their feet. We are instructed to be clothed in the armour of God, which includes having our feet shod with the gospel of peace. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples near the end of his life as a show of love, humility, and true charity. And finally, His own feet walked on water, carried him through crowds, were wetted with tears and covered with perfume by the adulterous woman, and today, bear the marks of his crucifixion and will someday cleve the Mount of Olives in two when he returns.

I think the literary, scriptural, and artistic value of feet lies in the very mundane fact that they are what keep us connected to the world, and allow us to travel throughout it. They are not beautiful in and of themselves (well, no, that's not true, I've seen cute feet before. But they're rare), but what they do, and what they can do (and how they look in heels), makes simply marvelous. How beautiful indeed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sad Day

Today I am a little bit sad. Revelation!! It's ok to be sad on your blog once in a while I think.

I had to get up in the middle of the night and throw on socks, sweats, and another blanket onto my bed. I wasn't ready to let go of summer yet and I certainly don't appreciate winter hustling autumn out of its way into my house this cold, cold morning. And all day long I sat in my freezing art building because no one at the school had quite gotten round to turning on the heat. Long sleeve shirt, knit sweater, AND pagmina clutched tightly around my shoulders, and I STILL felt like an eskimo in lecture. I am so, so sad.

Some of the world's greatest, most touching art is sad. I'm trying to think of artworks I've actually cried in front of. I know there were several on my study abroad (random tangent, but sometimes I feel like my study abroad and my senior thesis and my grad school are my mission. They make me work so hard and they string out my emotions in ways no other experience has). Michelangelo's Pieta, which sits smack dab in a vaulted niche off to one side of the entrance of the HUGE Vatican, is the first artwork I can remember that brought waterworks during that trip.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1499.

That looks about how I remembered it, thanks Internet. I've often wondered where the tradition of the Lamentation of Christ or Descent from the Cross pictures came from in Christian art. Could you pick a more despondent subject? Though not based on any scriptural text, these scenes emerged as many artists began to imagine what might have happened AFTER the Savior died on the cross. After the earth had stopped shaking, the Pharisees were somewhere downtown cackling to themselves, and all that were left on Golgotha were grief-stricken friends, family, and followers, and maybe some Romans. In many Lamentation/Descent from the Cross scenes, the artist chooses to render Mary in almost as miserable and pathetic a condition as the body of Jesus. My art history friends (especially my fellow Martha Peacock-ites!) better have the name of this artist on the tip of your tonuge, ready, go:

Rogier van der Weyden! How'd we do? Descent from the Cross, 1435, just LOOK at that blue! and the folds of that drapery! Notice how Mary's body, even her arms, curve just like her son's. Look at their faces. So sad.

I remember seeing the following painting on my trip and NOT crying, because I was writing an essay for class about it, BUT I still feel like showing it, because man is it glorious, sad, and slightly morbid (plus, I don't think I've had any Spanish art on my blog). Well, here's making up for lost time:

Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1490. In Milan.
I don't really feel like delving into the heart and soul and history of these paintings, because their best feature is in fact the way they make you sad, make you ponder on the dead Christ, too, like the other people watching over him in these paintings. Although for this one I can't get away without saying, Yeesh will you look at that angle? Why do you think Mantegna wanted to direct our eyes up the body of the Christ starting at the feet? I can think of a few reasons...)

Of course, there are a lot of things out there to make us sad. Lots of them have been made into art. Vis a vis:

Anton van Dyke's golden angel weeping into his serpentine swath of silk.

Camille Claudel's bronze alterego has her lover ripped from her hands in The Age of Maturity (1900, Musee d'Orsay).

Ah, homelessnes. I remember that. :)

Untitled (Big Man), Ron Mueck, Hirshhorn, 2003. Big, naked, and not loving it.

Clifford Still, 1960. 1960. Also at the Hirshhorn. "The Pit of Dithpair!!!" What movie?

BUT AT LAST! As I thumb through my picture albums to come up with more depressing photos, I find...

Fat Baby Choking a Goose! (Roman, around 150 A.D., in the Louvre) BAHAHA I don't know why this made me laugh so hard but it did. And right after violent fat baby, I found:

Tiny Dancer! Georg Kolbe, Woman Dancing, 1911.

And even BIGGER Fat Baby! I can't-remember-the-name at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

And finally, Butterflies, from the hilarious and modern (?) Odilon Redon (1910, MOMA). I sure do love you, guy. So cute. And slightly fruity.

Life is good. Tomorrow will be better. Tonight I will sleep with my winter BFF: Electric Blankie. GOOD DAY to you!