Tracey Emin – British Artist

Τετάρτη, 29 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

Tracey Emin - Photo: Scott Douglas MacNee

Doing cycles in the world of Art, today I have the immense pleasure of  hosting Tracey Emin, a British enfant terrible. As she approaches 50, Emin does not let go of the relentless defiance that epitomizes her style.

Tracey Emin: My Bed

“My Bed”, first created in 1998, was exhibited in TatGallery in 1999 and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Although it did not win it, it created a furore.

Tracey Emin: Sweet Thing

Emin’s ‘Sweet Thing’ was based on Robert Barn’s poem ‘Nine Inch Will Please a Lady’.

Emin has already created a mulitude of little drawings, the most famous one being a series on female masturbation.

Text-based neon signs have been current in art since the 1960s. The leader of the neon-sign trend was Bruce Nauman.

Emin’s neon text works are always made in her signature handwriting, emphasizing the personal nature of their commentary.

Emin at work in her East London studio (WSJ)

Emin has collaborated with Louise Bourgeois to create “Do Nor Abandon Me”, a set of sixteen drawings that “articulate physical drives and feelings, candidly confronting themes of identity, sexuality and the fear of loss and abandonment through joint expression.” (Hauser & Wirth Press Release)

Louise Bourgeois, Trace Emin: Do not abandon me

If I were to characterize Emin, I would call her a rebel without a cause. And she can be extremely funny.

Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin: Tippi Hedren Suit (WSJ)

She just spits it out, raw and violent, and sensitive, and lonely. There is no intellectual veneer, there is no politics.

Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin

 

Lynda Benglis – American Artist

Δευτέρα, 27 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

Lynda Benglis at Le Consortium

Today’s post concludes a sequence of three consecutive posts dedicated to female American artists (poets are artists).

Lynda Benglis: Roberta (1974)

Sculpture, enamel, sculpmetal and tinsel on aluminium screeing and foil
Primary Insc: not signed, not dated.
79.1 h x 89.1 w x 41.3 d cm

Lynda Benglis is an American artist, mainly sculptor with Greek blood. Her father’s family was Greek in origin and she still has family on the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo.

She was born in Louisiana in 1941 and after graduating from college moved to New York in 1964.

Christopher Knight writes in Los Angeles Times:

“When she arrived in New York shortly after, in the mid-1960s, art’s purity police were out in full force, busily patrolling what artists shouldn’t do when making paintings and mustn’t do when making sculptures.

If you sense a collision coming, take a bow. Benglis, after surveying Manhattan’s art landscape, did the only reasonable thing. In the face of its ponderous penitential virtue, she brought Mardi Gras to Soho.

The fiesta was undertaken neither lightly nor at random. Ambitious, she looked hard at the local art that had come before, from the 1940s to the early 1960s. Much of it was great; still, it’s always helpful to know how we get to where we are.

She looked at Jackson Pollock’s skeins of dripped paint and at Helen Frankenthaler’s big puddles of stained color. Barnett Newman’s zip-lines — those ambiguous vertical bars of color dividing fields of painted light and darkness — came under scrutiny. So did more recent work: Carl Andre’s checkerboards of metal plates that turned the floor into an artistic pedestal for people, Donald Judd’s orderly sculptural subdivisions of space and Richard Serra’s molten lead splashed into studio corners — all of them sculptures directly challenging the postwar primacy of painting. “

Lynda Benglis: Smile (1974) cast bronze

Benglis has a powerful sense of humour, which she manifested gloriously in her 1974 advert in Artforum magazine.

Hilarie Sheets comments in her New York Times article:

“She (Benglis) lampooned both the machismo of the art world and the way artists were expected to promote themselves in a market-driven system by exposing herself, with a dildo between her legs, in a 1974 Artforum advertisement that she paid for, earning her as many fans as detractors.”

Lynda Benglis: Phantom

Arttatler offer the followng insight into Benglis’ work:

“Benglis’s best-known works question the rigors of Modernism and Minimalism by merging material, form, and content; bringing color back into sculpture; and taking painting off the wall. These works include her richly layered wax paintings and poured latex and polyurethane foam sculptures of the late 1960s and early ’70s; innovative videos, installations, and “knots” from the 1970s; metalized, pleated wall pieces of the 1980s and 1990s; and pieces in a variety of other mediums, such as glass, ceramics, photography, or cast polyurethane, as in the case of the monumental The Graces (2003-05)”

Lynda Benglis: The Graces

In her 2010 interview to the “frieze”, Benglis talked to Marina Cashdan about her art and work in a comprehensive way. I copy here one of the questions and the answer:

MC: Is Robert Pincus-Witten’s term for your work, ‘the frozen gesture’, a misnomer, because your work feels more like it’s living, an act as opposed to a confined object?
Lynda Benglis: Well ‘the frozen gesture’ was something that I think both Yves Klein and Franz Kline had done. Symbolically, Klein jumped out the window: he was involved with gesture, process (his ‘women brushes’ painting with their bodies) and the symbolic (sponges soaked with his paint on monochromatic blue canvases). Kline took the gesture and made it iconographic. Frank Stella said that Kline was one of his favourite artists, so I think Stella himself took the canvas, the stretcher bars, and turned them on their side to make them painted objects, as did other artists who were using materials and geometry. They were presenting something that was, in a way, rebellious and sometimes simplistic, and it was called Minimalism. I saw that and understood it in the context of where art could go, but for me it was a statement that seemed very rococo. It was way out on a limb. I felt that art had to have more content, a multiplicity of meaning and associations. And even many of those so-called Minimal artists broke out of their own self-created mould! “

Lynda Benglis at Le Consortium

On the occasion of her first major retrospective in the UK, Benglis talked to “The Guardian’s” Laura Barnett, and concluded as follows:

“You can say, ‘Is there the influence of Greece?’ or ‘Do these works look like the sea?’ Those things are all there, but there are many other associations. I think all good art is really abstract. That’s how it transcends cultural differences. That’s how it speaks to us.”

Lynda Benglis: Untitled

1001 Ways to die (9) – Sylvia Plath, American, Poet, Novelist

Τρίτη, 21 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Lady Lazarus, Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, photographed in a hallway of Smith College, 1952

Sylvia Plath was born in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932 the oldest child of Otto and Aurelia Schoeber Plath. The daughter of a Boston Univesity German and entomology professor and a high school English teacher, Plath was raised in a household that valued learning highly.  While in college, in August of 1953, Plath attempted to overdose on sleeping pills. This suicide attempt would be recalled years later in her poem, Lady Lazarus. Plath was able to return to college and only graduated a couple of months behind her class.

Ted Hughes

After receiving a Fulbright scholarship, she began two years at Cambridge University. There she met and married, in 1956, the British poet Ted Hughes.

Hughes was born on 17 August 1930 in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, and raised on local farms. According to him, “My first six years shaped everything”. He studied at Cambridge University and first published poetry in a journal launched with fellow students called St Botolph’s Review. It was at the launch party for the magazine that he met Plath, and they married in 1956.

Sylvia Plath in 1957

They separated in 1962.

On February 11, 1963, after carefully sealing the kitchen so her children would not be harmed, Sylvia Plath took a bottle of sleeping pills and stuck her head in a gas oven.

As Plath’s widower, Hughes became the executor of her personal and literary estates. He oversaw the publication of her manuscripts, including Ariel in 1966. He also claimed to have destroyed the final volume of Plath’s journal, detailing their last few months together. In his foreword to The Journals of Sylvia Plath, he defended his actions as motivated by consideration for the couple’s young children. He wrote about his relationship with Plath, and his response to her suicide, in Birthday Letters. It was his final collection and one of his most successful works.

In 1969 Hughes suffered another loss when his mistress, Assia Wevill, also gassed herself and their daughter in an apparent copycat suicide.

In 1982, Plath became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death.

Ted Hughes died from cancer in 1998.

On 23 March 2009, CNN reported:

Nicholas Hughes (right) in 1999

“The family history of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath took another tragic turn Monday when it was revealed that their son had committed suicide after battling depression.

Nicholas Hughes, whose mother asphyxiated herself in 1963 by putting her head in a gas oven at her London home while her two children slept in the next room, hanged himself at his home in Alaska, his sister Frieda told The Times newspaper.

Hughes, 47, was unmarried with no children of his own and had until recently been a marine biologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.”

O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses.
With soft rugs----
Sylvia Plath, Nick and the Candlestick

Sylvia Plath: Boat in Rock Harbor, Cape Cod

A selection of 44 ink and pen drawings by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was exhibited for the first time between 2 Nov and 16 Dec 2011 at the Mayor Gallery in London, displaying Plath’s love for her “deepest source of inspiration”, art. Sam Leigh wrote in “The Guardian”:

“Nearly half a century after her suicide, the great poet is capable of surprising us. A selection of her drawings that have just gone on display at London’s Mayor Gallery shows us a new side of her. I found these drawings moving: not because they feed into the legend, but because they sidestep it. They bring us a fresh look at a woman now so barnacled with myth it’s hard to see her clearly. And – wow – they’re really good….

To see these drawings as in some way complementary to the poems, as some will doubtless try to, seems to me off-beam. Plath did once tell the BBC: “I have a visual imagination.” But what’s so striking about these drawings is exactly their difference from the visual world of the poems. These are pictures that revel in the thinginess of things: in wine bottles, an old kettle, a pair of shoes, the uneven timbering of beached boats, the architectural curlicues of a Parisian roof.”

Francesca Woodman, American Photographer

Δευτέρα, 20 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

Francesca Woodman died at the age of 22. She committed suicide. She threw herself off a building in New York in January 1981, following a long bout of depression. She was born in 1958 in a family of artists.

Francesca Woodman: Self portrait at the age of 13

Her Self-Portrait at Thirteen marks the beginning of one of the most original photographic oeuvres of the 20th century, a body of work emerging over only 10 years.

Francesca Woodman: Portrait of the artist and her father

Working in black and white, she frequently took self-portraits or depicted other young women, sometimes nude. Often the figures are only partly visible or blurry, as if trying to escape the frame.

Francesca Woodman: House #4

Only a quarter of the approximately 800 images she produced—many of them self-portraits—have ever been seen by the public.

The first major American museum exhibition of her work in 25 years, “Francesca Woodman,” had its debut last month at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it will remain until today Feb. 20. It will open in March 2012 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Francesca Woodman: Self-portrait

Her photographs are primarily about the human body, the human face and space, houses, floors, walls.

Francesca Woodman: Untitled

She denounces the mainstream photography of her time. It is not only the articulate synthesis, but also the interplay between three and two dimensions, the negation of flatness only to accept it after the struggle.

Woodman’s work is an apotheosis of the interplay between shadow and light.

Francesca Woodman: House #3

Scott Willis made a film about the Woodman family. Unsurprisingly, its title is “The Woodmans”.

Hellas, my Motherland – Μανα μου Ελλας

Κυριακή, 12 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

Η Μανα μου Ελλας βρισκεται στο χειλος του γκρεμνου.

My motherland, Hellas (Greece), is on the edge of the cliff.

Και ακομη και αν δεν πεσει την μεγαλη πτωση σημερα, θα παραμεινει εκει, επικινδυνα κοντα στην αβυσσο, για μεγαλο διαστημα. Αγνωστο για ποσο.

Οι αναλυτες, οι οικονομολογοι, οι πολιτικοι, τα δημοσια προσωπα, οι ανωνυμοι πολιτες, εχουν πει πολλα, πολλες φορες.

Even if Hellas does not fall the big fall today, she will remain dangerously close to the edge of the abyss for a long and unknown period of time.

The political and financial analysts and commentators have covered the crisis over and over again.

Εγω σημερα θυμηθηκα ενα τραγουδι του Σταυρου Ξαρχακου σε στιχους Νικου Γκατσου: “Μανα μου Ελλας”.

Το τραγουδι ειναι απο την ταινια “Ρεμπετικο” του Κωστα Φερη.

Οι στιχοι του τραγουδιου εχουν μεγαλη σημασια, αφου πιστευω οτι μεσα τους κρυβεται και το κλειδι που θα μας παει ειτε στην Κολαση ειτε στον Παραδεισο.

(Οι στιχοι και ενα κλιπ με το τραγουδι ευρισκονται στο τελος του αρθρου).

Today I remembered a song written by Stavros Xarchakos, in lyrics of Nikos Gatsos: “Hellas my motherland”.

It is part of the soundtrack of the Kostas Ferris movie “Rembetiko” (1983).

The lyrics are important, as in my view they contain the key that will unlock the gates of Hell or Paradise for Hellas.

(the lyrics and a video clip of the song can be found at the end of this article).

Οι στιχοι του Γκατσου μας φερνουν με το ξεκινημα μπροστα στην Μικρασιατικη Καταστροφη, στο ξεριζωμα του Ελληνισμου της Μικρας Ασιας (και οχι μονο).

Και λιγο παρακατω με ιδιαιτερα επωδυνο και αμεσο τροπο ακουγεται η πικρη αληθεια: “τα ψευτικα τα λογια τα μεγαλα”.

The lyrics of Gatsos take us from the start to the Minor Asia disaster of 1922, the uprooting of Hellenism from the western shores of Minor Asia (and more).

A few words later, we hear the painful direct truth: “the big words of lies”.

Τα ψευτικα τα λογια, τα ψευτικα ονειρα, συμπληρωνω εγω, η κορυφη του ιδεολογικου και ψυχολογικου υποβαθρου που οδηγει στην Καταστροφη.

Σημερα βρισκομαστε μεσα στην θυελλα μιας αλλης Καταστροφης, που θα αποκαλουσα “Καταστροφη της Αεριτζηδικης Ευδαιμονιας”.

The lies, the fake dreams I could add, the tip of the ideological and psychological iceberg that leads to disaster.

Today we are in the midst of another disaster, that I would call “the disaster of the bliss bubble”.

Το 1922 καταστραφηκε και κατερρευσε η Μεγαλη Ιδεα.

Σημερα καταρρεει το μοντελο της Αεριτζηδικης Ευδαιμονιας που ειχε προωθηθει και κυριαρχησει στην ζωη της Ελλαδας απο τη δεκαετια του 1990.

Και στις δυο περιπτωσεις η κυρια ευθυνη ειναι δικη μας.

In 1922 we saw the downfall of the “Great Idea” (Megali Idea).

Today we experience the downfall of the “Bliss Bubble” that dominated Greece since the early 1990’s.

In both downfalls, we, the Greek People, bear the major responsibility.  

Οι λεγομενες Μεγαλες Δυναμεις, κατα περιπτωση, εχουν συμμετοχη και ρολο, αλλα οχι κυριο και καθοριστικο.

Εμεις ειμαστε οι ιδανικοι αυτοχειρες, αφου και στις δυο καθοριστικες για την Ελλαδα περιπτωσεις, η καταστροφη οφειλεται σε αυτοχειρια.

The so called “Great Powers” of course participated in the unfolding of the events, and played a role, but theirs was not the majr one.

We are the ones who committed suicide in both cases.  

Ο Γιωργος Βελτσος εγραφε στο ΒΗΜΑ την 1η Φεβρουαριου 2012:

“Πάντως το να έχεις ένα μαχαίρι στο τραπέζι σου κι αντί να κόψεις το φιλέτο σου το χώσεις στην κοιλιά σου σαν τον Μίσιμα, σου δίνει μια αίσθηση ανωτερότητας στα όρια της μεγαλομανίας. “

Εκτος απο την μεγαλομανια, που αποτελει το κοινο ψυχολογικο υποστρωμα των δυο καταστροφικων εποχων, θα πρεπει να προσθεσω και την πολιτικη διασταση του μοντελου της Αεριτζηδικης Ευδαιμονιας.

George Veltsos wrote in the newspaper “TO VIMA” on the 1st February 2012:

“When you have a knife on the table and instead of slicing your steak you stick it into your guts like Mishima did, you get a sense of belonging to the “beyond”, verging on megalomania”.

In addition to megalomania that provides the common psychological foundation to both disasters, I must add the political dimension of the “Bliss Bubble” model. 

Και αυτη ειναι η Εξαγορα. Οι ψηφοι των πολιτων, οι συμπεριφορες, ο καταναλωτισμος, ολα χτιστηκαν πανω στο κυριαρχο φαινομενο της εξαγορας. Για παραδειγμα, ο ψηφοφορος εξαγοραζεται απο τον υποψηφιο βουλευτη: η εξαγορασθεισα ψηφος αποτελει το εισιτηριο του υιου ή της θυγατερας εις τον Δημοσιο Τομεα, στενο ή ευρυ.

The political dimension of the “Bliss Bubble” is the “buyout”. Let me explain here the meaning of the word. It means a lot more than a mere transaction. It means that in addition to the transaction, you surrender unconditional control to the other party. The votes of the public, the behaviours, the consumer patterns, have all been built on the dominant phenomenon of the “buyout”. As an example, the voter is bought out by the candidate member of parliament: the “bought” vote becomes the voter son’s or daughter’s entry ticket to the safe heaven of the public sector.

Επειδη αυτο το φαινομενο δεν θα μπορουσε να ειναι καθολικο χωρις πολιτικη καθαγιαση, το αποκαλω πολιτικο. Ειναι οικονομικο στην παραγωγη εκδοχη του. Κυριαρχα ομως ειναι πολιτικο.

Εδω ευρισκεται και η ριζα του πολιτικου και κοινωνικου εκφυλισμου τον οποιο βιωνουμε σημερα.

This phenomenon could not have been dominant in Greece without political support and full endorsement. It is therefore a political phenomenon with economic aspects

This phenomenon that moulded the dominant social political and economic behaviour in modern Greece is at the root of the full scale social and political degeneration that we experience today.   

Μπορουμε λοιπον να κανουμε μια νεα αρχη; Μπορουμε να ξεφυγουμε απο την περιδινηση των επαλληλων καταστροφων και να χαραξουμε μια νεα πορεια;

Η απαντηση δεν ειναι στα χερια των ηδη χρεωκοπημενων πολιτικων, ολων των παραταξεων. Η απαντηση βρισκεται στα χερια μας.

Can we make a new start? Can we escape from the downward spiral of the two consecutive disasters and chart a new course?

The answer is not in the hands of the already outdated politicians of all parties. The answer is in our hands. 

Ας αναφερω ενα απλο παραδειγμα: Το μεγεθος της αγορας κρεατων στην Ελλαδα ειναι περιπου 1,4 δις ΕΥΡΩ. Απο αυτα, 836 εκατομυρια ΕΥΡΩ εισαγονται. Η αυταρκεια της χωρας σε χοιρινο κρεας ειναι περιπου 30%, σε βοειο δε μολις 14%. Τα συμπερασματα βγαινουν απο μονα τους. Αλλα οι πραξεις δεν μπορει να γινουν μονες τους. Δεν υπαρχει το αεναον παρα μονον στην ποιηση και την τεχνη. Θα πανε τα νεα παιδια, οι νεοι Ελληνες και Ελληνιδες να γινουν κτηνοτροφοι; Θα δεχθουν να δουλεψουν σκληρα και να εχουν ενα καλο βιοτικο επιπεδο χωρις χωρις να να γινουν πλουσιοι;

Let me offer a simple example. The meat consumption in Greece has a value of 1,4 billion Euros. Out of this, 836 millions are imported. The self sufficiency of the country in pork meat is only at 30%, while in beef it drops to 14%. You can draw your on conclusions. But actions cannot happen by themselves. Are the young Greeks going to raise cattle? Are they going to work hard and make a good living without becoming “rich”? That is abandoning the “Bliss Bubble” dream?

Δεν εχει νοημα να συνεχισω να αναφερω παραδειγματα. Ο νεος και η νεα θα πρεπει να παρει πρωτοβουλιες, να προσπαθησει, να απαιτησει, να επιχειρησει, και να πορευθει στον δρομο που δεν εχει σιγουρα αποτελεσματα. Προσανατολιζουμε τους νεους μας προς κατι τετοιο;

There is no point in bringing forward more examples. The young – in spirit – must take initiatives, make efforts in the direction of developing the economy, demand from the state and EU authorities real and not token support, and march on the road that offers rewards and risks at the same time. Are we going to encourage our youth to take this road? 

Δεν μπορει βεβαια ολοι να τα κανουν ολα, ή ολοι να πετυχουν. Αλλα πρεπει να προσπαθησουν. Και εμεις πρεπει να τους στηριξουμε, αντι να τα περιμενουμε ολα απο ενα Κρατος που καταρρεει, ή ακομη χειροτερα απο τους πολιτικους. Το αντιθετο πρεπει να γινει, εμεις θα πρεπει να πρεπει να υπαγορευσουμε στους πολιτικους αυτο που θελουμε να γινει. Εμεις θα πρεπει να παρουμε στα χερια μας την υποθεση της Αναπτυξης.

It is clear that we cannot all succeed in everything. But we must try, putting insecurities on the side, albeit acknowledging them. The megalomania that I have mentioned in a previous section is linked to the immense insecurity that engulfs Greek society. It is time to get rid of it, like we, the very same people, do when we are abroad, in foreign lands, across five continents. Where we take risks, we work hard, and we make it to the top of whatwever we do. 

Το κλειδι που θα ανοιξει τις Πυλες του Παραδεισου ειναι το κατα ποσον μπορουμε να υπαρξουμε πανω σε μια βαση αυτογνωσιας και αυτοπροσδιορισμου, πετωντας τα φτιασιδια, τις μασκες, τα προτυπα, τους μιμητισμους. Τελειωσαν τα ψεματα. Πρεπει να αντικρυσουμε την πραγματικοτητα και να ζησουμε με αυτην, μεσα σε αυτην. Απο αυτο θα κριθει η συνεχεια και το μελλον της ωραιας μας πατριδος.

This is the key that will open the Gates of Heaven. We need to take the road to an existence based on self knowledge and self determination, throwing away insecurity and fear.

This is the end of lies. We have to admit it to ourselves first, face reality and start living a real life, not an artificial one, no matter how painful this might be. This will decide the future of our country. This will also rebuild our deconstructed society.

Μανα μου Ελλας

(μουσικη Σταυρου Ξαρχακου, στιχοι Νικου Γκατσου, απο την ταινια “Ρεμπετικο” του Κωστα Φερη, 1983)

Δεν έχω σπίτι πίσω για να ‘ρθώ
ούτε κρεβάτι για να κοιμηθώ
δεν έχω δρόμο ούτε γειτονιά
να περπατήσω μια Πρωτομαγιά.

Τα ψεύτικα τα λόγια τα μεγάλα
μου τα ‘πες με το πρώτο σου το γάλα.

Μα τώρα που ξυπνήσανε τα φίδια
εσύ φοράς τα αρχαία σου στολίδια
και δε δακρύζεις ποτέ σου μάνα μου Ελλάς
που τα παιδιά σου σκλάβους ξεπουλάς.

Τα ψεύτικα τα λόγια τα μεγάλα
μου τα ‘πες με το πρώτο σου το γάλα.

Μα τότε που στη μοίρα μου μιλούσα
είχες ντυθεί τα αρχαία σου τα λούσα
και στο παζάρι με πήρες γύφτισσα μαϊμού
Ελλάδα Ελλάδα μάνα του καημού.

Τα ψεύτικα τα λόγια τα μεγάλα
μου τα ‘πες με το πρώτο σου το γάλα.

Μα τώρα που η φωτιά φουντώνει πάλι
εσύ κοιτάς τα αρχαία σου τα κάλλη
και στις αρένες του κόσμου μάνα μου Ελλάς
το ίδιο ψέμα πάντα κουβαλάς.

Το βιντεοκλιπ εχει την ερμηνεια της Βικυς Μοσχολιου, μιας πολυ μεγαλης ερμηνευτριας του ελληνικου τραγουδιου.

Okuribito (Departures) – A film of Yojiro Takita

Δευτέρα, 6 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

“Departures” is a very special film of Yojiro Takita, about Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist with a Tokyo orchestra, who loses his job because the orchestra is disolved and moves back to his birthtown, Yamagata in the northwest.

His mother has died a couple of years ago and has left him a home.

NK Agent - The Building

Daigo and his wife Mika move from Tokyo to Yamagata, they settle happily in their home and Daigo starts hunting for a job. One day, Daigo reads an add in the newspaper, about a job opening in a firm specializing in “travel”. He eagerly responds and arranges an interview. In the interview he meets the boss of the firm, Ikuei Sasaki, who hires him on the spot, without even asking any questions.

Daigo and his boss

Daigo soon discovers that the firm is an “encoffination” agent, with the name “NK Agent”. They are hired by funeral homes and their job is to clean, dress and place the dead in their coffin. The process takes place in front of the mourning relatives and friends and is extremely important for the sending off of the dead.

Daigo’s first “job” is tough. An old lady has been found in her flat two weeks after her death. Daigo vomits and collapses as he faces (and smells) the corpse. A rough beginning.

Daigo and Mika

As he continues and learns the job, Daigo becomes more and more tuned in. He learns that the boss got started when he lost his wife nine years ago, and he wanted to see her off in the best possible way.

When Mika, Daigo’s wife learns about his job and challenges him to leave it, Daigo stands firm. Mika leaves him to return to her parents, only to return back to Daigo after she finds out she is pregnant with their child, and she has made peace with the fact that Daigo’s job is going to stay.

The death of the old lady who owns the steam baths in town give Mika the opportunity to see Daigo in action, and break any resistance and reluctance she might have.

She witnesses how Daigo performs his duty, turning it into an art that supercedes the awful presence of Death by expressing in motion and spirit respect for the dead and by releasing the beauty of the diceased to the amazement and joy of the family and friends who are present.

Jeff Chuang comments eloquently in Japanator:

“His mesmerizing performance of cleaning, dressing and presenting the dead in front of the bereaved was a sight to see. The process is mostly silent (other than dressed with Joe Hisaishi’s usual, musical excellence), yet there is a precarious balance between mechanical precision and forceful gentleness as Motoki manipulates various pieces of fabrics, tools, and the body in front of us.

The art of encoffination as presented is one that respects both the living and the dead; a minimal amount of skin is exposed during the process. The encoffiner moves the body for the minimum as necessary, and the encoffiner ultimately recreates an image of the dead during the prime in the deceased’s life. The whole process is both cathartic and moving, and I found myself thinking about my lost loved ones over the years. I believe this is the strongest argument for such critical success of Departures at the Academy Awards as well with the numerous other awards it won–the ability to evoke such deep convictions from its viewers with a simple gesture, in a way that we do not feel manipulated.

And the feeling of conviction extends to the characters in the movie as well. Motoki plays a jobless cellist, who gave up and moved back to his childhood home along with his young wife. In search of work, Motoki’s Daigo Kobayashi meets his new boss through a misprint, and a baptism of vomit and awkward moments mark the beginning of Daigo’s new career. The interplay between Daigo’s new line of work, his wife, and his return to the familial memories he left behind play out through the film, with each death, each encoffination bringing the living ever closer together.”

There is another layer of the movie. Daigo’s relationship with his father, who left his family when Daigo was a boy, to follow a woman he fell in love with.

Daigo hates is father, who disappeared since he left, without a trace.

Fate however, has other designs. One day Mika receives notification of Daigo’s father’s death.

She convinces Daigo to go and offer his father his services.

Daigo reluctantly accepts and …  the rest on the screen.

I hope that the absolutely wonderful soundtrack of the movie will give you a good push to go and see the movie. You will not regret it, as a matter of fact I think that you will write back to me, to thank me for the recommendation.

I like veal tongue, both as flavour and texture, and already have posted two recipes with it as the main ingredient. Today I revisit my favourite ingredient in a marriage with another marvel of nature, fava, which in Greece is a soft yellow lentil.

I boil the lentils in water with coarse salt, dry onions and bay leafs until they disolve and become mushy. I take them off the heat and let them to relax and cool off (for at least one hour).

I then proceed with the tongue. I prepare a mix of dry onions, celery, carrots, chilli, red and green peppers and soften them in a large pan with olive oil.

Once soft enough, I place on top the two small to medium sized tongues (mind you, they are veal tongues, therefore relatively small).

After five minutes I add some chicken stock until the tongues are almost covered and let them cook for two hours.

I remove the tongues from the pot, place them in a glass container and let them cool off before removing the skin and slicing them.

Serving is easy, and quite fun. In a deep dish, I first create a small hill wiht fava.

I then place the slices of tongue, cover the lot with the thick rich sauce, and sprinkle with chopped coriander.

Enjoy it!

Cloudy sunset approaching the Athens Airport

Παρασκευή, 3 Φεβρουαρίου, 2012

I discovered the Mexican composer Sivestre Revueltas in the early 90s in London, England. I was moved by his passion and rhythm.
I bought a Catalyst CD titled “The Night of the Mayas” with, among others, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by another great Mexican musician, the conductor Eduardo Mata.  
Revueltas sounded almost out of this world. I stress the word “almost”. His sound is the sound of the jungle, that has come to town and then decided to return to its origins. In this respect, he is extraordinarily different from Vila Lobos, even though they share the Latin American cultural background. It is unfortunate that Revueltas died in poverty of pneumonia at the age of 40.
Revueltas’ two major works are Sensemaya and the Night of the Mayas. 

Silvestre Revueltas

 
Sensemaya is a poem by Cuban poet Nicolas Guillén. The poem evokes a ritual Afro-Caribbean chant performed while killing a snake:
 
Sensemaya
(Chant to kill a snake)
 
¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!
¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!
¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!
The snake has eyes of glass;,
The snake coils on a stick;,
With his eyes of glass on a stick,
With his eyes of glass.
The snake can move without feet;
The snake can hide in the grass;
Crawling he hides in the grass,
Moving without feet.
¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombe.!
Hit him with an ax and he dies;
Hit him! Go on, hit him!
Don’t hit him with your foot or he’ll bite;,
Don’t hit him with your foot, or he’ll get away.
Sensemayá, the snake,
sensemayá.
Sensemayá, with his eyes,
sensemayá.
Sensemayá, with his tongue,
sensemayá.
Sensemayá, with his mouth,
sensemayá.
The dead snake cannot eat;
the dead snake cannot hiss;
he cannot move,
he cannot run!
The dead snake cannot look;,
the dead snake cannot drink,;
he cannot breathe,
he cannot bite.
¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!
Sensemayá, the snake . . .

Translated by Willis Knapp Jones. Spanish American Literature in Translation: A Selection of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama since 1888. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1963.

(You may recall Sensemaya from the soundtrack of “Sin City”.)

La noche de los Mayas

Revueltas composed his score for Chano Urueta’s film La noche de los mayas (“The Night of the Mayas”) in 1939.

La noche de los Mayas is the closest Revueltas came to a full-fledged symphony. Had he lived the additional ten years he wished for, he might have composed symphonies that would have rivaled those of his colleague, Carlos Chavez.

Washington’s Kennedy Center, gives us the following quick look of the work.

The four movements of Revueltas’s “posthumous symphony” may be summarized as follows:

I. NOCHE DE LOS MAYAS (Molto sostenuto) is an atmospheric piece, mysterious, brooding, suggesting perhaps mighty powers now dormant, images of volcanoes and pyramids. The middle section is brighter and lyrical, but the movement ends as it began.

II. NOCHE DE JARANAS (Scherzo, “Night of Revelry”). Jarana is not only a Spanish term for “revelry,” but in Mexico the name of a particular dance form in which Spanish and native influences are blended. Experts in such matters suggest likenesses to the huapango, the jarabe and the son. This scherzo fairly bursts with activity and stunning colors, and is filled with surprising and frequently humorous turns. It is quite a workout for the orchestra, and for the large percussion section in particular.

III. NOCHE DE YUCATáN (Andante espressivo). The “slow movement” alludes to the Yucatán peninsula as home to the Mayans in their magnificent second period. This nocturne is not so much mystical as straightforwardly voluptuous and impassioned. The strings carry the main burden, with imaginative support from clarinets, horns and tuba. Less voluptuous but more touchingly intimate is an interlude in which a solo flute, accompanied by an Indian drum and rattle, introduces the gently melancholy tune of a Mayan song still sung in parts of Yucatán, the Xtoles, a paean to the day’s end and twilight. When the strings resume the opening material they are muted, and this passage leads without pause to the final and most elaborate movement.

IV. NOCHE DE ENCANTAMIENTO (Theme and Variations, “Night of Enchantment”) begins in an atomosphere of heightened tension and anticipation. After about a minute and a half comes the aforementioned cadenza devised by Enrique Diemecke, based on various works of Revueltas: material for guïro (a notched gourd, of Cuban origin) and native tambourine, recognizable as having come from the second movement of this suite; a drum figure from the Homenaje a García Lorca; a xylophone motif from Sensemayá. Once the variations get under way, the music becomes increasingly charged and frenzied. The listener is not likely to notice the transition from one variation to the next, but rather to be swept up in the almost frightening momentum and abandon of the music, as the brasses give out primordial chants and the percussion become more and more assertive, not merely punctuating the rhythm but driving the whole unstoppable and ever expanding force of the wild celebration–a grand sacrificial dance, perhaps, which, like the one at the end of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, does not so much come to an end as simply exhaust itself.

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