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Monday, July 30, 2007

Listening Koncertas Stan Brakhage

Kenneth Noland, In the Garden

Kenneth Noland, In the Garden. The girl in the middle, marked with an X. Could be Alice, exploring delicately a garden of wonders? Or one of my granddaughters? Bianca? Or Daria?

Noland would later go on his own way, here he is still in the universe of Paul Klee. But it's Noland, for sure. Such a delicate sense of the color! And another wonder, there is a suggestion of bidimensionality, the way Byzantine icons organize their space, in the same time a suggestion of perspective.

I was yesterday at the Phillips Collection and I considered selecting ten images for my own imaginary: ten paintings telling me something special just in that particular moment. My first choice was this Noland.

This was yesterday. I am listening now SYR 6 , the record of Sonic Youth: Koncertas Stan Brakhage. He didn't want music for his movies. He didn't want plot, either. The cinematographic language in its purity, nothing more. Almost 400 movies - his quest for the purity of cinematographic language.

Brakhage didn't want music for his films, however James Tenney composed music for Interim, for Desistfilm, for Loving, for Matins, for Christ Mass Sex Dance, for ...5. A musical complement, or a parallel? I have just ordered a CD with some pieces by Tenney. My own search to discover parallel structures in painting, movie, music, the language structures of Noland, Brakhage, Tenney.

Adolph Gottlieb, The Seer, 1950

Here is the second choice, not far from the universe where Noland was following the roads of Klee. It's Adolph Gottlieb, Seer, made in 1950. Trying to have the eye of a primitive, like Klee did. The pictographs of Gottlieb, his alphabet to tell us the unseen. Klee, and Noland, and Gottlieb, in search of the universe of kids and primitives, to be able to see beyond the obvious.

The concert of Sonic Youth was a homage to Brakhage who had died one year earlier. Only this homage was against his wishes, I don't make my films out of caprice. I feel they need a silent attention.

His declaration seems arrogant. It is not. I was watching Regen, the movie made by Joris Ivens, in 1928. The music was kind of chansonette, subtle and poetic, only the movie was much more - I watched Regen then without music and the whole poetry inundated my senses.

I am curios to listen Tenney.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Ranchos Church

My third choice: Georgia O'Keeffe, Ranchos Church.

Today Ingmar Bergman died. I'm listening Koncertas Stan Brakhage, recorded one year after Brakhage's death.

I saw many times this Ranchos Church. It brings me always in mind a scene which comes again and again in The Ashes of Time, of Wong Kar-Wai. The place where the characters come to meet each other for matters of life and death.

I would enter and pray in this Ranchos Church, only it attracts and scares me altogether. There is nothing but God in that church, you are far from your world, in front of the turning point in life and death. You and the Eye of God.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Road Menders

And here is the fourth choice: the Road Menders of Van Gogh. The menders are only weak shapes, the trees are inflamed, like in fire, like crazy dancers. The vitality of the background, the road that will go further towards Klimt and Art Nouveau.

The music of Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui: a music for movies that detest music.

Is it dark humor? Well, I saw only four of his movies, so far, I am waiting for a dvd with more films by Brakhage - it will come probably in a couple of days - this is the music for those movies. I'm trying to enter in their world by this loose jazz. Music to imagine movies that detest music. Trying to get into the Weltanschaung of Brakhage, by using music, against his wishes.

Franz Marc, Deer in the Forest I

My fifth choice: Franz Marc, Deer in Forest (there are two versions, this is the first). It reminds me of the art of Pirosmani.

I'm trying to imagine myself in a small tea house in Tbilisi, with Pirosmani hanging around, listening the Sonic Youth: Koncertas Stan Brakhage. How would it sound there? Metallic pulses, catalytic drums, and railing strings fall apart, and skeletal guitar radiates brief noir themes? (SYR 6)

Rockwell Kent, Tierra del Fuego

Rockwell Kent, Tierra del Fuego, the sixth choice. It's like a photo and I like it precisely for this reason. By being like a photo, it is a formal declaration: this is not the reality, it is an image, with it own reality.

Bergman, with all dilemmas and paradoxes of the Protestant universe. Whether a believer or not, you belong to your universe. The terrible focus on predestination: it means actually the inevitability of Eternal Punishment. The characters of Bergman live under damnation. A fallen world, far from God: it means happiness is impossible. Love is far; here is only lust and repentance. And now comes the paradox: if damnation is certain and happiness is unattainable, you are free, nothing more to loose, and you challenge everything. And so the Protestant universe paradoxically questioned all taboos. No sacred value was exempted: neither church, nor family, nor sexuality.

Augustus Vincent Tack, Windswept

Augustus Vincent Tack, Windswept, the seventh choice. The painting was made around 1900, in New England (in Leyden, Massachusetts).

Windswept, the snow mountain, the snow painting: the white is almost absolute. Again alone, on the edge.

The first movie made by Brakhage, Interim: a boy and a girl meet by pure chance. He just went down from an enormous viaduct, she was coming from the opposite direction. Industrial landscape. The street is crossed by a railway, and a train is just passing, slowly. The two teenagers wait, each one on the other side. The train has passed, they notice each other and smile. They start to talk and walk a bit together. There is a stream nearby and they sit down. The rain starts suddenly and a small crumbling shelter is at view. They run inside and start to embrace and kiss for a brief moment. The rain ends, they come out. He leaves, taking the stairs to the viaduct, she waits for another train to pass, slowly. There is a story here, but it's only the pretext. The movie builds a small Neo-Realist world and plays a little bit inside. That's all. Brakhage was 19 years old. Tenney scored the movie. He was 18. It was 1952.

Robert Spencer, Across the Delaware

Robert Spencer, Across the Delaware, the eighth choice. The town across is New Hope, in Bucks County. I was there many times. The small restaurants and boutiques on the main street keep still some bohème air - it was once the place of the Pennsylvanian Impressionists: the New Hope School. By that time, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Impressionism was still new in America, and the Pennsylvanians were considered the democrats of the new style. Compared to the artists that created in New England (like Tack or Weir), their focus was much more on the everyday life, the subjects they were interested in were much more in the popular universe.

Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection, the second film of Brakhage, made in 1953. About 20 minutes, like the first one, Interim. Only the universe is totally different. Now it's the landscape of Stalker. Only we should note that Tarkovsky made his movie in 1979!

Let's be clear: Stalker is to be understood on multiple levels. Here, in the movie of Brakhage, there is no such thing. The plot is only a pretext again, like in Interim. A group of teenagers make an excursion in the mountains, the car breaks, the driver is busy to fix the thing, the others look around. A group of strange wooden houses on the hill. Kind of shacks. Unfinished while crumbled. Through the unglassed windows, the light from within the houses plays with the light from outside. They start to explore. Soon each one looses the others and is alone, like prisoner in a labyrinth. Each new step brings each one in a totally new place. Through the unglassed windows light plays with darkness. They find each other, only to start a fight. One boy is killed. The other steps on a wooden board, looses his equilibrium and dies in the fall. We don't know the reaction of the others, because the camera moves to the ridge of the trees and the movie ends.

So, no multiple levels of understanding, like in Stalker. Only the same growing dread on each step in an alien territory, rendered here in pure cinematographic language, in changes of light rhythm. For Brakhage, it seems, plot is only a pretext, to explore light in motion, in interaction with the eye of the onlooker.

J Alden Weir, Woodland Rocks

Julian Alden Weir, Woodland Rocks, the ninth choice. It reminded me a photo that I had seen some time ago at Phillips: Martha's Vineyard by Aaron Siskind. Each with a different story. The painting of Weir is a moment in a mountain journey, the photo of Siskind is a gate where space ends.

Phillips Collection
is hosting an exhibition devoted to American Impressionists, artists from New York, from New England, from Pennsylvania, Hassam, Prendergast, Weir, Lawson, Tack, Twachtman, Spencer, Robinson, Luks, among others.

Yesterday there was also the last day for another exhibition at Phillips: the Washington Color School, artists who became known in the sixties, Noland, Gene Davis, Morris Louis, Willem de Looper, Alma Thomas, Mehring, Downing, Paul Reed. Impressionists in between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and Colorists from the sixties and beyond... Works from one exhibition were finding the balance in the other. A room with paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, Van Gogh, Franz Marc, Rousseau le Douanier was making the transition easier.

I am thinking again at Brakhage's movie, Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection (by the way, titles were perhaps not his strongest point). The last image, of the ridge of trees, suggested me another dimension of the movie.

Paul Schrader studied the transcendental dimension in the movies of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer. He noted in their movies three steps: the everyday, the disruption, the stasis. Each of their movies starts by presenting a normal situation of life, where everything is comprehensible, and the characters are in control. Unexpected events create a growing tension, the situation is more and more incomprehensible, the characters loose more and more the control, everything evolves up to a disruptive moment. The movie's coda is an image that does not explain the incomprehensible, does not resolve the disruption, but transcends it. Schrader names the final step stasis because it is kind of a frozen view of the reality. So at the end we accept the incomprehensible as we realize that all that happened finds a reason in a superior order.

Well, the movie of Brakhage starts with a group of youngsters in an excursion. There is an erotic suggestion, there is a possible love triangle, but every character seems to be in control. It is the banality of the everyday.

The car breaks and all that follows leads to the disruptive moment, the death of the two boys. Here Brakhage is a master of the cinematic language: the growing tension is rendered by subtle changes of light rhythm.

The coda does not explain the reality, only transcends it. The image of the trees makes us realize that there is a superior order of things, and all events have their reasons above our understanding.

It is interesting to analyze in this view the other movie of Brakhage that I have seen, The Way to Shadow Garden, made in 1954. It was his fourth film. 11 minutes long. This time the plot is no more, it is a pure symbolic film.

A young boy walks through the night. The storm is approaching. He enters his room, closes the windows, but looses gradually the control. Though he tries to do normal actions, to take a glass of water, to read a book, etc, the room becomes his trap. He breaks the glass and gouges his eyes with the splinters. He leaves the room only to find himself in the shadow garden: the image turns to negative, the darkness is white, his eyes are white. His skin is black, the flowers are black.

I believe that here we have a negative stasis: the transcendental (the shadow garden) does not bring the solace, and man remains prisoner of space. And space for Brakhage means light in motion in dialog with our subjectivity. It would be interesting to make a parallel between Brakhage and Moholy-Nagy (Lichtspiel: Schwartz - Weiss - Grau) or Schlemmer (Das Triadische Ballett)

Edward Weston, Shells, 1927

Edward Weston, Shells, the tenth choice. A photo made in 1927. His nudes taking the shape of his shells, his shells celebrating the beauty of his nudes.

Yesterday Ingmar Bergman died. I was too tired to finish this message, so here I am, again in front of my laptop. Today Michelangelo Antonioni passed away.

(By Brakhage)

(Van Gogh)

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Paul Klee at the Phillips Collection

This Star Teaches Blending, 1940; Insula Dulcamara, 1938; Le Voyage en Tunisie avec Deux Dromadaires; Dream City, 1921; Sindbad the Sailor; View of Saint Germain; Southern Gardens, 1919; Camel in Rythmic Wooden Landscape
George Calinescu about Liviu Rebreanu: any sentence of him is like keeping some sea water in your hand: colorless and tasteless - but a couple of pages have the din and the struggle of ocean. Two great figures in the Romanian literature, a historian and a novelist, Calinescu and Rebreanu.

Calinescu's words about Rebreanu came into my mind as I was visiting the exhibition of Paul Klee at Phillips Collection. I had seen before a couple of Klee's works, now I was surrounded by tens and tens. The impression was overwhelming.

Hoffmanesque Geschichte, Das Tor zum Hades, Stadt im Zwischenreich, Abstract Trio, Die Angler... Sometimes the grace to be found later at Calder, sometimes a finesse of cloisoneé. Schulhaus and Dorf - Carnaval were reminding me of Chagall.

Paul Klee - Die Ankuft der Gaukler, 1926

A painting from 1926, Die Ankuft der Gaukler (The Arrival of Jugglers) brought into my mind the Circus of Calder. The painting of Klee was of course bidimensional, only it gave a spatial feeling, like the sculptural work of Calder. What was marvelous, the spatial feeling in the painting of Klee was not coming from a traditional technique of perspective - his work was organized rather on the way followed by Byzantine icons.

The painting of Klee had in all a diaphanous aspect, like any of his works. I was retrieving this delicacy on each juggler from Calder's Circus.

Alexander Calder, Circus, detail

Negroid Beauty, a surprinsingly classical work of Klee... Kalte Stadt... Tropische Garden Kultur... Schreck eines Maedchen... Eulenkomoedie, like an overexposed photo... Elephant and Lion (reminding me of Tuculescu)... Oriental Pleasure Garden... Sacred Islands... Kleines Regattabill, white little boats that seem like paper made... The Path into the Blue...

Like other great abstractionists, Klee was looking for something beyond the visible. Malevich or Mondrian tried to find the transcendent by using geometry. Klee followed another way. He was persuaded by the idea that a spontaneous eye could see what's hidden beyond what we see. And this spontaneity can be found if we understand the way primitives and kids look at the universe. You know the famous remark of Picasso, when I was at the age of these children I could draw like Raphael. It took me many years to draw like them.

Klee tried all his life to discover what primitives knew and what kids try each time to communicate to us.

(Avangarda 20)

(Phillips Collection)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stan Brakhage

Stan Brakhage

If Maya Deren invented the American avant-garde cinema, Stan Brakhage realized its potential. Unquestionably the most important living avant-garde filmmaker, Brakhage single-handedly transformed the schism separating the avant-garde from classical filmmaking into a chasm. And the ultimate consequences have yet to be resolved; his films appear nearly as radical today as the day he made them.

A murit in 2003, la 70 de ani. A lasat in urma lui aproape 400 filme, cu durate de la cateva secunde la patru ore. Ultimul lui film, din 2003, Work in Progress (de fapt este penultimul - doua role de film de 16 mm de care ar fi vrut sa se ocupe mai tarziu, pentru ca incepuse sa lucreze la Chinese Series).

Am vazut aseara patru filme facute de el, unul dintre ele fiind chiar primul lui film, facut la 19 ani. Toate patru fac parte dintre primele lui filme. Fiecare are o durata de zece sau douazeci de minute. Fiecare este extraordinar - unul dintre ele, al doilea lui film (Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection), cred ca este o capodopera. Voi reveni.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gabriela Banu - despre Santiago si nu numai

Paulo Coelho, Jorge Amado, Frederico Garcia Lorca - trei autori talmaciti de Gabriela Banu in romaneste.

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Gabriela Banu - Pelerin si Peler Doamne

(imagine din albumul Virtourist/Europe/Santiago)

Pelerin si peler-doamne: asa ar fi sunat probabil, romanul lui Victor Ion Popa daca ar fi venit la Santiago de Compostela. Azi, la slujba din catedrala, prelatul – parea de la episcop in sus, dupa infatisare si dupa cum a predicat – a citit timp de 15 minute o lista cu pelerinii deja sositi pentru sarbatoarea Sfantului Iacob (Santiago) de pe 25 iulie. Adica, a pomenit doar nationalitatile si locul de unde si-au inceput pelerinajul, majoritatea pe jos ... trei austrieci de la Roncesvalles (numele spaniol pentru Roncesvaux, localitate ce apare in La Chanson de Roland, de pe vremea lui Carol cel Mare), doi cehi din Madrid, cinci ucrainieni din Barcelona...

Slujba in sine a fost pentru mine o continua mirare, nu numai pentru ca la ortodocsi e altfel, ci si pentru ca Spania moderna, care se da de ceasul mortii sa fie recunoscuta ca laica - ba chiar atee pe alocuri - apare aici atat de spiritualizata, atat de sincer catolica incat te si miri.

Ghida, o tinerica de vreo 25 de ani, iti spune – si dovedeste prin multele lacune pe care le da la iveala – ca ea nu intra in biserica la slujba. Si o crezi. Dar daca vii la slujba, dai peste o mare de oameni (cu imensitatea catedralei e alta poveste, nu se poate compara decat cu holul Casei Poporului, ca marime) dovedind credinta - unii in picioare, altii stand in banci, unii marturisindu-se in confesionalele de pe margine, si toti de varste diferite, cu rucsacul in spate sau cu aer de turisti spanioli.

M-a surprins de asemenea, la slujba, ca nu exista decat o singura maicuta, soprana, care canta si dirija in acelasi timp corul de credinciosi: era o minune cat de frumos suna. Iar la un moment dat, dupa ce preotul a spus nu stiu ce – am avut o clipa de uimire care m-a costat – cel de langa mine mi-a intins mana, doamna din fata m-a imbratisat – toata lumea se imbratisa sau isi strangea mainile, in chip de fraternitate. Ce frumos! (n.r. - nu o lua de capital, e un moment prevazut in detaliu in oficierea liturghiei catolice)

Ca Santiago face sau nu minuni chiar in zilele noastre – e o experienta pe care fiecare o traieste in felul sau, dar cert este – daca ar fi sa ne luam dupa marturiile unor pelerini-scriitori – ca minuni se intampla: Paulo Coelho de pilda – la vremea cand nu era decat un scriitoras obscur brazilian, nebagat in seama de nimeni, desi scrisese pana atunci vreo trei romane, explodeaza pe prima pagina a ziarelor din pricina vanzarilor fabuloase a cartilor care aveau ca punct de plecare Spania sau chiar Santiago de Compostela: Alchimistul si Jurnalul unui mag sunt cele mai evidente exemple. Dar si in Zahir personajul principal, in cautarea propriului drum, face o vizita la Santiago de Compostela: drumul din Franta pana la Santiago e un cosmar, trebuie sa treci muntii Pirinei, apoi toata coasta muntoasa cantabrica e o problema, sa nu uitam ca putin mai spre occident dai de Finisterrae, Sfarsitul lumii, cum i se spunea in vechime. Iar in Zahir, minunea are doua fatete: una, ca personajul pleaca din Franta pe viscol si cu drumurile blocate – toata lumea incearca sa-l opreasca; dar el insista si cum trece granita, da de soare; alta, ca in final isi gaseste propriul eu, dar si pe femeia iubita, care-l parasise tocmai pentru ca el sa se caute, sa se inteleaga pe sine.

Gabriela Banu

Gabriela Banu - Cate ceva despre Santiago

Catedrala Sfantlui Apostol Iacob, Santiago de Compostela

Aici programul fiecarei zile este obositor, dar m-am obisnuit. nu se ia nici un mijloc de transport, nu pentru ca ar fi orasul asa de mic, ci pentru ca nu trec pe unde vreau eu sa ma duc, nici nu le stiu traseul.

Stiti povestea orasului Santiago de Compostela? Santiago este Sfantul Iacob si spaniolii spun ca a fost adus aici ca sa fie inmormantat, dupa ce a fost decapitat la Ierusalim, deoarece el a crestinat peninsula. E o intreaga poveste, fascinanta pentru unii, pura fantezie
pentru altii. dar e de vazut ca pana in zilele noastre vin pelerini aici - circa 15.000-20.000 in anii slabi, ca sa zicem asa.

Cica trebuie sa faci 100 km pe jos sau 200 km in bici daca vrei sa fii pelerin adevarat si sa primesti diploma. au hanuri, drumuri, tot ce-i trebuie unuia ca sa faca drumul si sa-i vezi cum vin - englezi, nordici, nemti, spanioli, e o nebunie.

Pe 25 o sa fie nebunie- e ziua lui Santiago si toata lumea vrea sa incapa in catedrala.

Deocamdata atat. Voi reveni.

Gabriela Banu

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Avangarda 20

Vladimir Tatlin - Monument for the Third International, 1920Vladimir Tatlin - Model of the Monument for the Third International, 1920

(Modernism - Designing a New World - 1919 - 1939, exhibition at Corcoran Gallery of Art)

Washingtonians have been spoiled this year with the Avant-Garde of the 20s and 30s. A photo exhibition of the Central-European Modernism is currently on view at the National Gallery, in parallel with the one at Corcoran. The collection of Société Anonyme toured at Phillips, in parallel with the Prouns of El Lissitzky. A Paul Klee exhibition was earlier this year at Philipps, and Dadaists had their turn, at the National Gallery. Each exhibition, a must for anyone aiming to understand the Avant-Garde in all its dimensions.

The exposition at Corcoran starts in the lobby with a splendid prototype of a saloon car, a Tatra from 1933. You follow the monumental marble stairs, flanked by two rows of red and blue chairs (the Rietveld chairs) and you enter the rotonda.

A model of the Tatlin Tower is in the middle of the rotonda: the Monument for the Third International. It had been designed as a twin helix up to 400 m in height, supporting three enormous rotating geometric structures: a large cylinder (rotation spanning a year), a pyramid (rotation in a month), and a thin cylinder (rotation in a day). Each structure with its own destination: venue for conferences, executive offices, information center. An open-air screen was planned to be installed on top, and a projector, to cast the Revolution over clouds. As materials, glass (the transparency of Communist ideals), and steel (the strength of Communism). The tower was never built: some would say that too much transparency was not what Communist leaders were looking for. Anyway, it would have consumed all steel available at that time from all over Russia.

I had read a lot about it. Now I was in front of the model; the three geometric structures were doing slowly their rotations and a music was heard, faintly: astral music would have sounded the same way.

Tatlin Tower, one of the places where was the beginning. The moment zero of the Avant-Garde. I remained silent in front of the model, as to make sure it was not a dream, that I was there. Yes, I was, and I was able now to see all its details, to observe the rotations, to look through the glass inside the large cylinder, the pyramid, the thin cylinder. The monument never built, for always a dream.

Tatlin Tower carries one of the dimensions of the Avant-Garde: the political dimension; the epoch requested a strong political commitment and the artists answered with great enthusiasm. The Avant-Garde of the 20s created under the banner of Utopia, to face in the 30s the reality of dictatorships. From Utopia to Dystopia, that was the life cycle.

The model of the monument of Tatlin is surrounded in the rotonda by four other exhibits, that show us other dimensions of the Avant-Garde of the 20's.

Le Corbusier - Villa Savoye, Poissy, 1928

Firstly, the model of Villa Savoye à Poissy, created by Le Corbusier in 1928. It is his seminal work: the house viewed as a machine à habiter. The industry was imposing its structures over all other domains. The new principles of urbanism and of housing were following industrial claims for efficiency and standards. Villa Savoye has a modern elegance while being strictly functional.
The floor was elevated as the house was built in a meadow, on damp ground. The floor was made of reinforced concrete and was supported by thin columns. Inside the house the load bearing walls were no more necessary, so the space allowed flexible partitioning. Horizontal windows were providing natural illumination and ventilation. The façade was a thin skin of wall and windows. The flat roof included the garden area.

Alvar Aalto - Savoy VaseAnother exhibit in the rotonda is the Savoy Vase designed by Alvar Aalto. It also has its story. Aalto designed the vase for a national competition in Finland. He won the competition and his works were shown at the Finnish pavilion of the Paris World Fair, in 1937. The vase took its name from the Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki, that opened in 1937, with Aalto's vases on each table.
To understand the logic of the whimsical form of the vase, you should compare it with the auditorium of the Viipuri Municipal Library, designed by Aalto in the 30s. You'll realise that the shapes of the vase (as well as the shapes of the roof in Viipuri) belong to the universe of the Avant-Garde: it is the universe beyond cubism, the same universe found in the sculptures of Arp and Miró. In the same time, the shapes of the Savoy Vase (and of the roof in Viipuri) call in mind the shapes of the Finnish landscape. Alvar Aalto, like Brancusi, knew how to read their ethnic universe with the international alphabet of the time, while finding in the international universe their ethnic paradigms.

Gerrit Rietveld - De Stijl Chair
The next exhibit: the Red and Blue Chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld, the same model as the ones from the marble stairs. Rietveld designed it in 1917 and used one color, black. One year later he joined De Stijl and changed the colors of the chair to fit Mondrian's palette; and so the lines became planes, red and blue: Mondrian's world exploring the tridimensional.

Marcel Breuer - Wassily Club Chair Model B3, 1925

And here is the forth exhibit surrounding Tatlin Tower: the so-called Wassily Chair designed by Marcel Breuer.
It is a spare skeleton of intersecting planes. Breuer used for the frame gleaming tubular steel - inspired by the bike he was riding to and from Bauhaus where he was teaching. AS the story goes, no bike manufacturer was interested in the project, so Breuer built the prototype with the help of a plummer.
Wassily Kandinski, who was teaching at Bauhaus by the same time, was a great admirer of the prototype, so the chair took eventually his name: the Wassily Chair.

Le Corbusier, Aalto, Rietveld, Breuer, all of them were architects and designers. Tatlin, Malevich, El Lissitzky, were also architects. Bayer and Burchartz were photographers and designers. Man Ray was painter and photographer. And here lies the utilitarian dimension of the Avant-Garde of the 20s - the openness toward the utilitarian, and the emphasis on architecture, as the expression of total art. Art Nouveau had started the dialog with the utilitarian, the Avant-Garde would push this dialog to its ultimate consequences.

Walter Gropius was saying in the Bauhaus Manifesto, the ultimate aim of all creativity is a building, and, architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts.

The exhibits from the rotonda give us yet another dimension of the Avant-Garde: the artistic dimension; the search for the truth that exists beyond cubism

The rotonda, with the model of Tatlin Tower in the middle gives the political dimension of the Avant-Garde, while the surrounding exhibits add the emphasis on architecture and utilitarian and carry with them the post-cubist flavor. The Tatra car from the lobby shows the industrial dimension of the Avant-Garde of the 20s and 30s: the aim of embedding art in industry. The fully integration of art and life, this was the goal of the Avant-Garde.

Hans Ledwinka  - Tatra Saloon Car, 1933
And then follow the halls of the exhibition: hundreds of exhibits, photos, drawings, posters, paintings, fragments of movies, books, magazines. It is organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum from London.

I hope I will come back to each dimension to take it in depth. Here was only the outline.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rudy the Nixonian

Giuliani has certainly the taste for self-mockery
Giuliani has certainly the taste for self-mockery. Currently he is the front-runner in the Republican camp. Some say that Fred Thompson will be the winner, only the first condition is to enter the race. If he enters too late ...
Anyway, there is a paradox with Giuliani: neither left nor right loves him while his chances are high. The explanation lies in the silent majority that seems to receive well his approaches.
Michael Gerson tries to see what's the political baggage of Giuliani: is he a conservative in Reagan's style, or rather in Nixon's? Here is the column from today's Washington Post:

With the same rootless confidence that causes people to ignore hurricane warnings, many social conservatives remain in denial about Rudy Giuliani's chances of winning the Republican nomination.
But with three debates and eight months as the Republican front-runner under his belt, Giuliani's political strength cannot be dismissed as a fad or a fluke. His skills as a campaigner are considerable. His political strategy is plausible: Play down Iowa and New Hampshire, win Florida on Jan. 29, and sweep the big states (New York, California, Illinois) on Feb. 5, securing the nomination before a social-conservative reaction can set in. The Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney camps have their own victory scenarios, but they are not more likely.
So it is not too early for Republicans to consider some consequences of a Giuliani nomination.
To begin with, the ideological shift would be greater than meets the eye. Giuliani plays up his continuity with the Republican past, particularly with Ronald Reagan. But Reagan, of course, was a committed social conservative who expressed reservations about choosing George H.W. Bush as his running mate because of his questionable pro-life views. Giuliani's style and approach are actually much closer to those of another politically successful Republican president: Richard Nixon, pre-Watergate.
In his elections, Nixon appealed to conservatives and the country as a culture warrior who was not a moral or religious conservative. "Permissiveness," he told key aides, "is the key theme," and Nixon pressed that theme against hippie protesters, tenured radicals and liberals who bad-mouthed America. This kind of secular, tough-on-crime, tough-on-communism conservatism gathered a "silent majority" that loved Nixon for the enemies he made.
By this standard, Giuliani is a Nixon Republican. He is perhaps the most publicly secular major candidate of either party -- his conflicts with Roman Catholic teaching make him more reticent on religion than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But as a prosecutor and mayor of New York, he won conservative respect for making all the right enemies: the ACLU, advocates of blasphemous art, purveyors of racial politics, Islamist mass murderers, mob bosses and the New York Times editorial page.
On the evidence of the polls, many conservatives are ready for a little cultural combat, and Giuliani looks like a man who knows how to use a knife. He might successfully appeal to blue-collar resentment against liberal elitism and Democratic antiwar overreach, while winning back some pro-choice, suburban female voters.
But the Nixon example is also a warning. His presidency -- from wage and price controls to the nomination of Justice Harry Blackmun-- could hardly be called a conservative success story. As president, Nixon was a talented man without an ideological compass, mainly concerned with the accumulation of power. Giuliani's 1994 endorsement of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo -- the modern hero of Democratic liberalism -- also indicates some loose ideological moorings. And, as with Nixon, Giuliani's combativeness, on occasion, blurs into pettiness.
Another consequence of a Giuliani victory would be to place the Republican nominee in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. For someone who aspires to be the fourth Roman Catholic to lead a major-party ticket, this is not a minor thing.
Giuliani is not only pro-choice. He has supported embryonic stem cell research and public funding for abortion. He supports the death penalty. He supports "waterboarding" of terror suspects and seems convinced that the conduct of the war on terrorism has been too constrained. Individually, these issues are debatable. Taken together, they are the exact opposite of Catholic teaching, which calls for a "consistent ethic of life" rather than its consistent devaluation. No one inspired by the social priorities of Pope John Paul II can be encouraged by the political views of Rudy Giuliani. Church officials who criticized John Kerry on abortion are anxious for the opportunity to demonstrate their bipartisanship by going after a Republican. Those attacks on Giuliani have already begun.
Across the country, there will doubtlessly be Giuliani Democrats who respond to a culture war against liberalism without the baggage of pro-life moralism. But there will also be Americans influenced by the teachings of John Paul II, who have been persuaded over the years to support Republicans mainly on the pro-life issue. Many are Reagan Democrats. And they will be less impressed by a conservatism purged of pro-life moralism -- which they would see as a purge of compassion and humanity.
These are predictable results if the Republican nominee is not Reagan's heir but Nixon's political twin.

For those interested, here's Giuliani's blog.

Sarko: France's Get-Up-and-Go

Sarko surrounded by students: talking about University system reform
I received Sarkozy's victory with a moderated skepticism. I am forced to realize that I was wrong. Sarko is very good at job, so far. He is pursuing a very clear program of reforms while building a very open and constructive dialog with all segments of French society: political segments, age segments, social segments.

Here is the copy of a column from today's Washington Post. The author is Steven Pearlstein.

It's hard to say what is more remarkable -- that the French National Assembly was in session in mid-July at 1:30 on a Tuesday morning or that it approved an $18 billion tax cut plan that drastically reduces taxes on the rich and offers incentives for working more.

After decades of economic drift and political paralysis, France suddenly finds itself caught up in a whirlwind of economic reform, all of it generated by its hyperactive new president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

There he is lunching with student leaders at a local bistro to win their support for reform of the nation's under-funded and under-performing university system.

Here he is on the phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, sealing the deal for the French oil company, Total, for a 25 percent stake in the management of the giant Shtokman gas field.

Now he is in Toulouse, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, announcing a new governance structure for Airbus that puts a loyal French technocrat in charge.

And there's Sarko in Brussels, criticizing the European Central Bank for keeping the euro too high and demanding more leeway for France's ballooning budget deficit.

The joke going around is that while Sarkozy's arch-rival, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, wrote a book on Napoleon, Sarkozy is Napoleon, reshaping the French economy according to his will and restoring it to its former glory.

Despite some similarities, Sarkozy isn't exactly France's answer to Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.

Yes, there are the big tax cuts designed to "shock" the French economy into a higher growth mode by putting more money in the pockets of French consumers, encouraging investment and luring capital and talent back into the country.

He's given labor and management six months to come up with a new employment contract that will give companies more flexibility to hire and fire.

To tame the power of labor unions, Sarkozy has demanded that transit workers be required to provide a minimal level of service during strikes.

And he proposes to cut spending on France's proud civil service by not replacing one of every two jobs that comes vacant and eliminating pensions that allow some government workers to retire at age 50.

But Sarkozy has the soul of a Gaullist, an economic nationalist, eager to intervene in the economy to protect the independence of French companies, the jobs of French workers or the interests of French consumers.

Given the long history of failed attempts to reform the French economy, it may be only natural to suspect that Sarkozy is not really a true believer in market capitalism and economic liberalization. In a sense, that's correct. His interest in markets and competition is less ideological than it is practical, viewing them as a means to achieve certain results, not ends in themselves.

At the same time, it would be wrong to assume that Sarkozy is merely a cynical politician who understands that the only way to push through economic reforms is to neutralize opponents with the occasional foray into protectionism or industrial policy. He is, at heart, an old-fashioned Gaullist who has no problem mixing his Adam Smith with his Jean-Baptiste Colbert to create a peculiarly French version of state-managed capitalism.

Certainly the cabinet and economic team Sarkozy has assembled reflect the new president's ideological eclecticism. They include members of the opposition centrists and Socialists as well as the author of best-selling book on France's economic decline. And as Finance Minister he appointed Christine Lagarde, a lawyer with no political experience whom de Villepin lured away from the American law firm of Baker & McKenzie to serve as trade minister in the last government. With perfect English learned at Bethesda's Holton-Arms School, a flair for reasoned advocacy and a wide range of business experience outside of France, the stylish Lagarde has already given instant credibility to Sarkozy's reform agenda.

Gerard de la Martiniere, the astute and well-connected chairman of the French Insurance Association, says Sarkozy fulfills the need for a uniquely French solution to its economic malaise. In the past, he said, reforms failed because they were seen as being imposed on France from the outside by the European Union or trading partners or global markets. As reform was presented to the French public, it seemed that achieving economic success required suppressing everything that was French.

But Sarkozy has turned the political equation around, says de la Martiniere, arguing that economic success is now the best way to revive the French national identity, not to suppress it.

As he taps into broad public demand for change, Sarkozy is overwhelming political opponents with the speed and volume of his initiatives. The Socialist opposition has conceded that taxes on labor and capital are stifling innovation and job creation and driving top talent out of the country. Unions are looking for a way to avoid a confrontation that might expose how little "solidarity" there is between private and public sector workers. And the leaders of the French business elite, which has cleverly stoked nationalist policies to protect themselves and their uncompetitive enterprises, now realize there is probably more money to be made by opening to the world.

Although much of the emphasis so far has been on cutting taxes and reforming labor markets, that will be only half the battle. Sarkozy will also have to take on the tangle of regulations that limit competition in dozens of product markets.

A prime target is the retail sector, where price discounting is forbidden and any new entrant needs to get approval from local chambers of commerce controlled by competitors. The result is not only consumer prices that are as much as 20 percent higher than they are elsewhere in western Europe, according to former Sarkozy economic adviser Jacques Delpla, but a retail sector that is smaller by 1 million jobs.

Also largely protected is the financial services industry, which is as profitable as it is inefficient and has watched as much of its potential business and top talent migrate to London.

It's still unclear how far Sarkozy will go with these product market reforms -- they are aimed directly at the heart of his political constituency. But my sense is that Sarkozy has finally put France on the path toward economic reform. As an outsider by birth (Hungarian parents) and education (the first modern president not to graduate from one of France's "grand ecoles," where the elite are trained), he is not so tightly bound to the past.

His political rise is a case study of knowing when to be tough and when to be flexible, when to be loyal and when not. Having been elected on the promise of getting France moving again, he has every incentive to take whatever risks are necessary to deliver.

Aelita - povestea unui film constructivist

Cine este Aelita, o stim toti: este printesa martienilor, insa planeta este condusa de un consiliu al batranilor, unde troneaza atotputernicul Tuskub. Exista acolo si Gos, constructor de dispozitive astronomice de mare acuratete - care este insa obligat sa tina secretul lor cu strasnicie - martienii nu trebuie sa stie prea multe, asa este de parere dictatorul Tuskub.

Tuskub ar vrea sa o tina deoparte si pe printesa Aelita, dar ea vine in ascuns in observatorul astronomic manuit de Gos si priveste prin dispozitivele lui - asa ca vede Pamantul, pe Pamant vede mai intai New Yorkul - apoi Parisul - si apoi vede Moscova, unde un barbat si o femeie, rezemati de balustradele de pe malul raului, se saruta fericiti.

Si Aelita incepe sa tanjeasca dupa pamanteanul cel frumos din Moscova. E chinuitor sa fie atat de departe. Ce bine ar fi sa ajunga oe Marte si sa isi lipeasca buzele de ale ei!

Bine, bine, si de ce tocmai moscovitul i-a dat printesei martiene fiorul erotic? Raspunsul vine de la sine: filmul este sovietic! Este Aelita, turnat in 1924 de catre Iacov Protazanov. Veteranul cinematografiei rusesti de dinainte de Primul Razboi Mondial fusese invitat sa se intoarca in patrie - emigrase dupa Revolutie, se aflase o vreme la Istanbul, incercand sa isi faca drum spre studiourile din Occident. Acum se afla la Moscova si i se incredintase producerea unui film de science-fiction dupa romanul Aelita, al lui Alexei Tolstoi. Avea la dispozitie o echipa formidabila si o finantare generoasa.

Observatorul arata marfa - decor constructivist - scenografa a fost Alexandra Ekster, artista apropiata de Tatlin, de Rodcenko, de Malevici si de Lissitzky - a absorbit tot ce era mai bun in suprematism si in constructivism - iar rezultatul sunt decorurile de pe Marte - wow! Pentru decorurile Alexandrei Ekster am si cumparat dvd-ul cu filmul - sunt inebunit dupa avangarda anilor '20 - dupa suprematism si constructivism - dupa PROUN-ii lui Lissitzky, dupa Pobeda nad solntze, si dupa Povestea celor Doua Dreptunghiuri.

La Galeria de Arta Corcoran din Washington este deschisa o expozitie dedicata avangardei anilor '20 si '30. O expozitie uriasa, cu documente, carti, litografii, afise, fragmente de film, obiecte - am vazut-o de doua ori si vreau sa o mai vad odata. Acolo, in sala dedicata suprematistilor si constructivistilor este prezentat un fragment din filmul lui Protazanov, Aelita. Scena in care se vede observatorul astronomic de pe Marte. Impresia a fost covarsitoare. Instalatiile proiectate de Alexandra Ekster semanau aidoma cu formele geometrice folosite de Tatlin in monumentul sau celebru, a carei macheta o vazusem la intrarea in expozitie, cu formele geometrice ale desenelor lui Lissitzky, desene care se aflau in aceeasi sala, si pe care mai vazusem cu cateva luni in urma la o alta expozitie, la Phillips Collection. Tuburi si conuri de sticla,cu diverse unghiuri de inclinare, in miscare de rotatie, insotite de profile metalice in forma unor compasuri si echere uriase.
In alta sala am vazut un desen al Alexandrei Ekster: era proiectul unui pavilion de realizari in industrie al unei expozitii de la Moscova din 1923. Dar nimic nu se compara cu fragmentul de film pe care tocmai il vazusem, asa ca intors acasa am comandat imediat dvd-ul.

Oras martian - Long Shot
Asadar Aelita viseaza la pamanteanul cel chipes - dar si pamanteanul tanjeste dupa frumoasa printesa de pe Marte. Pamanteanul este inginerul moscovit Los, care lucreaza de ani de zile la constructia unei nave cosmice si care viseaza cu ochii deschisi.
Pentru ca universul martian este doar in imaginatia lui Los.
Sau poate invers? Poate ca Aelita viseaza si isi imagineaza un pamantean chipes care lucreaza la o nava cosmica sa vina pe Marte si sa isi lipeasca buzele de ale ei.
Care univers este cel real? Cel terestru sau cel martian? Bine, bine, daca universul martian este cel real, iar universul terestru este imaginar, de unde stia pamanteanca Alexandra Ekster cum arata un oras martian? Buna intrebare.

Ei, dar suntem in Moscova anilor '20, razboiul civil de abia s-a terminat, e criza inca, si de spatiu locativ, si de alimente, si de toate - iar Los, inginerul visator are o nevasta pe care o cam neglijeaza, obsedat cum e de nava lui si de universul martian - in timp ce un activist bolsevic ii face avansuri.

Erlich nu e de fapt activist - este functionar la soviet, este un exponent al burgheziei rosii care incepe sa rasara in perioada NEP-ului. O nota antisemita nu lipseste din film, dar trebuie sa fim ingaduitori - era de abia anul 1924. Erlich, care este dezgustator in toate, este evreu - daca numele nu era suficient, regizorul a adaugat un amanunt - Erlich isi invata nevasta sa spuna ca el nu ii este barbat, ci frate, asa incat ea sa isi poate atraga favorurile unor oameni interesanti.

Asadar singurul reprezentant al Puterii Sovietice din film este evreu, si este lipsit de orice scrupule - un profitor, a profitat si inainte, pe vremea tarismului, profita si acum, da mita, imbie functionarele cu ciocolata, participa la baluri clandestine la care se imbraca in frac si bea sampanie - dar mai ales o asalteaza cu insistente erotice pe frumoasa nevasta a inginerului Los, care, cum zic, e absorbit de planurile lui cosmice.
Consiliul Batranilor
Ei bine, Los, inginerul, este un barbat frumos si visator. Si viseaza ca nava e gata si ca pleaca pe Marte.

Cine putea forma echipajul unei nave sovietice? Ei bine, raspunsul e simplu: un inginer, un soldat si un informator. Inginerul care viseaza la nava lui, la calatorii cosmice si la frumoasa printesa martiana, soldatul (interpretat de Nikolai Batalov) care odata ajuns pe Marte porneste o revolutie pentru instaurarea unei Uniuni a Republicilor Sovietice Martiene, iar informatorul se duce glont la politia martiana pentru a depune o nota despre inginer si a cere arestarea lui. Chintesenta sistemului sovietic!

Ei, si multe se mai intampla pe Marte, pana cand Los se trezeste din visul lui de fiecare zi si isi da seama ca langa el se afla o nevasta foarte frumoasa de care trebuie sa aiba grija.

Filmul este o adaptare foarte libera a cartii lui Alexei Tolstoi - aproape ca romanul devine un pretext - trebuia sa se plece de la ceva. Insa filmul si-a urmarit ideile proprii.

Multi l-au criticat pentru ideile marxist-leniniste - altii au zambit ingaduitori la naivitatile din 1924 - de fapt insa filmul este o satira foarte fina a sistemului sovietic - un sarcasm swiftian. Nu e de mirare ca securitatea sovietica a inteles sarcasmul filmului si l-a scos din circulatie imediat. Filmul a fost de negasit pana aproape de anii nostri - a fost tinut sub cenzura totala. Din fericire a fost pastrat in conditii foarte bune, spre deosebire de atatea alte capodopere ale anilor '20.

Si este un film cu multa poezie. Doua universuri, fiecare posibil real, posibil imaginar, fiecare univers posibil numai prin imaginatia unui visator de pe universul pereche. Ficeare univers comunicand cu perechea prin imaginatia unui visator. Iar dupa ce filmul se termina, ramanem zambind, cu gandul la perechea de visatori, inginerul Los si printesa Aelita si intelegem ca noi insine suntem reali numai atunci cand existam in imaginatia celor care ne viseaza.

(Yakov Protazanov)

(Filmele Avangardei)

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