Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sigmund Freud gets all artistic

Leonardo de Vinci, a Memory from his Childhood by Sigmund Freud is singularly endearing. Freud spends many pages explaining what at the time might have seemed an extravagant theory: childhood events have a significant influence on what we become as adult without us being aware of it. His theories and that of other psychoanalysts have entered our general consciousness, and his protestations come across as naive: 'why, of course, Sigmund, it's called the subconscious!' At the same time the psychoanalysis of a long dead artist is a riveting exercise. And paradoxical as Leonardo, living in the Renaissance, would certainly have found these theories absurd. Unless...

Freud sketches out the little we know about the painter. Leonardo de Vinci was an illegitimate child. His father was a young notary, his mother a young laundress. The father married a woman of his own class the same year Leonardo was born, but the marriage remained childless. The barren couple adopted Leonardo who came to live with them when he was five. Quite a life changing event: different parents, different environment.

Here is Leonardo's memory. It was part of a text about vultures he was writing, possibly the only reference to his childhood:
"Questo scriver si distintamente del nibbio par che sia mi destino, perché ne la mia prima ricordazione della mia infanzia è mi parea che, essendo io in culla, che un nibbio venissi a me e mi aprissi la bocca colla sua coda, e molte volte mi percotessi con tal coda dentro alle labbra."
"It seems that I was always destined to be so deeply concerned with vultures, for I recall as one of my very earliest memories that while I was in my cradle a vulture came down to me, and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me many times with its tail against my lips."

Freud explains the memory as having been transformed by Leonardo's subconscious. He interprets the tail as being an image of the penis, which takes the place of the nipple in the baby's mouth. The vulture is a representation of his birth mother. Leonardo was probably aware that in Ancient Egypt, vultures were believed to be all female and impregnated only by the wind. Like his mother. The altered memory expresses the absence of father in Leonardo's early childhood and the intense erotic relationship with his mother which, according to Freud, would have caused his homosexuality. However it appears that "nibbio" means in fact kite, not vulture. The text to which Freud had access had mistranslated the word. It's also interesting, in regard to this memory and its analysis, to consider Leonardo's obsession with flying, was he hoping to be reunited in flight with his birth/bird mother?

Speaking of homosexuality, a new theory has been offered by a Signor Vicenti that the Mona Lisa was painted after both the lady and Leonardo's favorite assistant and probable lover, Sallai. Here's quite a convincing comparison:

Freud goes on to analyze Leonardo's painting, St-Anne with Madonna and Child, see picture on the right. He points out how the two women's bodies seem to be fused and their limbs confused. They also appear to have the same age, with their identical Mona Lisa smile, when in fact they're mother and daughter. According to his convincing analysis, the pair is a depiction of the two mothers who hovered over Leonardo as a child. People have pointed out to the shape of an upside down vulture in the grey dress of the Madonna, with its head under her arm. It has been argued that the cartoon, above left, is a much later version. Freud argues that the cartoon came first and that Leonardo removed the small St-John on the right in order to separate the fused sitting figures. It seems to me that the cartoon has a more balanced classical composition, Saint Ann hovering in the background like a spirit, while the group on the painting looks on the verge of falling. This gives it a more dynamic effect, leading us to ask ourselves whether Baby Jesus will fall off the hands of his mothers. He seems to prefer the little lamb to his mother, and resents her interference. Wish Freud would have analyzed that too.

Freud said later in his life that this book was probably his favorite amongst the texts he wrote.

Contributed by - - Arabella Hutter

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Revenge for all or for none!

Revenge! OK, I'll come out with it, I have exacted revenge in the past. Details by request only. According to thinker Jon Elster," Some norms are sources of massive unhappiness, by imposing behaviour that can be pointless, difficult, expensive, or dangerous. This is true of trivial norms such as rules of etiquette as well as of very consequential norms such as codes of honour and of revenge". I am not sure at all why he would call revenge a norm, when it is more of an individual's reaction to another individual. 

Anyway I have always been a bit embarrassed about my tendency to revenge, as if it showed a lack of maturity: everyone knows it's pointless to seek revenge, it does not make one whole. When I have taken revenged, I feel a certain shame, and some amount of satisfaction. But when I have not, my regrets last forever! I'm thinking of owning it. For the Greeks it was the most natural thing in the world. There might be more closure, when revenge is exacted. The Russians think it polite to walk on someone's foot if they walk on yours: no hard feelings! 

If somebody steals something from us, we find it normal that they return it or make some kind of amend. We have the law on your side. But what about the offenses that are not reprehensible by criminal law:  if someone ignores our pleas for help when we're in a crisis? Criticizes our children? Cuts the line to get on the Brooklyn Bridge? Why should there not be some kind of pay back? Because, when you think of it, someone might have a better reason to steal (need) or smoke weed (fun) than to refuse a helping hand in a time of hardship (can't be bothered). If we're not going to exact revenge for those personal wrongs, let's not exact a cruel revenge for the law-breaking ones either - I'll support that motion.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Dream big? Dream strong! A conversation with Numen

Day before Christmas. Lazy morning down at the Cheasepeake Bay, cup of tea in hand, newspapers spread out over the sofa. No internet.
- Who’s coming for Christmas dinner tomorrow? Numen, 20, wants to know.
-  I wanted to joke I had invited your heroes to Christmas dinner, I reply, but I don’t know who they are these days. Have you got any?
-  Gamers. A few others like Junot Diaz. But mostly gamers.
-  What do you admire about them?
-  I mostly admire the gamers who make it a philosophy of enjoying gaming even when they lose. If you can’t handle losing, you should not game. They support playing your best, and having fun. Also, teaming with other gamers is rewarding, adds to the fun, and is gentler on the ego when the other team wins.
-  Interesting you should say that, because I have been thinking how kids are told to “dream big” by educators, and also by successful inventors, and athletes, and pop idols. But very few will be stars, and that leads to a lot of frustration, look around you, The Big American Dream turns into The Big American Frustration, relieved by shopping or drug abuse or violence. We also tell the kids: you’re the best! You’re Number One! At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to tell kids: hey, dream really small because that might be all you get. What do you make of that?
- People blame themselves for what they see as their failure, whereas life is about playing, not winning. They think they made bad decisions that led to bad results and failure. A lot of luck is involved in life, just like in gaming. You don’t know what’s due to decisions, what’s due to chance. It’s not chess, where chance does not play a part because you make all the moves.
- True. Some chess players jump out the window, literally, when they lose. 
- Sometimes people make good decisions that don’t pan out, sometimes they make bad decisions that lead to success. Playing the lottery is always a bad decision, except for that one person who wins. It’s not “I need to become Rihanna or Tom Cruise or Einstein”, but “how can I push my acting skills, what science attracts me most, which friends do I really enjoy playing music with?”.- 
-  So what message should we share with kids, instead of “dream big”?
-  Dream strong. Do what you love, love what you do. Team up.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter in conversation with son Numen Rubino


Sunday, April 9, 2017

A mirror in the corner of the Universe

I heard on the radio a young American philosopher, David Chalmers, say that we have a reason to exist. According to him, we are the consciousness of the Universe. Its painters, poets, musicians, philosophers. Without us, the universe would not know it exists. "Universum, cogito, ergo es!"

This premise brushes us against the hair. After the long centuries in which Christianity had put man, God's favorite child, at the center of the Universe, we have learned humility the hard way, step by step. The earth is not the center of the universe and the sun does not revolve around us. Animals also have feelings and thoughts. We are not the ultimate creation of God, but a nasty hiccup in biological evolution. The world is without purpose and not meant by God. That is our credo, as intellectuals particularly in Europe. It was coined in the twentieth century by Heidegger, Sartre, Lévy-Strauss, and others.

Arrive thinkers and scientists such as Chalmers that upset this dogma. From anthropocentrism, they move onto anthropism, or revert to it. Their theory can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, it can simply be taken as a vision of reality, a point of view. Undeniably, our consciousness gifts us with an awareness of the universe. I appreciate the poetic side of this version of humanity, we tiny women, we tiny men on our tiny planet in one of countless galaxies of the cosmos, where we act as a kind of mirror. Instead of being placed right at the center of the universe, we are placed in an obscure corner to better reflect the wonder of the universe. If there were no consciousness, the existence of the universe and its essence would go without being perceived, completely dumb, completely numb. It's pretty easy to accept. The second understanding of the proposition, that is our purpose to mirror, is more difficult to swallow, as it presupposes a superior entity has meant for us to exist. Obviously, the candidate for this post is god, which would please Creationists ... or otherwise, it presupposes an awareness that manages the universe and then we're not the only ones to be aware of the universe.

Some of these philosophers also say, shaking statistical data in their fists, that we are the only beings in our universe, but there might be other universes that also produce conscious beings. I find this a questionable interpretation of statistics. We just don't know enough. We are looking for conscious beings similar to us in terms of physics and biology, but they might belong to a different essential realm that we are not aware of. On the other hand, it's convivial to imagine these other consciousnesses in parallel universes, in a way a similar experience to rubbing shoulders with our fellow human beings that we know have a consciousness without ever being able to completely share it. As for me, I firmly hope that we are not alone in this here universe and that we will get to know our counterparts soon, I'm tired of being the only species (where are our Neanderthal sisters and brothers?), though I am concerned how likable we are, what first impression we might make to our extraterrestrial fellows. They might be appalled, and turn their spaceship around in a fast U-turn when they get to know us.

This anthropism theory also assumes that animals have no consciousness. I consult my cat. He is sitting at the window, looking at the universe. His perception without words, without images, without theories, is purely ontological, and probably more suited than ours to the reality of the universe.

Posted by - - Arabella Hutter

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Some Deus, a lot of Machina - Robert Lepage's 887 at BAM

Robert Lepage has always had an unabashed penchant for technology on the theater stage. We have had decades of "physical theater' where props and sets had to be restricted to a column or a stick was the trend, as well as focus on the actor and the lines and the delivery of the lines. He's reintroduced the power of the trickster which is so enjoyable for the child in all of us. The world really lacks in magic, it tends to follow with stubborn sternness the laws of physics and basic ontology. A few people see UFOs and holy apparitions, but these are the lucky few.  In 887 Robert Lepage gives free rein to this passion for make believe to recreate the world of his childhood in parallel to his current one. It's pretty spectacular.  It would be hard work to describe every trick that is used: cameras on stage, moving trash cans, a building where every window is animated with little characters, etcetera etcetera etcetera etcetera, quite the delight.  He plays a lot with size as a whole building is smaller than he when he looks into his past, then he's in his kitchen that's to his size, and in a childhood living room where he is smaller than the TV and the lamp. The reality on stage shifts, and his identity shifts too as he alternately plays himself and his father.

The stuff with his father is very touching. Working class, his dad had to leave school at 8 - couldn't write or count much, and worked hard to support his family. Themes expand to celebrity and anonymity, Quebec politics, class segregation. And memory of course. It reminded me how much radio was still a large part of life in the sixties and in the seventies. I would lie in bed at my grandmother's and hear the neighbors' radio through the wall, and now I can't remember their name that I thought it would never ever forget. I wish I could recreate that lost world of my grandmother's, the way Lepage did for 887, the street number of the building where he lived as a child.

Robert is also just someone you want to look at, whether it's his longshore worker's body, which looks like his father's, his juvenile face, his peeping eyes. He's got perfect control of his hands. He's funny. He switches seamlessly from English to French. But still, I find it hard to watch a one person show that is longer than an hour or 90 min. After that, I think, oh could we please please have another actor enter stage? Reminds me of a Caryl Churchill play that was at BAM, a story about a woman and her son (Heart's Desire) About half way through the play, the kitchen that we had well got used to, suddenly all its cabinets opened and tons of kids run out of the cabinets! (this last sentence is not grammatical, because this is a BLOG) -  Imagine going to a one-person show, and a second and third person and a fourth, twenty more, show up unexpectedly, that would be so good.

During the show I started having restless legs. I usually only have it right before I go to bed and I have been sedentary during the day. But there I was coming out of the gym and sitting at the show and I was really annoyed and kept on rubbing my feet on the ground probably driving the woman in front of me crazy. There didn't used to be something called restless leg syndrome. I remember my sisters would complain about their legs when they went to bed at night, but there was no word for it. Now there's a word and now there are medications too, naturally. Maybe my legs were reacting to the show because, though the themes were compelling, though he's a great performer, there was a bit too much Machina too little Deus. I wasn't sure whether the play wasn't being fair to my legs or my legs weren't being fair to the play.

Written and published by  -  Arabella Hutter

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Two operas that feel more like 20, and it's a good thing, Mark Morris, BAM

First opera: Curlew River, by Britten

The sad, tragic story of a mad woman looking for her lost son.

Musicians and singers of the chorus alike are dressed in white pants and white shirt. A white uniform, the color of Benedictine monks, doctors, navy officers, Edwardian cricket players. Collegiate groups, mostly upper class (need servants to keep it clean). As the set is also white, the hands, bare feet and heads create rhythmic elements that Morris is happy to play with, an elegant device that doesn't depend on the performers' movement skills.

The music is so beautiful. At the beginning a chorus from the middle age sings, so I thought we were seeing the Purcell first. The percussionist chimed in, to my surprise: we're in contemporary territory. The singing parts also are beautiful, but the style of the woman sung by a man is less conventionally operatic. It lost me at time, felt self conscious, particularly as it was the only part that was different, as did some of the mickey mousing of the music.

I would say that about 10 to 20 min into a show, there is a tipping point. For me, anyway. I go to the show with the hope that I shall be seduced. It does not have to be perfect. What will tip the balance for me is risk taking, integrity, inventiveness, and, yes, talent, or the show ends up looking like a high school production. Once I"m seduced, I have a lot of tolerance for the faults. Well, yes, the singers of the chorus in Curlew River are not great physical performers, even simple movements walk the line of amateurism. The musicians are a bit uneven. The flute: yes, lovely. The percussionist: definitely. The others, hm, I'm not terribly musical, but hum... Still I'm seduced, I'm with the production, I'm with the performers, I'm with the creator. I'd rather be seduced by the inventiveness, by the guts, than watch a solid production of a show where everything is good, skilled, but it doesn't change me, it doesn't send me to my own drawing board, it's forgettable and will be forgotten.

How much of the writer's voice is allowed in a review? Can I say "I'm not sure"? "I had the impression that ... blablabla..., but I'm not sure, maybe I'm not educated enough"? Or what if I missed the intent through pure thickness of brain, should I not be reviewing?

I was fast seduced by Curlew River. So achingly beautiful. Mark Morris understands the language of the stage. He knows how to manipulate the eye of the audience. At least, mine. I swear the dozens of white flip flops lining both sides of the stage appeared by magic Little origami birds arrived by themselves in singers' hands. And that innocuous bench in the middle of the stage, how come suddenly it turns out to look like a coffin?! More than conjuror's tricks, he understands intimacy between the performers and the audience will lead to the communications of strong emotions.

Dido and Aeneas, by Purcell

In the first opera, Mark Morris enjoyed bringing out the tragedy by favoring the single voices. in the second opera, he has fun, and we do too, with his dancers miming the opera on stage while the singers are down in the orchestra pit. 

The first three acts were building up a comedy taking its wit from the ridiculousness of Pre-Raphaelite and pantomime, from Greek pomposity, from Roman decadence through Fellini and Weimar, 30s athletics, North Korea gymnastics, am I forgetting a period? It's a treat, after having watched the first opera performed by 19 men and 1 woman (the flutist) to have some strong female characters. Dido is Lysystrata, Lysander, Clytemnestra, she is strong, wild, baccanal, she is mad for good reason, Aeneas is deliciously pompous and sports the most spectacular mustache and back muscles. 

The main role, the mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe, has a huge voice that fills the theater, but lacks modulation, which takes away from the drama. The dynamics between quiet intimacy and strident pain express tragedy best. Seems to me. Because I'm not an expert, but then again, who is? Or maybe she was not having a good night.

While the pomposity of Greek vases, their symmetry, the folds in their chiton are amusing, while a balding man with Fellinian make up is delectable, there are some more menacing hints: that love of perfect classical form was taken up by the 1930s, leading to fascism and nazism. Synchronized movement is also a favorite propaganda tool of totalitarians. So is the nationalist penchant for folk dances which are also alluded to in the choreography. 

Ariadne by Morgan
I want to say a word about Pre-Raphaelite. Yes, they are a bit ridiculous, but what about the faultless technique, the fabrics, the human form? Could we bring them back a bit to the main light? Kitsch is what the classes controlling the art calls anything they don't produce and don't like. Pre-Raphaelite was once embraced by the upper classes but has now been swept under the sofa of good taste. It's particularly the work of Everly de Morgan that makes me argue for the unearthing of her work. And I also want to placate the little girl in me that loves her work.

Madonna by Raphael
One more thing about Pre-Raphaelite. I was always wondering why they were "Pre" when clearly the 1900s are quite a few centuries "Post" Raphael. Google? This group of English painters wanted to go back to art before Raphael, like there was something wrong with the painter. Funny thing is, some of Raphael's paintings seem quite Pre-Raphaelite to me...

While I was laughing my heart out at all the antics taking place on stage, I was having a private dialogue with Mark Morris: OK, this is all very funny, very witty, but for the 4th act, you need to turn around and deliver a finale to honor the beautiful music. He did, but it fell just a bit short of making justice to the composer.

No, it's not quite fair to Purcell, the opera's music is so beautiful. Plus it's an opera from the late 17th century, which seems to be the only period not featured on stage. But it's not evil, Purcell long dead is safe from getting upset, and what a wonderful divertimento!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Escaped Alone, Caryl Churchill's play at BAM

Escaped Alone - play by Caryl Churchill, directed by James McDonald, at the Brooklyn Opera House

The Visitor, Mrs Jarrett spies 3 retired women sitting in a backyard in England, London probably. They invite her in, after all she's one of them probably, retired, with a detestable taste in clothes and hair style. They offer her a cup of tea. Hyperrealist set. 

The women don't finish their sentences. Caryl Churchill can't be bothered, and we are grateful, because we can finish them ourselves. They talk about birds, what bird would you like to be, eagles or blackbird. They talk about cooking: I don't like to cook since I killed my husband in the kitchen.

It's a safe, dull environment. The one who killed her husband and went to jail for 6 years at least has something to discuss. Her son won't see her. The 2nd woman is depressed, she'd like to travel to Japan but going to Tesco is a challenge. The 3rd one, terrified of cats, wishes she had someone in her life she could trust to reassure that there are no cats inside her drawers or pillowcase. Loneliness. They're retired. We don't learn anything about the Visitor, but she seems to fit right in.

It's not about psychological insight. Much closer to Beckett: it's a situation, things happen to them.The actors don't worry about what their motivations are, this is no method acting time. In the loneliness of the characters, their emotions are stunted. Little puffs pop up here and there.

Suddenly, and I mean, really suddenly, the set's lights switch off and the Visitor magically appears in the foreground, as a barker at a fair. A different reality. She describes an apocalyptic world. The rivers flow backwards. Beds and dingy and swimmers float on the stock market. There is no food, and most of it go to TV shows, so the obese sell slice of themselves until they get hungry and eat rafters of their own fat.  After children and politicians set houses on fire, a whole country burns down.

Back to the women. They are surrounded by a wooden fence. From time to time a car is heard. They talk about the neighborhood: didn't a newsagent replace the fish and chips on the corner?  We have to take their word for it, because, what is behind that fence? Is it the apocalyptic world the visitor describes? If it isn't, that apocalypse could happen anytime, burst their little bubble.

It might be our future too. Who knows? In 1938, Jews in Poland sat in their gardens sipping tea. While they were aware that Hitler was a threat, and we know global warming is a threat, it must have been impossible to imagine the apocalypse at hand. Japanese sat in their gardens too on August 5, 1945, in Hiroshima.

 It could be argued this manmade apocalypse is interior to the old ladies, its potential certainly. Play goes back and forth between tame backyard and apocalyptic fairground.

One moment of sweetness: they sing  in unison an old doobop song from their youth. For a short while, they're not alone. They're playful. Nothing else matters. 

Great ensemble performances, with the Visitor, Mrs Jarrett, played by Linda Bassett with tone perfect delivery.

Funny too.

Wouldn't have minded a second act, and a third for that matter. But I suppose Ms Churchill didn't see the point, same as finishing sentences...

At the end, the Visitor leaves and closes the door on the microcosm of that backyard: "I thanked them for the cup of tea and went home." 

Well received by audience. By me too. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

L'Amour de Loin at the Metropolitan Opera, NYC - not a review

A show is the sum of its parts. Here are a few:
Lepage brings the ocean made out of colored lights on the stage, for our ecstatic experience. He lifts Deus on a Machina: a prince, who is a troubadour from France (Eric Owens). His love, a distant countess from Tripoli (Susanna Phillips). Lepage fakes the distant horizon on stage with lines that are smaller and closer together. A small pilgrim (it’s a puppet really, we’re not asked to be fooled!) rows his boat in the far distance. Goes off stage. Back on stage, he’s closer (a larger puppet on a larger boat, clever Robert). Off stage again. This time he comes back as a real person, a young pilgrim cum go-between (Tamara Mumford, who must get bored - and aren't we all - with mezzo-soprano roles crossdressing as young boys) singing like a nightingale on his frail skiff. The chorus pop their heads like mermaids out of the waves, or their hands like the tails of some marine creatures. Moonlit water. Huge waves in a storm. Lepage celebrates unabashedly the secret magic of the stagecraft.

It’s too easy being sarcastic, I shall not dwell on how hard it is to believe a very bulky man is dying on stage of deprivation. I shall neither qualify nor quantify the acting skills of the soprano. On the other hand, every one could sing, while the mezzo-soprano could both sing and act.

The orchestral and choral music might not have broken boundaries but the singing by most apt artists - it's the Met - was thoroughly enjoyable. An opera written by a woman composer (Kajji Sarriaho) conducted by a talented woman conductor (Susanna Mällki) on the same night at the Met?! Quite the femme celebration! Pour the Pro Secco out!

Best part? Libretto by esteemed Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf. What a treat it must have been for him to write poetry that people are actually going to listen to. In the 21st century. It’s obvious Maalouf immersed himself enthusiastically in this work. The lyrics, funny at times, are more often simple and poetic. A beautiful tale of longing for the Other, of crossings, of cultures coming together with a tragic end. In real life, what love encounter ever ends well? Unless both partners die at the very same time in their sleep, unaware of impeding death, their bodies entangled, while dreaming of love?

The sum of the parts was most positive. But not in the black. In the blue, and the pink, and the gold, and the silvery moonlight, all reflected by a Countess’s shiny dress.

Contributed by  - Arabella Hutter  -

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The truth according to a lawyer

Pierre Olivier, a lawyer, discusses truth in court. He presents the situation of a pedophile who denies the facts despite the overwhelming evidence that has been gathered against him. Olivier's role as a defense lawyer is to explain to the accused that if he denies, he will get 15 years in prison, if he admits he will fare better with only 8 maybe. But sometimes the accused does not want, or can not, recognize the facts. He needs to continue to deny to preserve his perception of himself, to protect his family's illusions. Pierre Olivier maintains that the lawyer must not push him to confess his guilt, because this could result in suicide, either of the accused or of his family, one of his children for example.

I was shocked. If I put myself in the place of the victim, I think I would need, more than a "punishment" for the perpetrator, that the crime be recognized, that my victim status be confirmed by the accused. Does the perpetrator's family entitlement to protection prevail over the victim's need for the truth to be told? Maybe for the defense lawyer.

It is a difficult subject. Our legal system comes to us from the Romans. Is might be time to review it and to improve it.

Contributed by - - Arabella Hutter

Posted by - - Arabella Hutter

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Thread: A Prologue

Below is the prologue to a project part memoir, part historical fiction, The Thread
Inspired by Helen Schjerfbeck

Inspired by Remedios Varos
We were the only family that ate corn on the cob and celebrated Christmas on the 25th of December instead of the 24th. We didn’t know the simple explanation to these peculiarities: our mother was American. One day, long before she came to Switzerland, she had taken a machete and cut her life in two. Did she open this gash over one day? A month ? A year ? My father, who met her when she was 20, knew little more than we did. She had already changed her name, did not see any of her family nor any childhood friend. She did not write to them, did not speak to them, did not discuss. Thus we knew her, born at twenty, all questions about her past taboo. This code of silence existed before I, the youngest of the family, started asking questions. Even friends of my parents seemed to be aware of the taboo and respected it.
“She must come from Britain because she speaks English and often travels alone to London. “ we whispered during one of our secret conferences. She sent us beautiful postcards from the British Museum, with sweet words that failed to touch us as her absence seemed further proof of her aloofness.
“She must have lived near the sea, as she talked about picnics at the beach. “ Reported my sister. “She mentioned a nanny. “I added. “ She didn’t. “ “ Yes, she did. “ I imagined a large Victorian house, a bit run down, near windswept dunes covered with brambles. And behind the shutters of the villa, the great secret, the deep mystery that was hidden from our sight. If she made any allusion to the past, we would freeze and pretend casualness, in the hope that, oblivious to our presence, she would inadvertently slip into confidences.

The day of the revelation, we sat at regular intervals around my mother, hearts pounding. The living room looked reticent now that I didn’t live home anymore. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know, I was frightened. She started speaking, without much preamble.
‘I went to the embassy in Geneva to look up my last name in the phone book. I found my brother’s phone number. When I called a man answered. I didn’t know who he was.
“I’d like to speak to Vincent.”
“He’s not here. Who’s calling?”
 “His sister. Who are you?”
“His father.”
A childhood can not be restored in one or two hours. This narrative of her past would normally have been built over time by what our childhood terribly missed: by hearing touching and humorous anecdotes, stories from the grandmother we never met, looking at family photographs together, visiting relatives. We asked a few questions, as if stroking cautiously an unpredictable cat. She answered, describing the harrowing events that led her to cut all ties with her family in a manner as devoid of emotion as a notary reading one more will.

Inspired by Ana Mendieta
The burden of suffering which my mother had shed became mine. I filled not just with my mother’s pain, but her mother’s as well, and that of all her little brothers and sisters’, rippling down the generations. The only way to drain the overflowing vault was through the valve of my imagination. I began to make up the missing episodes in my mother’s life, and in her mother’s. Then I went back to my great-grandmother, the famous Lietta, who seemed the source of all our calamities. This emotional monster, what could she have gone through in her childhood? I had no reason to stop, and beyond this cruel grandmother, I went to listen to the story of each woman who miraculously gave birth to a girl who then in turn became a mother, a long meandering thread over the centuries, saved against all odds from being cut down by nature and men. I followed it back to the time when a handful of thinkers on their peninsula decided the important facts to remember would not be desires, births, jealousy, vanity, rape. Instead they came up with a discipline that would only record political events, thus excluding women’s memory: History was born.

To read the first story of 100 women talk to their daughters over 2500 years, click here.

All illustrations original works by Arabella Hutter, as are the texts.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jasperse & King at BAM, a history of beauty? Not a review!

I have not followed dance the way I have with theater or visual arts. Therefore I would never call myself a dance critic, but then who is? So this is not a review either.

I thought about cheating and reading the New York Times review, the ultimate standard, to compare notes. But, no. Here it is, unstructured, uneducated, honest:

The beginning of the show brings up a whole cornucopia of images of all European art and the continuity of its ideas of beauty and masculinity/femininity: Greek vase art, Michelangelo, The Three Graces of Raphael turn into Matisse’s nymphs. It’s seductive (hey, we speak the same secret language!) and feels uncomfortable (hey, let's exclude everybody else!) This Game of cultural references implies a common Cultural Vocabulary but what If I grew up In Zimbabwe or in a working-class small town in Iowa?

Men replace women in a series of tableau with classical ideas of femininity, and vice versa. They were short tunic with skirts, the women severe grey tunics.

The choreography, as in a line of dancers moving fast over the stage on a waltz rhythm, is the work of someone at the top of his form, who is brilliant, intelligent and experienced. I think. The dancers must undergo grueling practice, from the way they control their body and the movements they are able to perform. Lighting imaginative and evocative. The music by John King, striking, adds a spiritual dimension to the visuals.  Usually, I prefer live music to recorded. But in this show, it sounded like it was played by the Gods and came down to us from the top of Olympus.

When the music, which arrives by dramatic bursts, becomes silent, the audience communes in its involvement with the show. Not even a cough, no kidding. 

As I was watching, I was thinking that maybe the reason I have followed dance less than other arts, is that I have two different reactions to it. On one hand, I wonder intellectually what the choreographer meant, what the references, context to images. On the other, there is a very gut reaction to watching another human dancing, a connection directly through the movement as referenced by our own body. Everyone dances or should. When we watch art, we automatically bring up other images, other art, landscapes, faces. When we watch theater, we are reminded of scenes of our lives. And when we watch dance, it’s through our experience of our own body we perceive the other’s movements. I think. I can’t reconcile these two reactions, one intellectual/visual, one kinetic, two far apart for my comfort. But I'm learning. I'm moving outside my comfort zone, and it's rewarding.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Performa 2015 - free drinks, expensive books, The Lament of the Financial District, that kind of general rant

Exchange went something like this:
Artist Rainer Ganahl:
I decided to get rid of my books to express how we don't live forever, we need to let go of our material goods, we need to realize we're not going to read that book again.
Young man:
How much are you selling this one for?
The books are lying on the floor, as for a stoop sale. Good books. Art books, philosophy.
How much would you like to buy it for?
The young man turns it around in his hands. He's embarrassed. Haggling with the artist?
Young man:
I couldn't let it go for that. It's worth much more. What I do is I check on the Internet how much they go for. I think it should not go for less than $20, more like $30.
Older man:
So you are linking this to the existing market?
The books I don't sell, I will keep. I don't need to sell. You see, on the wall, that's the packaging.
Older man:
How about this one, how much?
Maybe $35? Let me check on the Internet. Some of these books are widely available, but others like this one are very hard to find, it took me a long time to unearth them in libraries. By the way, before I was able to buy art books, I used to buy postcards of art. They're $3 each. Look here. Ah, I found the book online. Let's see. $12.75! Well well. OK, how about $20?

As opposed to my poetic Eric the Hawker selling me his lovely keyring last week (read here), I could not perceive any artistic dimension to this sale by Rainer Ganahl beyond the initial concept. He could have chosen to put arbitrary prices on the books: white ones $10, green ones $25, black ones $1000. Or, as Ed Schmidt did in one of his shows, give them away for nothing. After this unpleasant experience, I was getting truly discouraged by Performa 2015. The abundance of free drinks this year is appreciable, and attracts a younger crowd, but that's the only improvement I could see in this edition of the festival.

On Friday night, went to the Erica Vogt event at Roulette, Artist Theater Program.
I did not understand. I felt like someone from mainstream American culture, fed on Hollywood movies, mass paperbacks, who would go to an avant-garde event and would think it's all nonsense: they would not have the tools to understand it, the references, the context. I don't know whether the show was nonsense or not. But if it has a sense, I didn't have the tools to understand it. I did enjoy aspects of it, such as the sounds, some of the readings, some of the projections. Hated the props. Loved the last scene, witty, where the artist came on stage, and all the performers sat at her feet. She asked:
What did you think of the imagery in the show?
The twelve of them all answered at the same time, with much earnestness and expressivity. Obviously the mangled chaos of words could not be grasped by the audience. Then the lights went out, and the scene was repeated by people in the audience discussing amongst themselves after the show. I turned to my friend, artist Ana Bilankov who know a thing of two about avant-garde work:
'What did you think'
She opened her eyes big, raised her eyebrows:

But. At last. Jesper Just. Saturday November 14. The exhilaration of seeing a brilliantly conceived show. Occupies the whole top floor of a skyscraper near the World Trade Center. We're inside the building, can't see outside apart for tiny shapes scraped out of  painted windows. And the show offers us interpretations of what we would see outside the windows. We watch from high up, on a video, the people who should be working in this space, but instead of sitting at desks are roaming the wilderness, in anguish.
The same live projection of the exterior of the building punctuate our route as we make our way in a labyrinth around the place. It takes a while before we realize that the beautiful bass sound track is being played live and we can see the player on the projected live stream, tiny, sitting lonely on the floor of our large office building. But what floor? Fleeting people get projected over a photo of the World Trade Center. In the next room, we realize these people are in front of a camera, and their image, or now ours, and is  projected onto the World Trade Center photo for the audience in the previous room. Then a woman takes her place in front of the camera and sings to the accompaniment of the bass player who is still going, who we know is there somewhere, but where? Her song is a poignant lament.

The poignancy in her song, and in the bass playing, the loneliness of the images, the anguish of the employees looking for something in the wild, all expressed so aptly what the architectural environment, and the work conditions in these financial districts do: kill the human soul.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Monday, November 9, 2015

Performa: deliciously fooled.

Performa is infusing New York City once again with its streak of wild creativity. Have only been to a few events. The anger workshop was a lot of talk, signing up release forms, and only 3 and half minutes of being angry. I need much more than that.Then 4 minutes of loving someone, a stranger, by hugging closely another participant to the session. An intriguing experience. Why should I love a complete stranger? But then anyone around me that I love is also there by contingence, out of the several billion people on Earth.I didn't review 8 billion people to choose my loved ones. That workshop took place within the tent of the Australian Embassy, with awesome activist/artist Richard Bell.

The Wyatt Kahn show Work was sweet. The painter's paintings became puppets who articulated their pride or protest at the artist and art scene. The setting, the Swedish Marionette theater in Central Park, is even sweeter, and the hip audience sitting on benches, hip to hip.

The Heather Gibson exhibit, Final Days, did not particularly grab my attention but maybe I was distracted and did not do it justice. And I was thirsty. Beer bottles and cans floated in a large bucket. I considered them. A guy was standing awkwardly next to the pail. Short, pale, glasses, 50. Holding a plastic bag close to his stomach.
- Are you looking for a beer? he says, with a British accent.
- No, water actually. 
 - I don't think there is water, just beer. Which one do you want?
 - Thanks, no, usually I love a beer, but I really need water right now.
- Are you enjoying the show?
- So so.
- I'm an artist too. Kind of a failed artist. I've had quite a few mishaps in my life. I used to be a prolific artist.
- Really? I say politely.
Is being prolific a good thing? I wonder.
- Yes. I wanted to open an art school in London, for people who can't afford art schools, and I put all my fortune in it. 
Hm, upper class guy, then, I guess.
- It failed, and I lost all my money. I decided to make small sculptures from all my mishaps, 
He pulls a keyring out of the plastic bag which I see now is full of them. It has a rectangular structure (pictured above).
- Here's the plan of the school, you see, it was a Victorian building. These are the trees.
- Aha.
He pulls another keyring which is a ballerina lying on her back, and another one that looks a bit like a game jack. Meanwhile my phone rings, I have to join a friend who's waiting for me up the block.
- This is a dolof, do you know what a dolof is? he asks. But maybe you have to go?
- I have a minute.
I'm intrigued.
- A dolof is something on the beach that holds it in place.
- You sell these key rings?
- Yes, he says, even more awkward.
- How much', I ask, 'because I haven't got all the time in the world.'
- $20 each.
A guy in his 30s approach while I'm on the phone.
- I said I would take 2 for $30, he butts in.
- No, says the little guy, that won't work.
- OK, I say, I'll take the school one. 
Because I think they look cool, and $20 is cheap to avoid having to say no to the small, awkward guy and hurt his feelings. 
I pull a bill out, we proceed with the exchange.
He says:
- My name is Ryan Gander.
- Nice meeting you. I'm Arabella. Bye.
2 days later, I find out in the Performa printed catalog that it is an act. Of course, you my reader had guessed, but that's easy from your armchair: I was deliciously fooled. Ryan Gander was performing. In fact, I saw him two days later at the Performa hub playing it out on a young man who was trying to buy 3 for $50. He looked so genuinely sad while performing. I thought, maybe he's sad he's so good at peddling off his goods. Maybe he's a bit sad because the act works only if the buyer does not know who he is, with the implication he's not as famous as he thought he was. Maybe he's a really good actor at playing the failed artist.

Contributed by -- Arabella Hutter

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pécheurs par contingence

Un ami nous a prêté son appartement de vacances dans un complexe à St-George, dans l'Utah. Au coin de l'Arizona et du Nevada, ce Nevada qui, avec ses casinos et ses bars et ses "girls", doit offrir de graves tentations grave à la population mormone de St-George - aurait-ce un rapport avec l'expansion rapide de ce lieu de villégiature? Les appartements du complexe sont pratiquement tous occupés par des Mormons aisés de Salt Lake City. Cette secte, comprenant principalement des personnes d'origines nord européennes, a de grosses ressources financières, avec sa taxe de 10% sur les revenus de ses adeptes.

Nous les voyons depuis notre balcon, les rencontrons dans l'escalier, partageons avec eux le jacuzzi. Ils ressemblent et se comportent comme des Américains ordinaires, ce qui est bizarre, je m'attends des adeptes d'une secte qu'ils soient socialement inadaptés. Ils sont blonds et grand et beaux. Seulement, escortées par de nombreux enfants (une stratégie bien rôdée pour l'expansion de l'église que d'interdire la contraception), les femmes ne portent pas de bikinis, mais de prudes maillots. Les Mormons ne boivent pas d'alcool, ni de boissons caféinnées. Ils ne fument pas. Nous adonnant à presque toutes ces habitudes, nous étions des pécheurs de leur point de vue.

Je me surprends à planifier des cambriolages de leurs condos. Ce serait facile de grimper sur les balcons, peut-être quand ils sont à l'église le dimanche matin. On prendrait juste l'argent et les vélos, je rêve de sillonner à vélo les magnifiques paysages du Sud Ouest américain.

Je suis intriguée. En général, je ne donne pas dans le cambriolage, sans blague, ce n'est pas mon champ professionnel. Comment se fait-il que je songe, même en passant, à commettre un crime? Eh bien,  comme je suis une pécheresse pour eux de toute façon, pourquoi ne pas ajouter un péché de plus? Nombre de mes comportements et de mes habitudes appartiennent au Mal, d'après les Mormons. Je me retrouve dans la peau de tous ceux qui sont marginalisés dans notre société, tels que les minorités ethniques aux États-Unis ou les gitans en Europe.

Les individus appartenant à des minorités sont criminalisés avant qu'ils ne commettent un crime, parce qu'ils ne correspondent pas à la norme du citoyen respectable typique. En outre, aux États-Unis, le système juridique est biaisé contre eux, les médias les dépeignent généralement comme des criminels. A quoi bon essayer d'être un citoyen responsable, si on est de toute façon étiqueté et perçu et traité comme un malfaiteur?