Picasso filmed in 1950

Visite à Picasso’ (1950) 20m, dir. Paul Haesaerts A poetic treatment which includes the artist painting on glass while facing the camera, shot at Picasso's home in Vallauris, accompanied by some fairly moody organ music in this very dark, but captivating film. The artist here takes on the character of an eminence-grise, an alchemist engulfed in the "sol y sombra" of his laboratory-studio, filmed in gorgeous black and white.

Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag

The following short piece from Susan Sontag challenges some fundamental notions of art, criticism and cultural theory. Well worth a read. (RB)

The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory, magical; art was an instrument of ritual. (Cf. the paintings in the caves at Lascaux, Altamira, Niaux, La Pasiega, etc.) The earliest theory of art, that of the Greek philosophers, proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality.

It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. For the mimetic theory, by its very terms, challenges art to justify itself.

Plato, who proposed the theory, seems to have done so in order to rule that the value of art is dubious. Since he considered ordinary material things as themselves mimetic objects, imitations of transcendent forms or structures, even the best painting of a bed would be only an “imitation of an imitation.” For Plato, art is neither particularly useful (the painting of a bed is no good to sleep on), nor, in the strict sense, true. And Aristotle’s arguments in defense of art do not really challenge Plato’s view that all art is an elaborate trompe l’oeil, and therefore a lie. But he does dispute Plato’s idea that art is useless. Lie or no, art has a certain value according to Aristotle because it is a form of therapy. Art is useful, after all, Aristotle counters, medicinally useful in that it arouses and purges dangerous emotions.

Continue reading…

Photographic Fictions (2)

The average digital camera owner has over 5,000 photos in various libraries, which in the digital age is a rather quaint name for data that cannot be cataloged using conventional means. Even a Flickr library is about editing time, that is organizing sequences, blocking out events and arranging photographs so that some sort of story can be told. But, this is a different activity from creating a photo album and is closer to a scrapbook.


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All this material is grist and fodder for even more complex social networks that can be accessed through mobile means and at home. Links become a crucial part of all this, but where does aesthetics end up? That perhaps is the key question because networks are only partially visible to those who use them and data is only that, information. The raw nature of information means that "editing" is now an activity of time management — the time needed to organize material and content — the development of typologies and catalogs to organize content, not only when photos were taken but superimposed Google maps to show location even though geography may not be that significant to the photograph and its look.

Photos are defined more by connections than by their individual nature, more by their virtual location on Facebook than by their links to events in real time. Photos move along a continuum from events to their classification and from there to screen-based albums, folders and projects. They are rarely printed.

Experimental Cinema: Maya Deren

Maya Deren was one of America's greatest experimental filmmakers. Her work which was both allusive and surreal explored the visceral and sensuous as well as the symbolic and the magical. Meshes of the Afternoon which is available through YouTube still stands as one of the most important films of the 1940's, although her reputation only took off after her death in 1961. She was a seminal figure and continues to exert a strong influence on the independent cinema of the 21st century. Her influence also extends into other artistic disciplines and her book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti continues to be read even though many of its ethnographic assumptions are naive and sometimes contradictory.

Ceramics in the material world

Over the last ten years I have watched ceramics evolve at Emily Carr from a craft-oriented practice and discipline into an exciting art form. A book published in 1988, Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process By Dean E. Arnold links this evolution to the role that ceramics plays in archeology and to the many ways in which the past is 'uncovered' through artifacts and other objects. For me, the "art" is precisely in the material practice, in the ability of creators to transform the earth, clay and water into many different forms. The technology of firing and then applying colour to the object is a science, but the shape and shaping process is about sculpture, space, density and function. "There are many factors that affect the qualities of clays, such as mineral composition, degrees of crystallinity, plasticity, particle size and the amount of soluble salts, exchangeable cations, and non-plastics present. (Page 21)

In ceramics, ideas are eternally wedded to the ancient vessel; at some level, the process of any ceramic piece begins and ends on this note. The history of contemporary ceramics possesses countless riffs on the way a surface can appear from hyper-realistic, exact replicas of actual objects to enhanced natural surfaces of earthen glazes. Indeed, the surface invention is limited only to the imagination, skill, and experience of the artist, manipulating attributes of the clay vessel form that has been a steadfast tradition for thousands of years. (Akio Takamori: Between Clouds of Memory by Lara Taubman)

Here are some well-formulated questions that were asked about digital culture and ceramics in 1999: "After all, even in a digital era, artists are faced with the task of giving material form to their thoughts, intuitions, and ideas. Clay — along with the other physical materials — remains an ideal medium for this, whenever justified by concept. What might be the positive or negative significance of digitalization or dematerialization to artists working with a ‘natural’ and solid material like clay? Does digitalization provide stimulus for artistic concepts that are executed in clay? Does ceramics have something to say to digitalization or do the two worlds remain separate? Will ceramics become less physical, ‘lighter’ in the high-tech era? Or is it a medium par excellence that will keep both feet firmly on the ground and that meets the unchanging human need for self-expression in material form — perhaps now more than ever?" (BEYOND GRAVITY: CERAMICS IN A DIGITAL CULTURE Ceramic Millennium 99 — Workshop's — Hertogenbosch)

 

Lucian Freud

"The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real."

Dire Times

These are difficult times, made worse by the endless efforts of terrorists to harm innocent civilians and by the lack of imagination and vision of the world's leaders. I shot this image in Provincetown, Massachusetts a few weeks ago in the midst of grappling with the challenges that everyone faces during this dark period.

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Johan van der Keuken (2)

In a series of writings published on the occasion of the 42nd San Francisco International Film Festival, Van der Keuken said the following:

"The idea of the truth 24 times a second is erroneous. The acceleration that takes place in the mechanical process creates a gap between the function of mechanical repetition and its form as a continuous flow that is only perceivable in a purely subjective experience of time. "

Van der Keuken was referring to Jean-Luc Godard's statement: "Photography is the truth, and cinema is the truth 24 times a second," which was made in reference to his film, Le Petit Soldat.

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Van der Keuken goes on to say, "The important thing is not the reproduction of a three-dimensional reality, but by way of the time elements in a film, the creation of an autonomous space."

An autonomous space — this means that the flow of a film creates its own time and space, because the viewing experience is never simply a function of what is shown or seen.

Vision — the cultural approach to seeing and thinking, privileges objects of sight, as if they will provide some clear answers to the dilemmas of viewing and understanding, as if the questions, indeed possible contradictions of autonomy, need not be addressed.

For example, hallucinations and dreams are sights not in the control of the conscious mind. It is more difficult to trace their origin because they suggest autonomy without specifiable external or experiential causes.

This could be reason for excitement, visible evidence so to speak, of the mind reconstructing and redeveloping conscious and unconscious relations. Instead, autonomy, which I am not suggesting is the only process at work here, is more often than not recontextualized into an objectivist language of description and analysis. In fact, the sense of estrangement attributed to hallucination or dream cannot be divorced from the hesitations which we feel in describing the “inner workings of vision — the often obvious way in which the reflective autonomy of thought challenges preconceptions of order and disorder.

So, van der Keuken is talking about the unique circumstances through which the cinema makes it possible to experience the world and those experiences are a product of the viewer's own consciousness as much as they are evidence of the world we inhabit.

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There is a superb interviewwith Bill Joy originally published in New Scientist that is worth a read.

Johan van der Keuken (1)

This will be the first in a series of short extracts about Johan van der Keuken.

In the winter 1984-85 issue of Skrien, the most important and serious of Holland’s film magazines, Johan Van der Keuken wrote the following: “How to return, how to leave behind. The cinematic space of New York, the Lower East side, ‘Loisaida’ as its Spanish-speaking residents so aptly call it and write it: cracked pavement, the rot of a bad tooth, manhole covers, the scars of flames, scorched spot in the city — now left behind, everything forgotten, senile like in Bernlef’s Mind Shadows Suddenly you no longer know a single name, a single place, a single number, you have gone blind from too much seeing.

In 1956, Van der Keuken shot two photographs of a young girl (Yvonne) from different angles and printed them onto the same image. In both instances the two faces are looking outwards from the print to the camera and by extension to the viewer. The photograph is part of a series prepared by Van der Keuken for a film script by the Dutch poet Remco Campert. The script was called, Behind Glass.

Can you go blind from too much seeing? Or is the act of seeing blind to begin with? How many windows, panes of glass, are there between sight and feeling and memory? “You wipe your breath from the window and look outside, says Campert’s script.

The breath is the body. Memories are physical. Often, memories overwhelm breath and the heart races and the body erupts and the “sights are neither present, nor do the sensations of seeing rely on any objects or subjects outside of the eye(s).

Perhaps Van der Keuken shot only one image of two girls, twins, or two girls sisters slightly different in age. Their glance is outwards. Their memories are inscribed on their faces, but I cannot reach them. Their look suggests that I will never know them. They come to me from the past. It is 2006, fifty years after they were photographed. Are they still alive? The photograph neither answers these questions nor necessarily suggests these questions make any sense.

Robert Daudelin recently published a series of conversations with Van Der Keuken entitled, L'oeil au-dessus du puits: deux conversations avec Johan van der Keuken (The Eye Above the Well: Two conversations with Johan van der Keuken)

THE EYE ABOVE THE WELL
(Het Oog Boven de Put)

Directed by Johan van der Keuken
The Netherlands 1988, 16mm, color, 94 min.

THE EYE ABOVE THE WELL explores India’s spiritual and economic condition, moving from the city to the countryside in the region of Kerala as it focuses on the essence of that civilization. Captured without commentary by his gliding camera are a cacophony of distinctly nonwestern sights and sounds: the bustling city streets, the serene landscapes of the surrounding countryside, a family preparing for dinner, an elderly actor performing his mythological drama, a modest country moneylender traveling from village to village, young girls at their singing lessons. What emerges from these encounters is not only a highly evocative sense of lived experience but a poetic vision perhaps best captured by what Cahiers du cinéma called “the aesthetic of diversity.

"Film is not, as is often assumed, a language in which certain combinations of signs refer to certain concepts and in which series of combinations of signs can be arranged into a syntax. Film has no sign and no significance. The sentence "John is a villain" cannot be converted into a combination of cinematic signs." Art from Now (Kunst van Nu), August 1963 © 1999 Johan van der Keuken

To be continued...........

Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann (2)

Dene comments:

What stood out for me from the first viewing to the last of the film _Moulin Rouge_ were the common themes that, despite all of our postmodern "cynicism" (as you call it, Ron), still resonate in our culture.

Take, for instance, the song Satine sings when she does Madonna's "Material Girl" doing Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." The tradition of the blonde bombshell is still with us whether we like it or not. It drives me nuts, but we have to ask, would Paris Hilton be so infamous if she were a brunette and frumpy? Not according to Luhrmann. Not in our culture. Ever.

And the updating of the fallen woman theme, seen in the song "Lady Marmalade," from the sleazy streets of New Orleans to the tawdry ones leading to the Moulin Rouge cabaret pokes fun at our pretensions that we are more sophisticated and worldly than our forbears. Truth be told, Christine, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink have nothing on Patti. They are all cut from the same naughty cloth. Certainly all their hair is just as weird:)

But I guess the most important theme to emerge from the film is passion--the kind that begins with strong physical attraction but grows into eternal love that death cannot even destroy. When Christian and Satine sing the duet "Elephant Love Medley," they engage in a seductive, verbal intercourse that presages the physical one soon to come. Most importantly, we as viewers come to realize the parallel between the love they share and the kind we feel for art and for film.

Thank you for introducing the topic.

The context for learning, education and the arts (4)

(This entry is in five parts) One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

So why explore the intersections of human thought and computer programming? My tentative answer would be that we have not understood the breadth and depth of the relationships that we develop with machines. Human culture is defined by its on-going struggle with tools and implements, continuously finding ways of improving both the functionality of technology and its potential integration into everyday life. Computer programming may well be one of the most sophisticated artificial languages which our culture has ever constructed, but this does not mean that we have lost control of the process.

The problem is that we don’t recognize the symbiosis, the synergistic entanglement of subjectivity and machine, or if we do, it is through the lens of otherness as if our culture is neither the progenitor nor really in control of its own inventions. These questions have been explored in great detail by Bruno Latour and I would reference his articles in “Common Knowledge as well as his most recent book entitled, Aramis or The Love of Technology. There are further and even more complex entanglements here related to our views of science and invention, creativity and nature. Suffice to say, that there could be no greater simplification than the one which claims that we have become the machine or that machines are extensions of our bodies and our identities. The struggle to understand identity involves all aspects of experience and it is precisely the complexity of that struggle, its very unpredictability, which keeps our culture producing ever more complex technologies and which keeps the questions about technology so much in the forefront of everyday life.

It is useful to know that the within the field of artificial intelligence (AI) there are divisions between researchers who are trying to build large databases of “common sense in an effort to create programming that will anticipate human action, behaviour and responses to a variety of complex situations and researchers who are known as computational phenomenologists . “Pivotal to the computational phenomenologists position has been their understanding of common sense as a negotiated process as opposed to a huge database of facts, rules or schemata."(Warren Sack)

So even within the field of AI itself there is little agreement as to how the mind works, or how body and mind are parts of a more complex, holistic process which may not have a finite systemic character. The desire however to create the technology for artificial intelligence is rooted in generalized views of human intelligence, generalizations which don’t pivot on culturally specific questions of ethnicity, class or gender. The assumption that the creation of technology is not constrained by the boundaries of cultural difference is a major problem since it proposes a neutral register for the user as well. I must stress that these problems are endemic to discussions of the history of technology. Part of the reason for this is that machines are viewed not so much as mediators, but as tools — not as integral parts of human experience, but as artifacts whose status as objects enframes their potential use.

Computers, though, play a role in their use. They are not simply instruments because so much has in fact been done to them in order to provide them with the power to act their role. What we more likely have here are hybrids, a term coined by Bruno Latour to describe the complexity of interaction and use that is generated by machine-human relationships.

Another way of understanding this debate is to dig even more deeply into our assumptions about computer programming. I will briefly deal with this area before moving on to an explanation of why these arguments are crucial for educators as well as artists and for the creators and users of technology.

Generally, we think of computer programs as codes with rules that produce certain results and practices. Thus, the word processing program I am presently using has been built to ensure that I can use it to create sentences and paragraphs, to in other words write. The program has a wide array of functions that can recognize errors of spelling and grammar, create lists and draw objects. But, we do have to ask ourselves whether the program was designed to have an impact on my writing style. Programmers would claim that they have simply coded in as many of the characteristics of grammar as they could without overwhelming the functioning of the program itself. They would also claim that the program does not set limits to the infinite number of sentences that can be created by writers.

However, the situation is more complex than this and is also subject to many more constraints than initially seems to be the case. For example, we have to draw distinctions between programs and what Brian Cantwell Smith describes as “process or computation to which that program gives rise upon being executed and [the] often external domain or subject matter that the computation is about. (Smith, On the Origin of Objects, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998: 33) The key point here is that program and process are not static, but are dynamic, if not contingent. Thus we can describe the word processor as part of a continuum leading from computation to language to expression to communication to interpretation. Even this does not address the complexity of relations among all of these processes and the various levels of meaning within each.

To be continued........