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ink city

At the otherwise disappointing China Contemporary exhibition in Rotterdam, Chen Shaoxiong's 'Ink City' is an interesting exception. An "ink video" consisting of 300 ink drawings with a soundscape of street sounds, 'Ink City' creates a slide-show impression of life in Guangzhou, with hypnotic effect reminiscent of such films as 'Waking Life' and 'Sans Soleil'.

Ink City - Chen Shaoxiong

Update: Here's the video online.

carceri d'invenzione

Giovanni Battista Piranesi's 'Carceri d'Invenzione' ('Imaginary Prisons') are a series of poster-size etchings depicting a dark prison world - though prison is far too tame a word for these vast, nightmarish vaults where tiny figures wander amid gigantic machines, endless stairs and senseless ornaments. Some prints show people imprisoned or tortured, but mostly they are concerned with the grand, decaying architecture of a civilization gone horribly wrong.

Piranesi - Carceri - IV

Piranesi's 'Carceri' look like something Kafka, Borges and Escher would concoct together, except they are two centuries older. They were published in two versions, of which the second (in 1761) is by far the best for its stark contrasts and greater detail.

Piranesi - Carceri - X

Among the many artworks influenced by Piranesi is the graphic novel 'The Tower', part of the 'Les Cités Obscures' ('Cities of the Fantastic') series by Schuiten and Peeters, devoted entirely to imaginary architectures.

For further context see Aldous Huxley's essay 'Prisons'.

Complete 'Carceri' on display @ Boijmans Van Beuningen until 24/9.

limelight

In the eternal Charlie Chaplin vs. Buster Keaton debate (for a lively version see 'The Dreamers'), Keaton was ahead on points after seeing 'The General' - possibly the most elegant and awe-inspiring silent film ever made. But Chaplin's 'Modern Times' came very close for its satirical brilliance of man wrestling with a mechanical world.

Then there's 'Limelight', which sort of solves the debate by being the only film ever to join the two comedians on screen, in an extended musical slapstick that is one of the film's highlights.

Limelight - Chaplin & Keaton

One of Chaplin's last films, and a 'talkie', 'Limelight' (1952) is a nostalgic and autobiographical melodrama. The story tells of a once-famous clown, Calvero, passing on the torch to a younger generation. Alcoholic and on the decline, Calvero guides a destitute and despairing young ballerina (Claire Bloom) back to dancing and a triumphant career.

Underneath is the tragedy of Calvero - i.e. silent comedy - getting old and outdated. (Ironically, the sharp and witty dialogue is what keeps the film interesting in many places.) At a benefit evening, Calvero makes one final stage performance, and this is where the memorable scene between Chaplin and Keaton takes place. With only a piano and a violin, and much ensuing havoc, they create a fitting monument for the silent comedy they both perfected...

...even if Chaplin was rumored to have cut out the best parts of the scene, which were Keaton's. So maybe it doesn't quite solve the debate after all.