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deaf07: roots

Another piece at the Dutch Electronic Art Festival 2007 exhibition worth mentioning is 'Roots', by Austrian artist Roman Kirschner. Like 'Ondulation' (see before), it is again a lesson in physics. I can't explain the exact process (involving corrosis and electric currents), but the result is a beautifully organic microcosm, "a dreamlike screen that follows an old persian image: a bush growing heads."

Roots

deaf07: ondulation

At the exhibition of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival 2007 in Rotterdam, one interesting piece was 'Ondulation', by Thomas McIntosh. A "composition for water, sound and light," it could also be described as a lesson in wave theory. A large pool of water is set in motion by sound, and the wave patterns are reflected onto a screen. The result is mesmerizing. (Though, paradoxically, the tranquil quality of the wave patterns is somewhat lessened by the droning sound.)

Ondulation - 1

Ondulation - 2

More images and video here.

the black book

This post is not about Paul Verhoeven's film but about Orhan Pamuk's novel 'The Black Book' ('Kara Kitap').

As a caleidoscopic, metaphysical detective novel, 'The Black Book' is something like Paul Auster's 'New York Trilogy' meets the 'Arabian Nights'. Its complexity of ideas and postmodern construction definitely make for a challenging read. Most of all, though, it is a story about stories and the nature of storytelling.

The main story is fairly straightforward: against the background of increasing repression in 1980's Istanbul, Galip finds his wife Rüya (meaning 'dream' in Turkish) has disappeared, along with popular newspaper columnist Celal. Galip suspects they may have run off together, and searches around Istanbul for them. However, the reader is warned early on, when Galip muses that "the only detective book he'd ever want to read would be the one in which not even the author knew the murderer's identity."

The novel alternates chapters following Galip's search with columns by Celal, whose writings Galip increasingly reads as containing clous and signs to solve the mystery. This is where the novel explodes into a myriad of stories, anecdotes and speculations involving anything from Istanbul gangsters to Dante and Sufi sects. It is also how Galip allows himself to get sucked into the mystery enough to start doubting his own life and identity, and, ultimately, ponder questions of how to be oneself.

Let's take some examples to illustrate this complex mystery...

In one of his columns, Celal tells the story of an Istanbul brothel owner who organizes a competition to have the interior walls of his club painted with scenes of the city (a controversial idea in an Islamic country where figurative painting is forbidden). Two artists compete, on two walls exactly facing each other, and work for six months with a curtain between them to hide their work-in-progress. When the paintings are finally revealed, it turns out that while one of the artists has indeed painted an immensely detailed view of Istanbul, the other has simply installed a large mirror, which reflects the painting on the opposite wall. The second artist, of course, wins the competition.

(Update: See also this post on Rumi's 'Chinese Art and Greek Art' for the origin of this story.)

The mirror, however, doesn't simply reflect the painting, but mysteriously alters its view. In a long description of the double view and its eerie effects, the narrator mentions a black book:

A black book that the first artist had slyly placed in the hands of a blind beggar became in the mirror a book of two parts, two meanings and two stories; but when you returned to the first wall, you saw that it still held together as a single book, and that its mystery was lost somewhere inside it.

Like this black book, everything in 'The Black Book' reflects a dual nature, from the Turkish dilemma between East and West, traditional and modern, religious and secular, to the uncertain relationship between dream and reality, fact and fiction, the self and the other, and Galip and Celal. (Istanbul, the only city in the world on two continents, also symbolizes this dualism.)

Another story fuelling Galip's obsession is a book on the medieval Sufi movement of Hurufism, which believed the mystery of God could be read through letters visible in human faces. Note that by turning this proposition around, Galip is actually searching for faces (Rüya, Celal) in letters. But for Galip, the mystery starts taking on a vertiginous, Borgian quality:

If every letter in every face had a hidden meaning, and if each signified a concept, it followed that every word composed of those letters must also carry a second, hidden meaning (...) The same could be said of sentences and paragraphs -- in short, all written texts carried second, hidden meanings. But if one bore in mind that these meanings could also be expressed in other sentences or other words -- other letters, finally -- one could, "through interpretation," glean a third meaning from the second, and a fourth from the third, ad infinitum -- so there were, in fact, an infinite number of possible interpretations of any given text.

One such text interpreted at length by Celal, and consequently by Galip, is the poetry by Rumi, the famous Sufi mystic. In a detective story in a detective story, Celal speculates on the murder of Rumi's great friend Shams of Tabriz. After Shams was secretly murdered by a jealous mob, Rumi set out for Damascus to look for his friend and wandered around the city for months.

"If I am He," exclaimed the poet one day as he wandered lost inside the mysteries of the city, "then why am I still searching?"

As Galip identifies more and more with Celal and the mystery he represents, this provides at least one answer to the question of what it means to be oneself. Another answer is given in yet another story:

Once upon a time, there lived in our city a prince who discovered that the most important question in life was whether to be, or not to be, oneself. It took him his whole life to discover who he was, and what he discovered was his whole life.

la tigre e la neve

Maybe it's too easy to dismiss Roberto Benigni's 'La Tigre e la Neve' ('The Tiger and the Snow') as 'La Vita è Bella' ('Life is Beautiful') in Iraq. But the similarities are many: once again Benigni and his wife Nicoletta Braschi star in a love story that veers between slapstick comedy and tragedy, and once again against a background of war.

Attilio is a rather clumsy though inspiring poetry teacher on a quest for the woman he loves, Vittoria. When she ends up in war-torn Baghdad, he goes after her like a modern-day Orpheus.

La Tigre e la Neve

However, unlike 'La Vita e Bella', war is really just a backdrop here, a situation to be exploited for gags. This time, instead of heightening the tragedy in a mythical story about the futility of war, it ends up trivializing it.

Still, to the film's merit, there are scenes of pure poetry, and Benigni delivers some great monologues. Early in the film he is seen teaching to a class of teenagers, in what is probably the most inspiring poetry lecture since 'Dead Poets Society'. To quote another instance of his eloquence, when he pleads with an old doctor in Baghdad to find a cure for his beloved:

If she dies, the whole world might as well be shut down. They'll have to disassemble everything, unscrew the stars, roll up the heavens and load them on a cart. They can turn off the sunlight I so love - and do you you know why I love it? Because the sun illuminates her so beautifully. They can take away everything: furniture, houses, sand, wind, frogs, ripe watermelons, evenings, May, June, July, basil, bees, the sea, zucchinis...

motel mozaïque 2007

At Rotterdam music festival Motel Mozaïque, discovery of the weekend was Norwegian 120 Days, with some intense, sweeping electronic rock influenced by Spacemen 3, krautrock and new wave. Their debut album is coming out in two weeks.

Another highlight was !!! (pronounced "Chk Chk Chk"), who brought two drummers to deliver their kinetic eclectic dance-punk. Just too bad they didn't play their version of Magnetic Fields' 'Take Ecstacy With Me'.

More Motel Mozaïque reviews at 3voor12.nl (in Dutch).

the heroic imagination

Interesting interview in Edge with psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who wonders if there is "a counterpart to Hannah Arendt's classical analysis of evil in terms of her phrase 'the banality of evil.'"

Zimbardo conducted the infamous 1971 Stanford prison experiment (the inspiration for the film 'Das Experiment'), which illustrates both sides of human nature:

One way of looking at the consequences of the Stanford Prison Study is as a cautionary tale of the many ways in which good people can be readily and easily seduced into evil. But there’s an equally important - maybe more important - consequence of the study, which is what it tells us about the flip side of human nature. The Stanford Prison Study was ended abruptly: it was supposed to run for two weeks and it ended - was terminated - after only six days because of a very heroic act.

While 50 observers were letting the experiment get out of control, there was one young assistant who objected to the degrading conditions, causing Zimbardo to terminate the experiment.

...the typical notion we have of heroes as super-stars, as super heroes, as Superman, and Batman, and Wonder Woman, gives us a false impression that being a hero means being able to do thing that none of us can actually accomplish. I want to argue just the opposite: that what we have to be doing more and more is cultivating the "heroic imagination"...

havidol

"Everyone should be able to live life to its fullest. I used to believe I did. I felt confident in myself, and my relationships. I exercised regularly. I slept quietly through every night, and awoke each morning feeling refreshed and ready to start a new day. I now know I had a treatable disorder..."

Havidol is the only known medication available for Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder (DSACDAD).

Havidol, when more is not enough!

Australian artist Justine Cooper created a hilarious marketing campaign for a fake drug curing a fake disorder, complete with billboards, in-depth website, self assessment quiz and video testimonials.

And apparently some people believe it's real.

topor

Roland Topor - Jardinage

Roland Topor - Copie de l'Architecte

Some samples of the savage surrealism of Roland Topor. His novel 'The Tenant', which was later filmed by Polanski, contains a telling quote which sums up his world view:

He was perfectly conscious of the absurdity of his behavior, but he was incapable of changing it. This absurdity was an essential part of him. It was probably the most basic element of his personality.
Roland Topor - Les Masochistes

Large collection of Topor's drawings at Topor et Moi (in French; see albums on the left). See also Arnon Grunberg's post on 'Reading Roland Topor'.

tideland

Terry Gilliam summed up his latest film 'Tideland', based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, as 'Alice in Wonderland' meets 'Psycho'. A sinister and surreal fairytale, 'Tideland' is far less visually extravagant than Gilliam's earlier work ('Brazil', 'The Fisher King', 'Fear and Loathing', etc.), but all the more disturbing as a study of twisted childhood innocence.

Tideland - 01

Ten-year old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) grows up with both her parents heroine addicts, preparing shots for her dad (Jeff Bridges) and enduring the whims of her psychotic mom. When soon after each other both die of overdoses, the girl is left to her own devices in a remote house on the prairie.

Taking refuge in a dark make-believe world, she talks with her collection of decapitated Barbie doll heads and explores the dilapitated house while the corpse of her father rots in the living room. She develops an ambiguous relationship with Dickens, a mentally retarded young man living in the only other house nearby, while his witch sister Dell applies her taxidermist skills to preserve dad.

Tideland - 02

If this sounds disturbing, 'Tideland' indeed makes for uncomfortable watching. Though it wears a little thin on plot and has no clear 'moral', it is still haunting as a psychological nightmare. Jeliza-Rose's role, as one review noted, has more in common with Catherine Deneuve in 'Repulsion' than with Alice. A clue to understanding the film might be that its theme of innocent escapism transcends Jeliza-Rose's age to any 'coping by dreaming' in a world of cruelty and madness.

Compare Andrew Wyeth's painting 'Christina's World', an inspiration for the film's look, which suggests a tense, frustrated mixture of yearning and isolation.

Andrew Wyeth - Christina's World