Friday, January 31, 2014

Gung Hay Fat Choy 2014

Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Happy Chinese New Year!

Today starts the Year of the Horse and according to believers, we could be in for some turbulence...

The Chinese year 4712 begins.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just watched...

..."Samsara," Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson's 2011 follow-up to "Baraka."

Samsara is a Buddhist word that refers to the cycle of birth, life, death, and reincarnation. It carries with it a connotation of being attached to this physical plane, with all of its associated possibilities of pain and joy, love and suffering... of being unenlightened. Samsara is the opposite of nirvana which is true freedom from pain, suffering, and the individual experience of the outer world. And Fricke and Magidson chose themes, images, and sequences for this film that dramatically support this difference.

This film, like "Baraka," is hard to describe. It is more--or perhaps less?--than a documentary. Just like "Baraka," it is a meditation, a wordless experience that presents and suggests very large, even overwhelming ideas that are core to the human condition. It is like a dream, presenting images without words or explanation... and because of this form, the images resonate on a deeper level than if such ideas were to be written about or spoken of.

Filmed over nearly five years (the filmmakers started in 2006, after "Baraka") in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on glorious seventy-millimetre film, "Samsara" shows sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders. It shows scenes of love and tenderness, scenes of technological and societal alienation, scenes of creation and destruction, scenes of lush forests and desolate deserts, and scenes of great beauty juxtaposed against the violence, hopelessness, and death inherent in the human experience.

And like "Baraka," we see some familiar sights. We return to Mecca, we return to many temples in Asia... but I am not complaining. While the concept and execution might not be revolutionary, what the filmmakers do is truly transcendent. The camera work is of course stunning. The way scenes are framed and tracked is gorgeous: one could remove any frame from this film and the result would be an exquisite work of art. And returning from "Baraka" are composer Michael Stearns and renowned singer and composer Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) who created the musical score. For "Samsara," the musical process was a little different. The film was edited in silence and given to Stearns, Gerrard, and composer Marcello De Francisci who composed the music in direct response to the visuals.

The result is a sense of mono no aware (see previous post here), the knowledge that what one is seeing is impermanent, transcendent, part of a world which will one day be destroyed. In this film, we are witness to all the good and bad that is possible, the beauty and torture, all the tender things, love, and lives that are lived and lost.

Recommend? Absolutely. This is about as perfect as any film can get. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a wordless meditation and requires an open mind and heart to fully appreciate the experience. If you need a film to be "about" something, perhaps this is not for you. But if you can immerse yourself in a stream of consciousness triggered by the world itself, you're in for a treat.

What word expresses...

Welcome to my world.

In his paper Japanese Aesthetics, Graham Parkes speaks about this concept:

"And here is [twelfth-century Buddhist monk Yoshida] Kenkō on the link between impermanence and beauty: 'If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty' (Keene, 7). The acceptance and celebration of impermanence goes beyond all morbidity, and enables full enjoyment of life.

Insofar as we don't rejoice in life we fail to appreciate the pathos of the things with which we share our lives. For most of us, some of these things, impermanent as they are, will outlast us—and especially if they have been loved they will become sad things: 'It is sad to think that a man's familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain long after he is gone' (Keene, 30)."

(Yugen, previously here.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Fourteen Categories

All animals fall into one of 14 categories:

*Those who belong to the emperor
*Embalmed ones
*Those who are trained
*Suckling pigs
*Mermaids (or Sirens)
*Fabulous ones
*Stray dogs
*Those who are included in this classification
*Those who tremble as if they were mad
*Innumerable ones
*Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
*Those who have just broken the flower vase
*Those who, at a distance, resemble flies

--from "Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge," a fictitious taxonomy of animals described in the book THE ANALYTICAL LANGUAGE OF JOHN WILKINS by the magic realist writer Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BEAUTY: Photography--Vanessa Leissring

Vanessa Leissring's startlingly pristine photographs of gas stations (or petrol stations for those not in the US) are beautiful and so atmospheric--lonely, mysterious, isolated. Oases floating in the inky black of night...

Leissring's photos bring to my mind "The Last Chance Texaco," the glorious song from Rickie Lee Jones' debut album released in 1979. It is a lonely, pensive but yearning song, just like the photos above. I have always loved the chilling moment at the end of the song where she mimics passing, speeding trucks on the highway. Goosebumps...

A long stretch of headlights
Bends into I-9
Tiptoe into truck stops
And sleepy diesel eyes
Volcanoes rumble in the taxi
And glow in the dark
Camels in the driver's seat
A slow, easy mark

But you ran out of gas
Down the road a piece
Then the battery went dead
And now the cable won't reach...

It's your last chance
To check under the hood
Last chance
She ain't soundin' too good,
Your last chance
To trust the man with the star
You've found the last chance Texaco

Well, he tried to be Standard
He tries to be Mobil
He tried living in a World
And in a Shell
There was this block-busted blonde
He loved her, free parts and labor
But she broke down and died
She threw all the rods he gave her

But this one ain't fuel-injected
Her plug's disconnected
She gets scared and she stalls
She just needs a man, that's all

It's her last chance
Her timing's all wrong
Her last chance
She can't idle this long
Her last chance
Turn her over and go
Pullin' out of the last chance Texaco

Monday, January 27, 2014

BEAUTY: Painting--Simon Stalenhag

Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag has worked on video games as concept and art director and it shows in his personal work. He shows us, in his hyper-realistic oil paintings, images of everyday life on Earth invaded by seemingly alien technology. It feels as if there is a kind of tacit but possibly fragile truce between humanity and these extraterrestrial machines... or whatever is operating them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

BEAUTY: Painting--Hsin-Yao Tsing

I have a weak spot for painters who capture images of my beloved San Francisco, the most European city in the United States. Hsin-Yao Tsing's loose, Impressionistic canvases show views of The City that are supremely familiar to me. I have been seeing these views through fog, rain, and sun for over 30 years, and these gorgeous, lyrical paintings do The City justice.

I really love these next three images of basically the same view: Alcatraz in the Bay. It captures the romance and light of San Francisco perfectly... just lovely...

Friday, January 24, 2014

I Always Do...

The Only Fact We Have

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”
--James Baldwin

Thursday, January 23, 2014

BEAUTY: Painting--Mark Thompson

In sympathy for the half of the United States that is currently suffering under frigid temperatures and snow drifts, here is the art work of Mark Thompson who paints eerily empty rural scenes under snow.

By contrast, he also paints frosted European cityscapes, but just as oddly and disturbingly empty...
Where have all the people gone? It's a New Ice Age.

Top to bottom: Be Lost In Me; Clothe Yourself For The Wind; Revealed Wounds; The Injuries Of Time; To Suffer The Weight; From Nothing To Everything; The Tears Of Things; To Remain Unheard; To Unpick Time's Hold; What Remains

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BEAUTY: Ceramics--Brett Kern

Brett Kern's marvelous inflatable toys are actually ceramic! They remind me of Jeff Koons' polished steel balloon animals...