(Let’s pass silently over the fact that I haven’t posted anything new for more than a month.)
The experimental films made by Ukrainian-American Maya Deren in the 1940s and 1950s are incredibly influential, whether most people know it or not. Once you’ve seen them you’ll notice reflections of them all over the place, in everything from art photography to pop videos. Her work has also definitely had a huge effect on me, particularly 1943’s Meshes of the Afternoon, whose haunting imagery– and imagery of haunting– is done an injustice when it’s described as merely surreal or dreamlike, even though it is surreal and dreamlike among many other things. It’s actually as if time has been turned inside out like a glove, but when it turns right side out again it’s a different glove, belonging to someone or something else entirely. It’s particularly fitting that reflections or decontextualised fragments of her most famous film turn up so often in popular culure, given the way that Deren dwells upon imagery of reflection and fragmentation in Meshes of the Afternoon.
Her obvious interest in ritual, repetition, nonlinear time and the perils of inner journeys has found its way into some of my own work too; these subjects can all be seen obliquely in Deren’s Meshes and much more directly in her collaboration with Marcel Duchamp, Witch’s Cradle (also embedded here). In the late 1940s she took a more documentarian interest in the practice and ritual of Haitian vodoun.
Meshes of the Afternoon.
Although resident in Los Angeles, Deren resolutely resisted Hollywood and was proud to be involved in every aspect of her own films. She made them, she said, “for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.” She also gave the great advice that independent or artistic film makers shouldn’t try to ape Hollywood but instead “use your freedom to experiment with visual ideas; your mistakes will not get you fired.” Deren paved the way for many of the independent American makers who created personal artistic statements in film (and later, video) rather than following a formula, but sadly Deren’s career wasn’t as long as it should have been. She died in 1961 at the age of 44, most likely because of prescription drug abuse.
Below you can watch Meshes of the Afternoon (with a soundtrack commissioned in 2012 by the late, lamented Bird’s Eye View Festival for film making by women) and Witch’s Cradle.
PS: There’s a Tumblr called Fuck yeah, Maya Deren! Of course there is.
Some lovely and surreal Renaissance images of marvels and unexplained phenomena, from Taschen’s The Book of Miracles.
Pew pew pew! Malevolent forces play Space Invaders with trembling Christian folk.
This happened to a friend of a friend. He went to the shops to get a paper and some milk, but he found the whole area blasted into desert, then he was gnawed by a dragon and he went to heaven. Ker-razy.
It’s raining icebergs and sort of lion mask things, Hallelujah.
Flying duck-eel-Muppet creatures wearing crowns, obviously. Eh, happens all time round our way.
Wow, such sky beams, very dazzle, many falling over towrs, much giant sea doge.
An alarmingly massive comet makes the towers and spires go all wonky again.
Nobody could deny her crimefighting prowess, but Donkey Lizard Bearded Arse Bird Leg Woman just wasn’t working as a superheroine name.
Don’t hate you those days where huge golden spheres hover on the edge of town and shine ominous beams into your windows?
To be pedantic, bees don’t really have knees, just a number of joints in their legs. But if they did, their knees would be clearly viewable with a new imaging device that combines the functions of a microscope and a cell analyser: Cytell. Follow the link to find out how it genuinely was inspired by a bee leg.
I’m mainly interested in the detailed, hypersaturated and Pixar-esque aesthetic of the images produced by the Cytell. So different from what most people would imagine when the only experience of scientific images they’ve had was their dull and probably outdated school textbooks.
Mosquito’s head and proboscis. No… no, thanks.
Lingual papillae, which are found on top of the tongue. Actually looks sort of… appetising?
Praying Mantis leg.
The Cytell images are also interesting to me in the slightly more narcissistic sense that real science has finally caught up with the micro-made-macro rainbow look I devised in 2007 for a video installation and book about genomics and cellular biology that I did with the University of Edinburgh. Though to be fair, that aesthetic was in turn inspired by the real life microfluoroscopy that was obviously an ancestor of Cytell.
ABOVE: Drosophila (fruit flies). BELOW: Still and book pages from my ‘Three Times True’ project, 2007.
I’m still not entirely sure if this project which “aims to spread human ride robots” is in earnest or some kind of satirical sci fi art concept. Sometimes in Japan it’s hard to tell. It’s also entirely possible for any given thing to be both. I think “both” is probably the answer here although if it is a joke or has jokey elements, then it’s a joke carried out with unusual thoroughness and commitment. Well, unusual if you’re not Japanese, anyway. Obviously as usual any humour, intended or otherwise, has been missed by 90% of the lumpencommentariat on YouTube. As I’ve pointed out before, like the British the Japanese have an international reputation for being somehow both joyless stiffs and unpredictably eccentric, but in fact both nations across all social classes share a deep affinity for daft, surreal, mocking humour that doesn’t necessarily register in the USA, or with their neighbours in mainland Europe/mainland Asia respectively.
If you’re reading this at work you can visit the comprehensive and quite pretty Suidobashi Heavy Industry site to design your own Kuratas. My effort can be seen in the picture above, a $1.8 million/¥190,813,241/€1.38 million super-kawaii ‘Hello Killy’ model that would be ideal for attending a lipsync meet-the-fans appearance by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at a shopping mall or annihilating the last cowering remnants of the human race on the orders of Skynet. Again, perhaps both at the same time.
The people behind Suidobashi definitely have tongue in cheek for parts of the video below, one example being the unsettling and slightly deranged “smile shot” function at about 3:00. The robot will also hit targets only “from time to time.” On the other (robotic) hand, the prototype seems to be an actual and quite impressive thing that the artist has really built. It appears you can buy one from Amazon. You can also buy– via the related purchases on the same page– an 8.6 metre long Stegosaurus. Obviously.
Oh, and here’s the other hand I mentioned.
Jukumari, Musée du quai Branly, Paris. Photo by Alistair Gentry.
Final selection of bizarre, beautiful costumes from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. The museum’s text:
The Andean “bespectacled” bear, the Jukumari, lives at different ecological levels of the Andean cordilera. For this reason he is seen as a mediator between different entities, god-like and human, or different human groups. He is present in several dances from the Andes in Bolivia, in particular the Diablada and the the Morenada. In the Diablada he has a playful role: he is the character that chats and interacts with the public. The Jukumari evolved into a polar bear.
No kidding. Other additions in the category of artistic license include the dainty yellow hanky (er… don’t look up hanky codes if you don’t know what they are already. You’re OK not knowing), the strings of pearls (stop it), the bat face, and the epaulettes. Epaulettes on a bear are definitely fabulous, but a real spectacled bear looks like this:
He does not care in the slightest about epaulettes, silk hankies, gold braiding or sequins. He will bite your face off if you attempt to style him in any manner whatsoever. Jukumari, on the other paw, is into all of the aforementioned and more, nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean?
Ñaupa Diablo, Musée du quai Branly, Paris. Photo by Alistair Gentry.
More excellent masks from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris… and these ones come with splendid matching outfits. In the previous post on this subject, there was an early twentieth century carnival mask from Oruro, Bolivia. This time I have some relatively modern masks and costumes from the same carnival for you. All the photographs are mine. Here’s a translation of the museum’s blurb:
Performed during the carnival in the mining town of Oruro, the Diablada dance fuses Catholic and indigenous beliefs, depicting Lucifer escorted by a legion of male and female demons, and the Archangel Michael as the leader of the angel host. The characters in the dance are derived from the Catholic religion’s struggle between good and evil, which ends in the victory of the angels. However, in this dance, the “devil” in all his forms (Lucifer, his variant Ñaupa Diablo, his wife China Supay, and male and female devils) incarnates a positive force, linked to the Amerindian underworld divinity Supay, the giver of gifts.
The devil has all the best clothes and all the best tunes. I love these costumes. Maybe not for casual daywear, though. I’m not sure how I’d integrate sequinned breastplates, huge twisted horns and this much gold braiding with the rest of my wardrobe.
Final selection from the book Masks: Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly. I apologise for the Devil Son mask I showed you last time. Hopefully you’ve recovered now. How about a sort-of cute tiger?
Lacquered wood mask of a tiger, State of Guerrero, Mexico, circa 1970.
This mask was made using the rayado technique. Two layers of lacquer are superimposed, then one is partially removed to produce this two-tone effect. If you look closely you’ll see that the markings aren’t random; they form the shapes of birds, rabbits, deer and other animals.
Plaster and cloth moreno mask from Oruro, Bolivia, early 20th century.
Moreno masks represent the exhausted, sickly African slaves who worked in the plantations and mines of Bolivia. They’re worn during the mining city of Oruro’s carnival. The masks, I mean. Not Africans.
“You’re my wife now”
Some of the more unnerving examples from the book Masks: Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly. (previous post here)
Wooden mask, carved by a shaman in Nepal. The original caption says it verges on abstraction, but it also verges on bloody terrifying.
Wooden mask from Java, 19th century. This fellow is probably Klana Sewandana, the hero’s rival in wayang topeng plays.
O hai, it’s only me, the Devil’s son. Just carry on. I’m made of cloth, goat hair and somebody’s teeth. I come from Mexico.
Ammassalimiut (Greenland) fur mask for a child, associated with Christian Epiphany celebrations. Because nothing says “Jesus” more than hideous slit mouths and inky black eyes, obviously. 1920s-1930s.
Japanese Noh masks
Obeshimi (demon mask), wood, Japan, mid 19th century.
A few months ago I visited the very inspiring Musée du quai Branly in Paris. I recommend it to anybody who is interested in anthropology or ethnography. Or disconcerting masks and dolls, because they have tons of those. They’ve published a great book called Masks: Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly. The text is by the splendidly named Yves Le Fur, with photos by Sandrine Expilly. I’m going to reproduce a few scans, but the book is worth a look if– as mentioned previously– you’re one of those creepy mask people like me. I’ll also be sharing some of my own photos from the collection. All the ones by me will be clearly marked, otherwise credit goes to Expilly.
This time I’m concentrating on Noh (能) masks from Japan. Noh is the extremely formalised theatre that originated in Japan about seven hundred years ago. Some of the masks are used to play different characters from the repertory. A few are cleverly designed to change their expression depending upon the direction of lighting or the angle of the performer’s head. These masks are usually treated with great respect by the performers. The Obeshimi mask above is used in five different plays. Mostly it is used to represent a demon, but it can also play Dairokuten, one of the ten kings of the hells.
Le capitaine Costentenus
Poster for a sideshow type act at the Folies-Bergère, circa 1880s.
Recently I was at the ethnographic Musée du quai Branly in Paris. A post about some of the museum’s permanent collection of lovely, demented and/or terrifying masks will follow shortly, but the museum also currently have an exhibition on (until the middle of October 2014) called Tatoueurs, Tatoués (Tattooers, Tattooed) which is worth seeing if only to be reminded that there can be more to tattoos than spelling error tramp stamps, nonsense kanji, the ubiquitous badly drawn pseudo-tribal sleeve, and permanent disfigurements that are just plain wrong.
The exhibition has modern examples and historical images from all over Asia, Europe and Oceania, but for some reason the image that stuck with me was the one shown above, of ‘Captain Costentenus’. Maybe it’s just my general prediliction for Victoriana. He was an attraction at the Folies-Bergère, the Parisian cabaret that remains in operation to this day. The caption says “Tattooed by order of Yakoob-Beg, chief of the Tartars, with two million dots and 325 animal figures.” Did somebody actually count the dots? Maybe Costentenus did, as they were being poked into him.
Another colour lithograph, in English (below)– from the reliably kinky Wellcome Collection– gives further information about Captain Costentenus, describing him as a “Greek Albanian, tattooed from head to foot in Chinese Tartary, as punishment for engaging in rebellion against the King”… the king presumably being the aforementioned Yakoob-Beg. Chinese Tartary is an obsolete term, referring broadly to the areas such as Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria, which doesn’t quite match up with him being Greek Albanian although I guess he could have been travelling when he committed whatever transgression caused Yakoob-Beg to mandate such an elaborate punishment. Either that, or we’re looking at what we’d call nowadays creative PR.
19th century aquaria were evidently as much sites for general oddity as they were display facilities for fish.