member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Week of Kindness?


This post was cleaned up considerably by the multi-talented Gabriel. Don't miss his monkey!

According to this website:
"Une semaine de bonte was finished in three weeks during the artist's visit with friends in Italy in 1933. The fateful events of that year in Ernst's homeland, including the Nazis' condemnation of his work, may account for the mood of catastrophe that pervades this collage "novel.""
In his earliest collage books Ernst generally made up completely new scenes out of many separate pieces, but for most of Une semaine de bonte he used complete existing illustrations as base-pictures, altering them with pasted-on additions. His base-pictures were chiefly the relatively crude and usually lurid wood-engraved illustrations of French popular fiction that were plentiful in the books and periodicals of the late nineteenth century. The subject matter of such literature was torrid love, torture, crimes passionnels and the subsequent incarcerations and executions (by guillotine), hatreds and jealousies among the very wealthy and the very indigent: the inferior spawn of Eugene Sue and Emile Zola. Ernst made his trip to Italy with a suitcase full of such pages."

According to Ian Turpin, in his Phaidon book Max Ernst, "The Dada revolt took a number of forms, from the overtly political to a faith in a new art as the only possible saviour of was this latter aspect that attracted Ernst on his discharge from the army in 1917...Ernst's contribution to the Dada attack on both modernist art and accepted values in general was collage," where he could juxtapose bizarre elements to "attack contemporary values in general, particularly the reliance on reason."

Text from Werner Spies, introduction to "Max Ernst: A Retrospective"

"The joins and overlappings [between pieces of the collage] had to be concealed from the viewer. This is why Ernst frequently published his composite imagery only in printed form, in photographic reproduction or in versions later touched up with watercolour. Thanks to these tactics of concealment he succeeded in presenting collage as that which he thought it should be: a completely developed and autonomous system in which the origin of the separate elements is submerged in the final, total image. He was out to produce irritating imagery in which, as in the perfect crime, every clue to its identity had been erased. The joins between the collage elements, moreover, were not so much physical as mental in nature. The hinges linking one piece of source material with another had to remain invisible..."

Collage would thus offer, to my mind, a way of rebuilding the world, in the manner of the Foucault/Borges quote at the side of this blog, in which the elements of the world are re-ordered, the logic of organization completely re-thought and re-structured, and we place things that were never before imagined paired together, and we try this thing (life, society) again. This text, Une Semaine de Bonte seems to focus its efforts on showing how bizarrely paired are the things of the world we live in right now, this "Creation of God's" that has somehow showed itself to be a monster, a monster developed, perhaps, from the clash of our true desires for life with the repressive and unnatural structures of society. This book was created during a period of great disillusionment and fierce rejection of what was seen as a violent, dangerous, insane authority--ALL authority, in fact. This was the mood of the period immediately following World War I. Here is a collection of some of the images, divided into day-sections, of Une Semain de Bonte, along with my thoughts on what he might have been doing with this work:

Sunday's Title Page

Ernst breaks the week into its individual days, giving each day a title page which announces its "element" (four of which are alchemical elements, in their order of use by alchemists) and an "example," or representative of that element, along with a-theoretically, at least--related quote. Each title page is followed by a collection of collages following the stated theme.






Sunday, which is the Christian day of rest, not the day of creation--in his book is the day of mud, which to me would, in this book, symbolize the act of creation, as the first man is made from mud, here symbolized by the male, aggressive and passionate king of the jungle: the lion. This begins the book with the creation of man and his sort of violent position as the leader of the world, which goes well with a patriarchal form of religion, and then immediately subverts it, by creating that man on the day religiously and very seriously set aside as the day of rest, the day God did not create man.




What he seems to be creating here is a more "honest"--that is, a more surreal, vicious, illogical and frightening--version of the Christian creation story, the seven days in which God created the world. The title then, is ironic--it's a rejection of the idea that it was any kindness at all to have created this world as it is. Throughout, he seems to suggest also that part of the (massive) problem with the world is the very underlying system of beliefs that created it; for example, the rules and regulations governing the way humans view each other, judge each other, and interact with each other.
Supporting this theory, on The second day, water (represented by water) appears. Water is not only a feminine element, it is also the element symbolic in dreams (with which these surrealists were as obsessed as I) with emotional states and your level of success in dealing with them. A stagnant pool suggests one thing about your emotional life, whereas a glorious afternoon sailing on an endless ocean suggests another. You can become overcome by a tidal wave, you can be overly concerned about the presence of the pee-pee of others in a public pool, you might suddenly discover you're able to breathe underwater. In many of Ernst's watery scenes, some people can walk on the water, while others drown. At any rate, in the first image, a bridge is broken off, and an undeveloped (the joints are still apparent as with a doll) female appears as part of the wreckage. Formed from Adam's rib? In the next image, she is more wholly human, though naked. And then she appears, all sauced-up with the top of the shell (reference to Aphrodite, rising from the water on a shell?) on her head...






The third day brings in the dragons and serpents, which to me would represent the appearance of the devil in the garden, with his fabulous offerings.





Day four leads us to the story of Oedipus, an obsession of Freud's that perhaps caused him to lose a little balance (note: for a fantastic opposing view on the Oedipal complex, read An Interpretation of Murder, an excellent novel and representation of this time period, with excellent insight on the psychological ideas that were then developing). In Wednesday's section (Blood and Oedipus), he introduces improper relations, and an interesting note here is that he was at this time, in a taboo marriage with a cousin--so this idea of relationships prohibited by closeness of blood was a bitter one. Yesterday, the demons came, and today the love that might save me from those demons is prohibited--perhaps even a demon itself. For some reason, Oedipus is conflated in his mind with bird-headed humans--why? Ernst had an obsessive relationship with birds in his paintings, and often showed them caged, or trapped in some other way. As a child, he was informed of the birth of his sister at the same time as the death of his pet cockatoo, and the event was to stand over the rest of his life like a dark shadow. He described it (in the third person) thus: "In his imagination he connected both events and charged the baby with the extinction of the bird's life...A dangerous confusion between birds and humans became encrusted in his mind." The suffering of the war and the way that human beings were treating each other, in what "Ernst regarded as the failure of reconciliation between conscious and unconscious, reason and intuition," (17 Phaidon, Max Ernst, Turpin) was a topic that he was consistently commenting on in his art work; he was very aware of unconscious/subconscious psychological forces and their symbols from university studies as well as from the Surrealist group's obsession with Freud, and in a description of this work of collage as compared to his other works, Turin has written: "The characters of Une Semaine de Bonte are in general both closer to the picture-plane and larger in relation to the surrounding space...There is consequently a feeling not so much of a conflict between conscious and unconscious, as of a direct assault by the latter on the former"(17). If we take this work to be that, and we take his tendency to show birds in a trapped state--trapped by the oppressive, guilt-ridden lives of humans, perhaps, then the bird-headed creatures of Wednesday might represent all that life (subconscious desires; repressed activities, feelings, and sexuality; creative urges) that we have suppressed, finding its way out into the light of the world, as it will, in its own, monstrous form. The reference to Oedipus might also refer to the sense of being crippled, trapped, and condemned by the generation before us, and also feeling so much remorse for our own unnatural actions that we might desire to gouge out our eyes rather than continue to see the results of that. The improper relation to our own blood might have more to do with war, here, than sex.

(Thursday, Rooster)

(Thursday, Rooster)

(Thursday, Easter Island)

(Thursday, Easter Island)

"Those among them who are merry sometimes turn their behinds toward the sky and cast their excrement in the face of other men; then they strike their own bellies lightly." .. "Laughter is probably doomed to disappear."--Marcel Schwob (quoted from two separate works). From these opening quotes, the element (darkness), and its representative (the Rooster's Laughter), I see Thursday as Purgatory--our current plight. A plight which because of our unwillingness or inability to turn away from the hypnotic (think of the impending Hitler, think Franco) force of rigid, tyrannical, repressive structures that are against our nature, against the nature of the universe, even, we face the loss of laughter (surprise, joy--which the rooster's laugh is but a sick twisting of), and sink closer and closer to the bottom (darkness, hell). Within the overall structure of the "Week of Kindness," this is the the descent into banality and its natural evolution into hell itself. Here we see images of torture, suicide, stalking, and freakish experiments. The second representative of darkness is Easter Island, which is present as a series of large, blocky masks, as if the stone sculptures had grown bodies, dressed in contemporary attire, and begun taking part in society.
Why Easter Island as a representative of the darkness, the dark side of man, the purgatory present as a path to hell? According to Wikipedia, on Easter Island, "For unknown reasons, a coup by military leaders called mararoa had brought a new cult based around a previously unexceptional god Makemake. The cult of the birdman...was largely to blame for the island's misery of the late 18th and 19th centuries. With the island's ecosystem fading, destruction of crops quickly resulted in famine, sickness and death." As Ernst already had an association formed in his mind between birds and man's evil, the Easter Island heads then become almost parallel to the laughing rooster heads as a sign of our descent.

Friday's element is sight, and its given manifestation is the interior of sight. He divides the section into the "First Visible Poem," (where he quotes Paul Eluard: "And I object to the love of ready-made images in place of images to be made.") the "Second Visible Poem,"

(Friday, Second Poem)

and the Third, which is very short, consisting of a row of handshakes, and a row of eyeballs gazing at each other, both rows with eggs stationed in various places.
Saturday's element is unknown, but its example is "The Key to Songs," and the section is opened with a silent quote. The images seem to be of women in various states of falling.



My feeling is that these last two days refer to the duty of turning inwards (the interior of sight), to come to understand and process who we are and who we could be, what exists underneath our daily routine and daily submissions: it is a refusal of "ready-made images," and an exhortation to begin creating our own (for example, collage...). To look at ourselves and to connect with ourselves (the rows of eyeballs, the rows of handshakes). To be willing to take the leap, as it were, to experience the sense of falling that comes from disconnecting with our current supporting structure in search of a new way of living. To cut and paste from the "lurid" stories around us until we have a new cohesive image, one that makes better (even if not logical) sense.

I end here with what I imagine to be Ernst's response to this week of unkindness:

"The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eduard, and the Painter"

The Full Text

Note: Each day's section opens with a quote from a surrealist text. I didn't touch most of the quotes, but would be fascinated to hear what anyone else has to say about them. The link to the full book is offered to the right of this blog. This is just the structure of the entire body, as I see it, but there is an awful lot going on in each collage.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Not-Very-Long Love Story of Jarilo and Morana, with a Few Fish-Vehicles

Some new fish-vehicles and another homage to Bosch:

vladimir golub
"The Island of Desires"

vladimir golub
"The Fly"

vladimir golub

Ivan Kupala Day and Night
July 7 was Ivan Kupala day, or the feast day of St. John the Baptist. It is also the summer solstice. Ivan is the Slavic version of John, and Kupala comes from the Slavic word for bathing, however Kupala is also the name of a pre-Christian Slavic god, which would make this another syncretization. The night before the holiday is mischief time, and the day itself is full of water pranks and water fights, as well as more "adult" water rituals, arranged around the idea of finding a lover: "Girls would float wreaths of flowers often lit with candles on rivers and would attempt to gain foresight into their relationship fortunes from the flow patterns of the flowers on the river. Men may attempt to capture the wreaths, in the hope of capturing the interest of the woman who floated the wreath." (Wikipedia)

vladimir golub
"Ivan Kupala Night"

"This is the original pagan midsummer night. In pre-Christian Ukraine, the festival was really a fertility rite that was supposed to assure a good harvest. (Kupalo was believed to be the god of Love and of Harvest. He was personified as the earth's fertility -- RJO). From the descriptions in ancient chronicles it was rather wild, featuring all kinds of sexual excesses... in other words, a lot of fun.

With the coming of Christianity, the Church tried to suppress the festival, but it was unsuccessful. So they did what they normally did: they combined the festival of the pagan god Kupalo with the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (July 6th, Julian Calendar) and called it "Ivana Kupala." The customs were cleaned up a bit, but it's still a feast for young unmarried people, with plenty of opportunities for "making whoopie."

The most adventurous go into the forest in search of the tsvit paporoti - the magic flower, which blooms only on that night. If found, the finder gets untold riches and happiness. But beware! On that magic night the forest is of full of demons and other scary beings (nechysta syla), which are out to get the unwary. In particular, there are Rusalky, the water nymphs, who are the souls of those drowned. They try to entice you into the water, so that you would join them in death. But around the bonfire all is merriment and joy. Songs are sung (many of them survive to the present day), music is played, and everybody dances and makes merry." Source

vladimir golub

Oddly, a little more looking around linked Ivan Kupala day to a different saint, St. George, specifically "Green George," whose representation we've seen before. St. George's festival linked Ivan Kupala to the larger story of the changing of the seasons and the stages of harvest by opening up the love story of Jarilo and Morana. The Slavic god Jarilo seems to be a version of Persephone: he was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead, which in Slavic beliefs was a world of eternal spring where the birds migrated in winter. In the spring, he would return to his father, which was celebrated with spring festivals, later named the feast day of St. George. He was then noticed by Morana, a goddess of death and nature, and they would fall in love and court each other in a very ritualistic and traditional pattern, leading up to a divine wedding, which was on--you guessed it--Ivan Kupala day, the summer solstice. This marriage brought peace to the world and thus bountiful harvest, but ended after the harvest in bitterness, with Jarilo's return to the underworld, this time sent by Morana, and her dissolution into a terrible hag. She dies at the end of the year, and in the spring, the whole thing starts over again.

vladimir golub

This story also sees its echoes in Golub's many centaur paintings, as Jarilo's long travel between worlds is compared in two very particular but conflicting ways. It is said in the folk songs that he walks so long that when he arrives his feet are very sore, but it is also emphasized that he rides in on a horse. This seems impossible, but it is noted that a young husband is often symbolized by a horse, and also that in many Slavic folk songs, the cuckolded wife--here Morana-- vents her rage by killing a horse--here Jarilo--or having her brothers do so for her. Horses were saccred animals in West Slavic paganism, and the way they walked through a pattern of spears was used as a tool for divination. So, it seems important to keep Jarilo's association with his horse, and also to point out how very far he has traveled on his poor feet, and this has led students of Slavic mythology (such as Katičić and Belaj) to suggest that he might be a centaur.

the shout
"The Shout" (Jarilo is associated with the moon)

"Jarilo became identified with St. George after the arrival of Christianity, possibly because of mild similarities in their names, but more likely because St. George is usually shown as a knight on a horse slaying a dragon, whilst the Slavs believed Jarilo to have an equine appearance, and that for a time he lived in the green underworld with his stepfather Veles, imagined to be a serpent-like or dragon-like deity. Another possibility is the fact that some legends of St. George depict him being killed and resurrected several times over. However, because of the importance of Jarilo to Slavic farmers and peasants as a deity of vegetation and harvest, Christianity never extinguished the worship of his cult. The spring festivals that in pagan times celebrated his return from the world of dead survived practically unchanged from pagan times in the folklore of various Slavic countries." (Wikipedia, Jarilo)

More Musicians that Play the Soul of the City
Here, Golub paints his favorite model as the muse that pulls the rhythms and melodies of the city out to be heard:

vladimir golub
"City Romance I"

vladimir golub
"City Romance II"

vladimir golub
"City Romance III"

Vladimir Golub was born in 1953, in Slutsk, Belorussia. At 12, he left home to enter a fine arts academy. He often uses the history, folklore, mythology and laudatory ritual songs of his area as sources for his images.

vladimir golub
The Conqueror

vladimir golub
The Siren

This blog post, it will come as no surprise, was inspired by a usual source, Art Odyssey, who has a wonderful playlist with more of Golub's works.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Experimentation and the Spirit

This month, I decided to experiment with some of the techniques utilized by the artists whose work I've been studying here, and I tried two different techniques that were pretty much a total departure from the drawings I usually do (I usually use some combination of inks and oil pastels). I tried a black-ink drawing, and I tried acrylic paints--which I've tried once or twice before, but always as a way of"coloring in," whereas this time I learned that you can thin the paint and put layer upon layer, which allows you to shade and creates a sense of depth.

A meeting with Legba and Simbi

In the tradition of Voodoo, there is one God, but he is so distant from his creation that the faithful don't pray to him. They pray instead to the loa, who are somewhat like the saints of Christianity in that they serve as intermediaries between God and humanity. When slaves were taken to the Americas from Africa, they brought with them their belief systems and rituals, songs and dances; they were forbidden, however, their religious practices. So they learned to disguise them. The loa took the faces of Christian saints who showed in their iconography or stories some correspondence to their own stories and symbols in a process called syncretization (which has happened at nearly every convergence of differing religious traditions as subjugated peoples attempt to protect their own traditions while outwardly seeming to accept those of the dominant social or political group). For example, St. Peter, the man at the pearly gates who decides if you can enter or not, was syncretized with Papa Legba, the loa of the crossroads and the Sun. Legba is the first loa you call to, the first one you welcome into your ceremony: "Open the road for not let any evil spirits bar my path." Legba is the loa not just of the roads pointing north, south, east, and west, but also the road from the heavens to the underworld, and that road's intersection with the horizontal plane of our daily existence. As the master of the crossroads, he speaks all languages: "In Haiti, he is the great elocution, the voice of God, as it were" (Wikipedia). You call to him first because there can be no communication between a mortal and any loa without Legba. You call to him first because he opens the gates.

Simbi is also a crossroads loa, his symbol being a snake in a field of crosses, and he "straddles the waters above and the waters below the earth, which are understood either as the heavenly and the abysmal waters, or as the sweet and salt waters" (117 Divine Horsemen, Maya Deren). He is the patron of rains (bringing food and life) and the patron of magicians (including medicinal "magic"). Rigaud (Secrets of Voodoo) refers to him as a sort of Mercury or Hermes, who bears the soul to all places and carries messages to and from Legba (the Sun).

Here, the tree represents the crossroads, the trunk reaching up and down, the roots spreading out and down, the branches spreading out and up. Out of the roots a snake forms, and from his breath of flames comes a train to transport you to whatever level you wish to explore and communicate with. Two spirits rise out of the train to meet you...

St. Murgen, La Sirene

St. Murgen, la Sirene

Guided by a siren song and propelled by the force of her spirit, with an eye fixed firmly on the future, the woman is already disappearing, becoming other, as she navigates towards new shores. Though I made the underlying sketch too light for the layering process of paints and therefore actually had to paint with no sketch at all, which left me totally out of control as to what the end picture was, I really liked the way the colors change with each layer. There's a kind of depth to paints that feels an awful lot like magic. I've read in a lot of the artists' descriptions that they use charcoal for their sketches on the canvas, and though I'm not sure I'll do anything that dark, I will try being a little more forceful with the drawing stage next time.
Note: "La Sirene" is the aquatic form of Erzulie, the Madonna and protector of women and children, (and also both a virgin and married to three men), in the Voodoo Pantheon. After painting this, I went looking around for stories about sirens. Borges details various descriptions and myths surrounding Sirens in his Libro de los Seres Imaginarios (Book of Imaginary Beings), for example:
"La Odisea refiere que las sirenas atraían y perdían a los navegantes y que Ulises, para oír su canto y no perecer, tapó con cera los oídos de los remeros y ordenó que lo sujetaran al mástil. Para tentarlo, las sirenas le ofrecieron el conocimiento de todas las cosas del mundo." ("The Odyssey tells that the Sirens attract and shipwreck seamen, and that Ulysses, in order to hear their song and yet remain alive, plugged the ears of his oarsmen with wax and had himself lashed to the mast. The Sirens, tempting him, promised him knowledge of all the things of this
world"). But then later, Borges says, "En el siglo vi, una sirena fue capturada y bautizada en el Norte de Gales, y figuró como una santa en ciertos almanaques antiguos, bajo el nombre de Murgen." ("In the sixth century, a Siren was caught and baptized in northern Wales and in certain old calendars took her place as a saint under the name Murgen.")

I couldn't just let that pass. So I went looking for other references, and FOUND SOME, for example, on the Catholic Answers Forum:

And then there's St. Murgen of Inver Ollarba, who garners a mention in the seventeenth-century Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Her legend is possibly the most bizarre in hagiography, surpassing even St. Christopher of the Dog's Head, St. James the Cut to Pieces or St. George of Cappadocia with his four separate martyrdoms. Murgen began life as a girl named Liban, whose background is lost in a muddle of folkloric confusion. She seems to have been either of mortal or of Daoine Sidhe parentage, and swept into the sea in the year 90 with her dog, who was transformed into an otter. At some point during her first year underwater, she was turned into a merrow or muirruhgach, the Gaelic word for siren or mermaid. She spent three hundred years with the tail of a salmon, swimming the Irish sea with her pet otter.

Around 390 (or possibly 558), a ship destined for Rome took her in from the seas, having heard her angelic singing. The cleric Beoc, a vicar of Bishop St. Comgall of Bangor, was on board, and she pleaded him to take her ashore at Inver Ollarba up the coast. On his return from Rome, after reporting to Pope Gregory of Comgall's deeds in office, he fulfilled his promise and Liban was taken ashore in a boat half-filled with water by another fellow, Beorn.

Instantly, a dispute started over who had authority over her with Beoc, Beorn and St. Comgall all pressing their case. It fell to Beoc after they placed her in a tank of water on a chariot and the chariot stopped in front of Beoc's parish church. There, she was given the choice of being baptized, after which she would die immediately and go to heaven, or living another three hundred years--the number she had spent as a mermaid--and then going on to paradise. She chose the first, was baptized by St. Comgall with the name of Murgen, or, "sea-born," and died in the odor of sanctity. Of course, this was all in the days before canonizations became the exclusive and infallible province of Rome. That being said, the Teo-da-Beoc, or, church of Beoc, was the site of many miracles wrought in her name, and paintings of this singular saint still remain there to this day.

Apparently, somewhere around the Middle Ages, the distinctions between sirens and mermaids got a little muddled.

I'm really wandering around here, because this doesn't relate to the painting at all, but I also found a poem by Margaret Atwood called "The Siren Song" that I found hysterical. I'll leave you with that:

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Inaudible Chamber Music

Jean Coulon was born in Brussels in 1947. He specializes in wood engravings and copper engravings (burin, drypoint, roulette and all acid-free processes).


He has not only studied engraving, but also music, and he travels on occasion with a musical theater.
Here's a flier for a show where he apparently plays the inaudible electric tuba:
(Tuba Libre, formation du collectif bruxellois "Inaudible", comprend Marco Loprieno (cuivres) et Jean Coulon (tuba électronique).)

He also expresses that love in his drawings and engravings, often depicting the soul of a large and packed--cluttered--city breathing its soul through a wind instrument:

"Sax Noire"

Here is what appears to be a colonized fish (but still our friend!):

And another favorite theme for him, parades for which new vehicles are necessary:

I found this artist via BibliOdyssey. Hope you enjoyed it!