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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kitsune: the Art of Laura Laine

“Kitsune Noir” by Laura Laine

The Kitsune (Japanese for fox) has a long and fascinating history in Japanese culture. They are particularly well-known for shape-shifting into the form of exquisitely beautiful women, especially with “a narrow face with close-set eyes, thin eyebrows, and high cheekbones” (Wikipedia). They make very convincing ladies, and in many tales will marry and have children before being surprised into showing their true identity. Some ways to discern Kitsune from women are to get them drunk (and careless), to look at their shadow or reflection (which may show their true form), or to look for a tail, which is often difficult for them to hide. And a Kitsune, depending on the strength of its powers, can have up to nine tails...

The presence of dogs also often gives away a shape-hiding Kitsune, as the barking really rattles them.
According to Karen Ann Smyers, in The Fox and the Jewel,
“The earliest extant fox story in Japan also purports to explain the etymology of the word for fox, “kitsune.” A sixth-century man from Mino one day met a woman in the fields. She agreed to marry him, and soon they had a son, and at the same time, their dog had puppies. Life was peaceful, except for the incessant barking of their puppy at the wife. She begged her husband to kill it, but he felt compassion for it and could not bring himself to do so. One day the dog startled the wife with its barking, and suddenly she reverted to her true fox shape, perched upon a rough fence. Although the husband was surprised, his love for his wife was deep, and he told her that he would never forget her, and that she should come back to sleep with him, which she did, nightly. Her name, and the name of all subsequent foxes in Japan, was therefore Kitsune, ‘come and sleep.’
“The fox in this story is a good wife and mother, but another kind of fox-woman in Japanese stories seduces men and makes fools of them. Foxes in human form may play harmless pranks, or they may possess people against their will. Spirit foxes were employed to nefarious ends by sorcerers; mediums and healers may be assisted in their tasks by white spirit foxes even today. Fox stories in the rakugo and Kyogen traditions are hilarious; the more macabre tales can be nauseatingly gruesome. Foxes are associated with the earth where they make their homes, with fire, with sexuality; they can fly, change shape, cause mirages. They range from villainous to saintly.”

In fact, their behavior can be so villainous, there is a Kitsune-okuri (fox-expelling) festival in the Totomi province of Japan every year on January 14th. A procession of people carrying straw foxes is led out of town by a priest, where they bury the dolls, thus buying themselves protection for the following year.

Otherwise, the Kitsune would be free to possess hapless victims, start fires or throw lightning with their tails, waylay travelers with something much like a siren’s song, and overwhelm ordinary locals with elaborate illusions. “Some tales speak of kitsune with even greater powers, able to bend time and space, drive people mad, or take fantastic shapes such as a tree of incredible height or a second moon in the sky. Other kitsune have characteristics reminiscent of vampires or succubi and feed on the life or spirit of human beings, generally through sexual contact.....”(Wikipedia)

In a demonic fox possession (until the early 20th century, a common diagnosis for the mentally ill), the fox enters a young woman (always a young woman) by sliding underneath her fingernails or into her breasts. You might realize what’s happening by a subtle shift in her facial features, making them slightly more...“fox-like.” The possessed young lady may have abilities she didn’t have before--a newly-gained literacy, for example, or knowledge of a foreign language. And she will have sudden, relentlessly ravenous cravings for fox-favored foods, like tofu, sweet red beans, and rice. If she recovers, having had a successful exorcism, it is likely she will never be able to eat those foods again.
The actual grisly possession is described in Lafcadio Hearn’s Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan:
“Strange is the madness of those into whom demon foxes enter. Sometimes they run naked shouting through the streets. Sometimes they lie down and froth at the mouth, and yelp as a fox yelps. And on some part of the body of the possessed a moving lump appears under the skin, which seems to have a life of its own. Prick it with a needle, and it glides instantly to another place. By no grasp can it be so tightly compressed by a strong hand that it will not slip from under the fingers.”

In A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits, Dinah Mack traces this less friendly, demonic aspect of the Kitsune to old tales of the Fox Fairy in China:
“There, the Fox Fairy is greatly feared and always propitiated. It is believed that cases of madness caused by fox possession are retributions for former offenses against the Fox Fairy by a member of the victim’s family; however, the Chinese Fox Fairy has been known to possess a human being for the sheer malevolent mischief of it. When inhabited, the human can fly, go through walls, and has other striking powers...
A priest is often called in, berates the Fox Spirit, and tells it to get out. The fox negotiates its terms, arranges for rice and other offerings, and if satisfied will finally agree to leave. Cases continue to be reported in contemporary times.”

“Haunted House” (I recommend clicking the link for a better view of the creepiness of these two images...)

However, according to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Mythology,
“Tengu and Kitsune, though they are certainly not human, should not be thought of as monsters. In fact, they are more like demon-angel hybrids, in that they have capacities for good and evil that are similar to those of humans.”

In fact, throughout history, the white Kitsune have been strongly associated with the spirits of the rice fields, and gods of nourishment. And let’s not forget that some of those lovely ladies make angelic wives and loving mothers...

“Hide and Chic”

While studying the extensive lore surrounding this creature (so much more than fits in this post!), I discovered
How to achieve magical powers!
In The Catalpa Bow, a Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan, by Carmen Blacker, she describes 17th century accounts of an Izuna rite:

“For this rite you must first find a pregnant vixen in her lair. You feed her and tame her, taking particular care of her at the time when her cubs are born. When the cubs are grown up, the vixen will bring one of them to you and ask you to give it a name. Once you have done this you will find that you only have to call the young fox by name for it to come to you in invisible form. Then you can ask it any questions you like, on any matter however secret, and always it will be able to find out the answer for you. Other people cannot see the fox in its invisible form, so when you show them that you know of these hidden things they will all think that you possess divine power.

This peculiar rite, described in almost identical terms in several Tokugawa works, seems to be a degraded vestige of something which in early medieval times was a religious rite of heretical but not very evil character. The Izuna rite...was at this period another name for the Dagini or Daten rite, much performed by warriors, noblemen or priests anxious for power or wealth. It was by dint of performing the Dagini rite...that Taira Kiyomori rose from obscurity to be virtual dictator of the land...References throughout medieval literature are legion to the successful performance of this rite by perfectly respectable people.”

All the artwork in this post is by the Finnish artist Laura Laine, whose work I discovered via Phantasmaphile. Her own webpage is here. She is rather famous for her fashion illustrations, featuring foxy models with fantastically-detailed hair:

(Anyone else see possible tails, here?)

Also, this fantastic collection of the horoscope figures:


She also applied her fantastic attention to detail in the creation of this modern version of the traditional Japanese Kokeshi doll (now owned by another lovely artist, Audrey Kawasaki) for the Kokeshi show earlier this fall at the Japanese American National Museum:



Note the three hands--one fiddling with her hair--and the rather possessed look in the eyes....

I am traveling this month and am unlikely to get a chance to post again until the new year. I hope everyone has a great holiday and luxuriates in tons of life-affirming celebrations, full of spirit, health and joy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Through a Crystal Ball: Anne Bachelier

"The Pact"

In this post, we have two special treats: paintings by Anne Bachelier, and a microfiction piece by the lovely and supremely talented Vesna. Vesna has helped me out like this before, here and here,so if you haven’t read those pieces, be sure to do so! Her story this time illuminates the painting, The Book of Time, and is featured further down, after an introduction to some of Anne Bachelier’s other paintings.

"So Slowly Comes Sleep"

Anne Bachelier, whose beautiful, spacious atelier, filled with the vivid, preternatural blues, greens, and orange-ambers emerging from the mists of her canvases overlooks glorious forests and mountains around Grenoble, France, takes the gift of that view and the spirits, nymphs, and satyrs that inhabit it, and transports them to us via oil and cloth. Her paintings introduce other worlds, full of dreaming and wonder. Nebulous mists part slightly to expose luxurious costumes, as if the wearers were heading towards a secret ball, or an underground carnival. Or perhaps they are part of the magic traveling clan children sometimes tumble upon deep within a fairy-tale’s forest. There is everything the child in us needs: angels, gardens, games, and shimmering round baubles or mirrors for seeing through to the other worlds. There is a lot of mystery to these worlds, they are for that child in us who is still not afraid to explore, to navigate the darkness.

"The Ocean in this Mirror"

"In the Garden of the Faun"

"The Mist Portal"

"In the Stela Forest"

Her paintings often show the interconnectedness of all living things, or the blending of the spirits residing in them:

"Offering of the Butterflies"

Above, the pale flesh melts into the blues and greens of the dress. The butterflies mirror this color path: a deep blue-black as they escape the bowl, they turn to match her pale flesh as they reach her throat. In the background, a horned centaur.

"She Is Silence"

Press for a larger image, so that you can see the tiny birds nesting in/forming her hair, and the dangling pearls (again, those nebulous “crystal” balls!), one of which the raven grasps in his beak. Again, the beautiful costume becomes her flesh; the gold fish swim inside the cloth, pushing up from the dark depths and rising to the surface of her throat as if in the process of detaching from her figure...One more turn, and the next fish would take flight, or perhaps they all merely transformed, as they rose, into those golden birds crowning her head. She is only part “human,” then, forming from the deep waters of the earth and rising up to take flight to the heavens, that lovely, pale flesh a fleeting mask...

"She Who Collects Butterflies"
A woman transfers life from this world to another through one of those semi-transparent balls...

"Unknown Worlds in her Mirror"

Some of her angels:
For the 2008 show “être Ange, étrange...” [note the clever French wording by sounding it out if you don’t speak French; the meaning is “To Be an Angel, Strange...”], Anne created these angels:

(Les Anges)

"Good Education"

An angel stands over the shoulder of a child made of the most delicate cotton candy and ribbons, her eyes far off in a dream as the angel spins one of those magic glowing orbs before her. The texture of the wings and feathers are unlike anything I would have imagined, and therefor more believable, to me, as something of another world. It is a dark angel, with what might be horns. ..

"The Dream of Angels"

"The Book of Time"
In shamanistic cultures, the shaman will often identify with a specific animal, and wear a part of that animal (including a mask element) during ceremonies, when he's trying to walk through the spiritual world. It's possible that above, the creature that is flipping the pages back and forth is taking the wings and the bird mask together as a symbol of a transcendent creature, one able to live both on earth (ground) and in the heavens, and thus a clear representative of a messenger/angel. Notice that the figure in the foreground has a skirt of feathers herself, and they are the same color as the lower half of the angel figure in the reflection--so it seems almost as if the reflection shows what is "inside" her: her human (less detailed, more generic) self, the shell or body, and her spirit, the part of her that speaks to "god," the part of her that moves the pages around, arranging the images and stories that will become the representation of what she calls her "life"--even, perhaps, taking out sheets she does not want. Choosing, thus, part of her fate, making changes, choices.

Below, Vesna imagines yet a different scenario: the life in the glass is the one society looks at, the one gazed at and pondered, preened over. It is the adult life, the life of titles and duties and struggle. A life of lists. In the foreground, however, there is something else, a more simple, yet profound emotion:

My name is Margaret, I am the second wife of Sir John Hawkins.

He is an explorer,
a soldier, a pirate, a merchant,
a ship builder.
He travels to the West Indies,
the Caribbean,
he captures people and enslaves them, he fights, he plunders enemy ships.
He is part of the conspiracy, he is a double agent. He destroys the Spanish armada. He becomes the knight.

I just wait for him.
My book of time is simple.

Some of Anne Bachelier’s games:

"Secret Games"
I'm going to recommend that you follow the link to see this image as large as it gets, to really get a feel for the size of those red-clad specters above the child's head--of the immensity of the spirit-world, against the modest corner where the walls meet, and the floor which serves as a small stage where her life flits across their games. Notice also the gold ring encircling her and the sheen of the area encircled--much like the mirror or crystal ball Bachelier often uses to show two worlds coming to meet. The three levels of the painting, spirits, child, and marionettes, give a sense of proportion to the mere, undreamed lives of humans. (As opposed to our dreamed lives, wink wink). And why are these games secret?

"Les Jeux Incertains"

"Les Mots Sortilege" (“Spell” Words)
"When I paint, I open doors...."--Anne Bachelier
Les Mots Sortilege shows how beautiful are the doors she paints, and the world that exists behind them.

“Arcane” (closed)

Arcane is a triptych, whose lovely doors open to reveal the following:

“Arcane” (open)

“Arcane,” Detail

And, as always, the doors open...

Towards a New Journey

Anne Bachelier’s website is here.Her work is currently showing at the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Views of a Crime

(by Danielle Duer)

This tale started out being called "Dream Detective," with Nick, the detective, and his client, Chloe, being introduced in Part One and Part Two. The paintings in this post, Part 3, is by Danielle Duer, whose art I discovered via ArtOdyssey.

Part III, then:

The air is filled with a dangerously medicinal-looking fog, underlit by an eldritch glow. A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird.

I feel my right brow lift, all on its own. That means I'm curious. But just as I shake off my rather slow thought-process to turn and catch her by the elbow for some questioning, I hear the same wild panting back the way she came. Something in my peripheral vision makes me stop and look back.

A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird. This time, I notice that her lips are also blue, though not the vivid blue of her gown. Her eyes are peeled wide open in shock.

I let her pass. With my right index finger, I reach up and readjust my eyebrow. Just to avoid premature wrinkles. I wait.

A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird. The bird is undisturbed by the activities it’s been forced to partake in, though its bland gaze as they pass does seem to ask why I’m not doing anything about them.

I snap out my left hand and grab her by the elbow, thinking, third time’s the charm. She immediately starts screaming, really shrieking, her eyes not even taking me in, as wide open as they are.

I let go. She reverts to her earlier behavior.

The wild panting starts up again behind me.

“Well,” I announce gruffly to myself. “This is a swell dream.” A door slams somewhere behind all that fog, unhinging my thoughts. I decide to investigate. She passes me six more times on the path before I realize that I haven’t gone anywhere. She passes to my left, I pass a scarred and blackened tree to my right. Repeat. I stop walking, never having been one to strain my body with useless exercise. Slowly, I turn around in a full circle, looking for anything solid other than the woman, her bird, and the tree. The panting starts up behind me again. A thought strikes me. My head snaps around.

“Say,” I address the bird, “you wouldn’t happen to know where she’s taking you, now, would you?”

The bird stares at me balefully.

“Chloe?” I try again. “You know anyone named Chloe?”

They pass, breathily, neither deigning to respond.

I turn in another slow circle. I mull over the situation. I would probably seek help if this were my recurring dream, too. I might have to myself, actually, if this is all that’s going to happen on this case. Surely, the girl dreams something other than this? I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my flask. Just to limber-up my mind.

Just as the flask brushes my lips, the scene goes utterly black. I can drink in the dark, but I pause anyway. Which turns out to be fortuitous, as the sky fills with an explosion that knocks me back several feet.

Metal screams and something roars, and whatever’s on fire tumbles past in front of me, so close it singes my eyelashes. I screw the top back onto my flask and tuck it away, so as not to lose anything. Then I take a deep breath and turn towards the burning car. A man races up to it from the other direction, screaming something. The sound of his voice is horrible, ragged. He lands on his knees beside the car and begins banging on one of the windows.

I draw a breath, thinking I might suggest a healthier distance from what still strikes me as an explosive device. But he gets up on his own and begins turning in broad, frantic circles.

I watch quietly.

He swoops towards the curb, picks up a large chunk of rock and comes back to hurl it at a different window, shattering the glass. Then he starts shoving himself into the car.

This is a dream, remember, and I’m here first and foremost to observe. It’s not just that I’m an asshole standing idly by while someone else goes through hell.

He drags out a small child. The child is missing important pieces, and is most certainly dead, though it takes the man an excruciatingly long time to understand that. Trying to give him some privacy, I turn away to take in the rest of the environment. It’s odd that no one else has come towards him, but even odder is that no one else is anywhere to be seen. And the street is not just full of smoke, but also enshrouded in a fog not dissimilar to that of the last scenario, with that woman and her ever-patient fowl-friend. I have a hunch there’s nothing past the fog. I visit my flask again, for courage, then take a few brave steps towards the edge of the world. But just then, the man’s voice returns in a howl of rage. The world goes black. There is a pause, in which I realize I’ve stopped breathing, and then the sky fills with an explosion.

So anyway, it’s a long, bizarre night. And this from the point of view of someone who’s daily grind is the realm of the long-winded and bizarre. Thankfully, it’s not as long as I’m sure it should have been, because my downstairs neighbor calls and interrupts at an unusually impolite hour, even for her, to complain about a leak. My leak, which has entered her apartment, by an unfortunate path ending right over her pillow.
Thus the day begins.

(by Danielle Duer)

"Comfortable, Uncomfortable"
by Danielle Duer
*Note how one eye gets up and walks away, here...Talk about a shift in perspective!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Wisdom of Dreamers

“Playing with your Heart”

“Fixing your Heart”


Skount (Raúl Garcia Pereira) is an artist in the fullest sense of the word--he’s studied culinary arts, makes music, and draws or paints all over whatever material he can get his hands on. He started in his pre-teens, with the discovery of a piece of graffiti in his hometown. He realized that art was everywhere, and that he, too, could make it, and he embarked on an exploration of that realization, becoming one of the most well-known graffiti artists in Spain, later traveling all over the world to create commissioned works.

graffiti by Skount

“Open to Fix Me”

Graffiti is an interesting sector of the art world, as it democratizes the field in that materials are very cheap: the canvas is free, and the spray paint needs no brushes or other tools. The art form itself sounds more than a little Buddhist, as well, when you hear Skount describe it: “A graffiti on a wall can last an hour, a week, or months. You never know. It’s just a part of the deal. You either accept that or you don’t paint.” That’s not always because of cleaning crews, either. Sometimes, in spots that will receive a lot of attention, new artists will come along and cover someone else’s work with their own. So the act of creation is often the entire experience, as the “proof” of much of a graffiti-artist’s work will disappear quickly, like the sand-paintings created by Tibetan monks, which are softly blown into the wind once completed. And as you can see from the above images, Skount is big on the detail of textures; his works seem like they would take a good long while to create.

The politics of ownership being what they are, however, graffiti, which in Barcelona (where he was based) was a respected, popular art form in the early 1990s, hit a patch of nasty legal trouble. The government passed a law banning all graffiti, as well as skateboarding and other cheap public activities, and the murals began disappearing faster than ever. Some photographers got together and made an attempt to record the art before it was destroyed, and put together a book called Barcelona 1000 Graffitis, in which professor Josep Maria Catala, of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, reminds us that painting started out on walls, long before there was canvas. The 2002 discovery of an intact Mayan mural from AD. 100 speaks to that claim, as do ancient cave paintings discovered near Tarn-et-Garonne, France. According to Wikipedia,

“The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments, examples of which also survive in Egypt...Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love declarations, political rhetoric, and simple words of thought ...The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, including Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life.”
“....It was not only the Greeks and Romans that produced graffiti: the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala also contains ancient examples. Viking graffiti survive in Rome and at Newgrange Mound in Ireland, and a Varangian scratched his name (Halvdan) in runes on a banister in the Hagia Sophia at Constantinople.These early forms of graffiti have contributed to the understanding of lifestyles and languages of past cultures.”

Perhaps in response to the suddenly aggressive government censorship (he was himself arrested), Skount created the Caonima Dragon:

“Caonima Dragon”

In the Chinese language, a word can have many connotations, with the distinctions being made via intonation. Cao Ni Ma is a combination of Chinese characters which spell “Grass-Mud Horse,” but its pronunciation sounds very much like a nasty obscenity. The Grass-Mud Horse is a type of mythical Alpaca, created by Chinese net-users as a protest against government censorship. Because the word is spelled innocently, the censors did not pick it up. Thus a YouTube recording of a song telling the tale of the Cao Ni Ma and its “river-crab” (a homonym of “harmony,” net-speak for censorship) predator was able to spread like a virus on the web, making it into a New York Times article, and humiliating Chinese officials in a very public arraignment of their censorship policies (which covered everything, even cell-phone text messages). The image above grafts the Caonima with a dragon, which may be representative of the success of that campaign--how simple words (like the collage of newsprint making up its body) grew into such a powerful beast, and also how useless is the attempt to squash language, such an endlessly creative tool. In Asian cultures, the dragon, a benevolent force, is “associated with wisdom—often said to be wiser than humans—and longevity (Wikipedia),” thus underscoring the presence of those two attributes in the opposition groups.

On the other hand, he also reminds us that not all words found on the internet spring from wisdom:


Here’s a video of Skount with fellow street artist Btoy, constructing and spray-painting a large cube on a city square in Barcelona. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, insane painting occurs about 2 minutes in.

Skount’s appreciation of nature:

“Invoking Nature”

“Princess of Spring”

“Prince of Summer”

It was not his graffiti which caught my eye, however, as I am nowhere near the cultural centers where this kind of activity might take place (he’s absolutely welcome to come paint on the side of my house, though, please). It was his works on paper (also shown above) and his collages that I fell in love with. Skount divides people into four categories: those who need everyone to look at them, those who need someone to look at them, those who need only the one they love to look at them, and those who live for the imaginary gaze of imaginary others. He calls those in the last group the soñadores, the dreamers. And he is one.

He says,
“Dreams are not just a message (a coded message, at that), but also an aesthetic activity, a game of the imagination that has its own value. Dreams are proof that fantasies--emotional immersion in the visualization of events that have never and may never occur-- are one of the profoundest necessities for human life...The characters that come from my imagination are my own possibilities, those that never came to bear, or those still on my horizon...” (translation mine)

And he has found a way to give those fleeting, intangible characters--those missed, impossible, or yet-to-be-born characters--life.

“Adorando mi Corazon Hilado”