18 February 2008

Huxley's 'Island'

Shiva Nataraja
"Nataraja at play among the stars and in the atoms. But also," he added, "also at play within every living thing, every sentient creature, every child and man and woman. Play for play's sake. But now the playground is conscious, the dance floor is capable of suffering. To us, this play without purpose seems a kind of insult. What we would really like is a God who never destroys what he has created. Or if there must be pain and death, let them be meted out by a God of righteousness, who will punish the wicked and reward the good with everlasting happiness. But in fact the good get hurt, the innocent suffer. Then let there be a God who sympathizes and brings comfort. But Nataraja only dances. His play is a play impartially of death and of life, of all evils as well as of all goods."

- Island, p205

In my experience, the greatest works of art (or at least those which I consider the greatest, everything here being the result of my highly subjective personal opinion) have in them in the ability to create distinctly opposing impressions in the viewer/reader. One finds oneself presented with the view of human existence as ultimately insufferable, bleak and possibly meaningless and yet, at the same time, vastly beautiful with the possibility of self-transcendence.

On the usage of entheogens (referred to as 'moksha-medicine'):

"You're assuming," said Dr. Robert, "that the brain produces consciousness. I'm assuming that it transmits consciousness. And my explanation is no more farfetched than yours. How on earth can a set of events belonging to one order be experienced as a set of events belonging to an entirely different and incommensurable order? Nobody has the faintest idea. All one can do is accept the facts and concoct hypotheses. And one hypothesis is just about as good, philosophically speaking, as another. You say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which causes them to produce a set of subjective events to which people have given the name 'mystical experience.' I say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which opens some kind of neurological sluice and so allows a larger volume of Mind with a large 'M' to flow into your mind with a small 'm'."

- Island, p168

I often wonder if this has something to do with the fact that, in its highest forms, art has the capability to offer us an experience of reality that is unadulterated by the filter of our intellectual mind - which compulsively compartmentalizes and verbally labels every facet of human experience. I think that art can potentially offer us an experience that is beyond our mundane dualistic experience by unifying opposites in a greater whole - reminding us that they way our intellect perceives things may not necessarily be the only way, nor is it a complete apprehension of reality and experience. In short, I think that art offers us a glimpse of the totality of human experience.

On living in the present:

"No Alcatrazes here," she said. "No Billy Grahams or Mao Tse-tungs or Madonnas of Fatima. No hells on earth and no Christian pie in the sky, no Communist pie in the twenty-second century. Just men and women and their children trying to make the best of the here and now, instead of living somewhere else, as you people mostly do, in some other time, some other homemade imaginary universe. And it really isn't your fault. You're almost compelled to live that way because the present is so frustrating. And it's frustrating because you've never been taught how to bridge the gap between theory and practice, between your New Year's resolutions and your actual behaviour."

- Island, p114

I mention all this because I have just finished reading Aldous Huxley's final novel, Island and it provoked such a response from me. I was deeply moved by it, but in equal parts I felt both hope and despair with regards to humanity and its potential. Somewhere along the line, I got tired of reading dystopian fiction in the vein of We and thought it would be nice to pick up a book that dealt with a utopian society for a change. I was a little worried that such a novel would be excessively preachy and unrealistic, and while Island seemed to show small signs of these in the beginning, I have to say that by the end it all works out remarkably well. Utopianism viewed through the eyes of a world-weary cynical protagonist, who struggles to reconcile the joys of a simple life with the "Essential Horror" of death and human suffering. Huxley leaves no stone unturned in this argument - nor does he offer a solid, final answer; just a series of very interesting possibilities. Which is really what I liked best about this book. On the fictional island of Pala, human society manages to find a balance between hedonism and asceticism, between the philosophies of East and West, between science and religion.

On faith:

"Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalysed words much too seriously. Paul's words, Mohammed's words, Marx's words, Hitler's words - people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history - sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending to the victims of their own church's inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief."

- Island, p43

Island manages to be beautifully idealistic but with it's feet on solid ground. Not for a moment is any tenet of Palanese philosophy left untested or unchallenged. It really does seem like a lot of the material from this book comes from Huxley's personal life experience (and that makes me wonder just how incredible his own life must have been). Because it isn't just a nice collection of thoughts about what reality should, could or might be, but rather the book is an active dialogue between living life in a holistic manner versus the constant experience of anxiety and despair through an inability to deal with transience and sorrow. As per the Four Noble Truths, sorrow exists. But so does the ending of sorrow.


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16 February 2008

Misha Gordin

7. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Finding my own path and following it.

8. What advice would you give to up- coming photographers looking to define their own style?
Be careful when choosing your teacher. If you have real talent you might not need one.

9. After developing a body of work that reflects your personal thoughts and feelings, what has your photography taught you about yourself?
That I am a simple man trusting his intuition.

- Misha Gordin in this interview

Truly, I don't know what I can say about Mischa Gordin other than that I am in complete and total awe of his work. Both technically and conceptually it is some of the most brilliant photography I have ever encountered in my life. The worlds he creates with photography are breathtaking in their strangeness and beauty and for me they bear much resemblance to the images of the Tarot and alchemical illustrations. This is a man who truly understands symbolism and employs it in a very direct sense - it's not just an intellectual form of symbolism in which each symbol equates a certain verbal meaning. Rather, his images transcend all words and theory and encountering them is really an experience and not just an exercise in modern art criticism. Prophecy Renunciation
"The real power of photography emerges when altered reality is presented as existent and is expected to be perceived as such. An obviously manipulated image is a trick that shows a lack of understanding of the unique power of photography - the belief engraved in our subconscious that what was captured by the camera has to exist. In the best examples of successfully manipulated images the question "Is it real?" does not arise."

- Misha Gordin in his statement
Saturation New Crowd I think he has some really fresh, practical and nonconformist ideas on art and photography. Apart from that I like the fact that he seems like a pretty modest guy who, unlike most contemporary photographers, doesn't over-rely on theory. In fact for images so dense, rich and alive, I would say he's really light on theory. And of course, the most amazing thing about his photos - they are all assembled and printed manually in a traditional darkroom! Crowd Doubt Fallen
"The power of a good image comes from its soul no matter if this soul is analog or digital."

- Misha Gordin in his statement

Also, his commercial work is fantastic and really blurs the line between commercial and fine art. Check out his website at bsimple.com. Also be sure to check out his Shadows of the Dream series, which is where the first 4 images in this entry are from.


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09 February 2008


"It's like we all know way down in our souls that our generation is going to witness the end of everything. You can see it in our eyes."

- Dark in Nowhere

I totally didn't expect it, but I really liked Gregg Araki's Nowhere. It's the first Araki film I've seen. I'd heard a lot about his films prior to seeing this and they really didn't sound like anything I'd like, so I am quite pleasantly surprised by this one. Bart in his room Dark in his room I really loved the cinematography, production design and especially the music - which is pretty much everything 90s from a pretty decent Hole track, to Sonic Youth, to two of my favourite Filter songs off their debut Short Bus. The music goes so well with whatever's on screen that it would really be an effort not to enjoy this film. Well, in the beginning at least. Mid-way it starts to get depressing when bad things start happening and people start dying. Montgomery Bart Araki's sense of humour is wild, really, and that's what drew me to this film in the first place. I saw this ridiculous clip from The Doom Generation (which, incidentally, I have always wanted to watch since first hearing of it when I was 10) and knew that I simply had to get my hands on his films. What I really didn't expect though, was for the film to have any kind of real core or substance (which I think is nicely encapsulated by the quote from the protagonist Dark at the beginning of this post). In Araki's own words:
"Nowhere manages to have its subversive cake and eat it too. Its surface is very pop, supersaturated colour, like Clueless. But in its soul, it has a lot more on its mind. I didn't want to make an ugly, gritty movie like Kids. I wanted to talk about these kids living on the edge of oblivion, but I wanted to do it in an MTV language. I wanted it to mesmerize."

- Gregg Araki in this interview
Bart's parents Bart
"I approach films in the way a musician approaches music. It's just my means of expression, my chosen medium. I'm not out to produce propaganda for any sort of movement or political agenda. I think at some point that's when people get frustrated, because I don't have their political agendas in mind. I have my own agenda, which is to express myself via the medium of film. I'm an artist, not a politician."

- Gregg Araki in this interview
Dark & Montgomery The film is available now in its entirety on youtube. Which is excellent because I may have never seen it otherwise. Check out the first of nine parts here.


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08 February 2008

Bergman's 'Silence'

Johan and an endless line of tanks I don't think I can ever forget the desperate, oppressive atmosphere of The Silence. Sometime last July, I felt like watching nothing but Bergman films for some reason, and that's when I happened upon this film.

Two sisters, Ester and Anna and Anna's son Johan (a boy of about ten or twelve), stop at an unnamed European country on the brink of war. Ester is suffering from a terminal illness and struggles to come to terms with her impending death while Anna takes a new lover, neglecting Johan and leaving him to wander the hotel where he crashes a midget party. Ester on her deathbed An exceedingly strange film - without a doubt one of the strangest I have ever seen. Ester and Anna seem to represent two approaches to life - or perhaps one could even go further and say that they are the personifications of spirit and flesh respectively. Ester is grasping for some sort of meaning, logic, explanation of her life and her suffering while Anna indulges in pain and pleasure in whatever forms she finds them. Both sisters seem to be at the end of their lives in a way - there is a certain desperation about the way they conduct themselves. A tank in the street The atmosphere of complete chaos, degeneration and decay is perfectly conveyed and adds to the desperation of their sisters. Both act from their most fundamental instincts, but while Ester seems to find some sort of absolution in the end (and she passes this on to Johan), Anna is as lost as ever. Anna and her lover


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The United States of Leland

Leland and Becky Has anyone seen The United States of Leland? I sought it out mainly because it's the only film that (possibly my favourite musician in the world) Jeremy Enigk has scored - and I must say he did a damn good job of it too. Unfortunately the soundtrack was never released, and I think it may have had something to do with it not being commercially viable enough for the label to want to release it. Which is really such a shame considering that Set It On Fire is the song that made me fall completely in love with Enigk's music. There are also a couple of Pixies' songs in there too - 'Gigantic' and 'Hangwire'. Leland Aside from music though, Leland is a quite a strange and unique film, though it really doesn't seem so on the surface as it is cinematographically quite ordinary. Understandably, it's been compared to Donnie Darko but I really think that this film is a whole different animal.

Basically, Leland murders a retarded child and claims to have no memory of the event, or of why he did it. He is sent to prison to await trial and his teacher (an aspiring author) there tries to make sense of his crime while at the same time attempting to write a book about him. As with every good film, the minute details of the plot aren't really key to getting to the heart of the film. Leland has an atmosphere that is as full of sorrow as it is of beauty - and is as much an exploration of human strength as it is of human frailty. It's a film I find so difficult to talk about because it hit me on a very fundamental level and it's really films like these that remind me how powerful art is when it comes to sharing human experience. Leland & Ryan In Leland I found a very unique expression of a simple human inability to deal with transience and the sadness behind things - and this was really well-illustrated by Leland's encounter with the Calderon family. Sure, there are a lot of films that deal with similar themes, but I'd never before seen a film that was so close to my own personal experience of transience. By the end of the film, we see how Leland has become so acutely aware of the human suffering and sadness in every experience that it makes him unable to function normally. The film doesn't really offer any real kind of resolution to this but it does manage to offer a lot of hope, in spite of the bleak subject matter. I wonder why writer/director Matthew Ryan Hoge hasn't done anything since.


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06 February 2008

Bill Viola's 'Anthem'

"Anthem is a post-industrial lamentation, structured on the single piercing scream of a young girl as she stands in the vast chamber of Union Station in Los Angeles. Viola relates this structure to the form and function of religious chants, particularly Gregorian chants (using a harmonic scale in a resonant hall) and Tantric Buddhist chants (ritual exorcism and conversation with demons). The original scream is extended in time and shifted in frequency to produce a scale of harmonic notes that comprises the soundtrack, to which Viola juxtaposes images of materialism -- industry and the worship of the body, giant oil pumps and the beating human heart, cars streaming along a freeway and blood flowing through veins, modern surgical technology and tree branches in an ancient forest. The anguished scream cuts through the corporeality of the body and contemporary culture as a living organism. For Viola, the piece is a ritual evocation of 'our deepest primal fears, darkness, and the separation of body and spirit.'"

- Electronic Arts Intermix
Just watch it.


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04 February 2008

Bill Viola + Nine Inch Nails

The Great Below I first encountered Bill Viola's work unknowingly, through this very image in the teaser for Nine Inch Nails' Still album. I really, really love the video pieces he made projected in the background of La Mer, The Great Below and The Mark Has Been Made during the Fragility tour. The image above is part of an incredibly beautiful sequence shot in poppy fields. The Great Below La Mer I've always really loved the aesthetics of The Fragile and La Mer and The Great Below are two of my favourite songs on that record. It's wonderful to see the sentiment in the music both reflected and complemented so well by gorgeous visuals. La Mer The Great Below
"I wanted to let the images actually provide a base for the music. I'm really not interested in illustrating music and certainly not in cutting on the beat or throwing in every little movement in the song. I think images can function, in contrast to a lot of music videos ... as kind of a base or a steady state that allows the music to flow and ebb and crest over the top of it."

- Bill Viola in the DVD commentary on And All That Could Have Been
The Great Below The Great Below One of the last few images from The Great Below and also one of the strongest and most enigmatic. Viola talks about how this is an image "of ascension... into another world, another state". Interesting, considering that it reminds me a lot of The Hanged Man of the tarot. Check out the videos:

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Chris Jordan's 'Intolerable Beauty'

Cell phone chargers, Atlanta 2004 I never expected to like Chris Jordan, but I do. His work is current, terrifying - probably taking what Koyaanisqatsi deals with a step further. I think it's an example of really good 'political' (for lack of a better word, really) art and I find such art quite necessary. Circuit boards, Atlanta 2004 Scrap Metal, Seattle 2003
"The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits."

- Chris Jordan in his artist statement for Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption
Spent bullet casings, 2005 Chassis Yard #2, Tacoma 2004
"As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action. So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake."

- Chris Jordan in his artist statement for Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption
Grain silo, Seattle 2004


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03 February 2008


v7246769 Koyaanisqatsi is truly an extraordinary film. I just finished watching it again and found it to be moving and rather overwhelming. It's interesting because you're confronted with images of industrial society that you aren't usually accustomed to - images that (at least to me) make our civilization seem incredibly inhuman and life-denying. So throughout the film, my inner monologue was pretty much something like this: Is this really how we're living? Could it really be this bad? Why isn't anyone doing anything about it? How can human beings live like this? No wonder I feel like shit all the time! v7244648
"We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive...There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive."

- from the film's official site.
v7232294 Growing up on a diet of bad Hollywood films thanks to bad local TV programming (and later on HBO Asia), I always wondered why more creative use wasn't made of the moving image. So many movies are really no more than filmed plays, and I began to search for films that would approach this ideal I had in my head of 'pure cinema' which was aware of painting and photography and was not simply theater adapted to the screen. Films that truly utilized the moving image in order to transmit direct experience to the viewer - after all film is a medium which closely resembles our human experience. And so I was led to this film.
In an incredibly lucid interview on the DVD, director Godfrey Reggio mentions that the whole point of the film is to present the viewer with an such an experience - doing away with the medium of language. He also mentions the importance of raising questions. With those two things in mind, I feel the film is really a huge success. Like I mentioned earlier, I was pretty overwhelmed by the sped-up images of factory production lines, freeways, heavy traffic and commuters all in rapid succession. v7242123 v7237216 v7233224
"Could it be that our language is no longer capable of describing the world in which we live? Perhaps, the world we see with old eyes and antique ideas is no longer present. Do we inhabit a technological universe the laws of which are unknown? The world we see is being left behind.

A new untellable world is unfolding. As the human race accelerates into the twenty-first century, we enter a virtual, digital environment, a world where far and near, past, present and future are simultaneous realities. The human center of gravity seems to be blasted into the void."

- from the film's official site
v7242674 v7246574 v7243538 What an exceedingly strange civilization it is that we are a part of.


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First post

I'm really glad to finally have this thing up and running. I've been thinking about setting up one of these for a long time now, since my basic impulse when I discover great art is to share it with everyone I know (sometimes to the annoyance of those around me).

Since I finally had some free time and actually felt like designing a website, I pulled this together in the last couple of days. Comments are disabled for now, since I've never seen the point of those in public blogs anyway (and Blogger has been enough of a headache). E-mail feedback is a better idea.

Oh, and I'm not going to pretend I write well. Everything expressed here is purely the result of my highly subjective human experience and I just thought it would be cool to have a place to talk about the things I really love or that have affected me. Somehow that seems important for now.

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Art & artists I love, like or just feel like posting about. Including (but not limited to) painting, photography, illustration, cinema, music videos, books and web design. Mouseover images for titles, or click through to the Flickr account for some extra images.

My name is Abigail and you can find out more about me here. Also you can email me here.
Recent Posts
Ghosts I-IV
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight
Back from 3 Month Hiatus
Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison
Huxley's 'Island'
Misha Gordin
Bergman's 'Silence'
The United States of Leland
Bill Viola's 'Anthem'
February 2008
March 2008
June 2008
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