Re(d)Generation: Renewing the Heartbeat of the Earth

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Dancing Earth is an Indigenous dance collective based in Santa Fe, NM, which has been gracing stages around the world for more than a decade with their spectacular shows. Founding director and choreographer, Rulan Tangen, is the visionary behind Dancing Earth’s visually eloquent and emotionally moving productions. What is most remarkable about these performances, on which Tangen collaborates with an array of talented dancers, musicians, and artists, is not only their beauty but also the way in which they perfectly balance the contemporary with the traditional.

The clip that I recorded at the Gammage Auditorium, which is located on the Arizona State University campus in the City of Tempe is a mere glimpse into a poignant production titled Re(d)Generation. For those unfamiliar with Dancing Earth, the performance may strike one as incomprehensible as “Indian dancing,” particularly if one is acquainted with pow-wow dancing, or the assortment of traditional American Indian dances performed at, say, the Heard Museum’s annual Hoop Dance competition or the Saturday morning demonstrations of ceremonial dance at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center.

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As I stated above, Dancing Earth perfectly blends the contemporary with the traditional. More specifically, Tangen and her dancers express very ancient beliefs, recounted in oral traditions, about the earth as a living being in the undulating forms of modern dance. With that in mind, what you may see in the video clip is an evocation of the earth as a place of animate beings, be they plant, animal, or mineral, which are all alive with the impulse of life and movement. The heartbeat of the earth is the most fundamental rhythm, which generates the Epic of Life, in which everything has a place, a conscience, and a way of moving. In closing, I honestly believe that what I saw on stage Wednesday morning, April 20, 2016 was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. For more about Dancing Earth, see http://www.dancingearth.org/

The Feminine and the Sublime: ‘Dark Star: H R Giger’s World’

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Image credit: H R Giger

Every artist generates a different set of experiences and memories, depending on when one encounters a given artist’s work for the first time. In the case of Hansruedi Giger, one will likely recognize him for designing the queen mother Alien featured to astounding affect in Ridley Scott’s iconic 1979 film, which, of course, haunted various sequels and spinoffs, not mention appearing in other media, such as graphic novels. As for Giger’s accomplishments as an artist, one may also bring to mind the cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1973 prog-rock album Brain Salad Surgery, which, in my opinion, wasn’t metal enough for such splendid Gigerian imagery. Speaking of which, one may also recall Giger’s cover art for the June 1980 issue of Heavy Metal Magazine or the Giger gallery contained in the June 1982 issue. With respect to album cover art, Giger did get more metal by doing covers for Celtic Frost, Danzig, and Triptykon, while availing his genius to the likes of Debbie Harry’s 1981 Koo Koo and The Dead Kennedys’ 1985 Frankenchrist.

In the case of Belinda Sallin’s 2014 documentary, the Swiss artist is filmed at his home and at various exhibit openings and book signings, in which he’s clearly adored. In fact, in a later scene in which various bearded, pierced, and tattooed men and women line up to get their hero’s autograph, one can easily say that Giger is also worshipped. As for the rest of the film, it’s a fascinating portrayal of the man behind the archetypal images. However, Sallin’s film is less a biography and more of an interpretation of artist and work. One does learn something of Giger’s childhood, including his early fascination with death, in addition to a life-changing tragedy that befell his first wife. Moreover, the film shows on-camera anecdotes and reflections from a wide and interesting assortment of friends, collaborators, and devotees. Among the more intriguing comments are those offered by his wife and partner Carmen Maria Giger, who directs the H R Giger Museum, and Stanislav Grof, psychiatrist, medical philosopher, and longtime friend. As for Giger himself, he’s sufficiently brilliant and a bit creepy. In the end, if you love Giger’s work, then you’ll this homage to his legacy. Indeed, the scenes in which one can watch Giger creating are truly captivating.

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Image credit: Belinda Sallin

“I Will Never Forgive Any Of You”: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Penance’

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Penance (2012) is a five-part miniseries about the murder of Emili Adachi, who’s lured to the school gymnasium by an unidentified man, while Emili’s four playmates watch from afar as their young friend is led to her death. Asako Adachi, Emili’s mother, played with subtle mastery by Kyoko Kuizumi (Tokyo Sonata, 2008), is inconsolable as her daughter’s murder remains unsolved months later, in spite of the four girls who saw the killer’s face. Under the pretense of Emili’s birthday, the four reluctant witnesses are invited to Asako’s home, where they are confronted with Kyoko’s grief and anger, condemning each of the four girls to a life of paying penance for allowing her daughter’s murderer to get away with his unforgiveable crime.

Ostensibly, what ensues from Kyoko’s moral indictment of the four girls’ complicity in Emili’s death, is how each girl endures the psychological burden of betraying their slaughtered classmate and her mother. More specifically, each of the first four episodes focuses on how Sae Kikuchi (played by Yu Aoi), Maki Shinohara (played by Eiko Koike), Akiko Takano (played by Sakura Ando), and Yuka Ogawa (played by Chizuru Ikewaki) have lived with their guilt fifteen years later. All of them have been traumatized and have lived with the consequences of this trauma until it has infected every part of their being. However, it would be unfair to say that Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s story is based on a simplistic cause-and-effect notion of karma. On the contrary, what unfolds in the four narratives—the fifth is reserved for Emili’s mother—is a complex story, and character analysis, of how Japanese women survive, yet are ravished, by a society that values order and decorum above all else, even if it means coercing people, such as Emili’s playmates, into silence about the abuse, agony, violence and distress they witness and undergo in their own lives.

I have been watching Kurosawa’s work for several years now and have always admired the thoughtful and stylish way in which he tells his stories, especially in Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001). More so in Penance than in any of his previous works does Kurosawa display his admiration for the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Yasujiro Ozu. By this I mean Kurosawa has developed his own unique combination of showing sympathy for the lives of ordinary people while turning his fascination with the dark side of their personalities into a compelling sense of drama and the horror of realizing that the real monsters we need to fear are ones that dwell within human nature.

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Anything But Weird: My Visit to the Portland Art Museum

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Image credit: David Martínez

Sitting at the end of the Oregon Trail in downtown Portland, not far from the Williamette River, in the heart of Chinook Indian Country, is the Portland Art Museum. Locally referred to as “PAM,” the museum was founded in 1892, making it the oldest such institution in the American West. When I visited across two days, April 10-11, 2015, the galleries, including a special exhibit titled “Italian Style, Fashion Since 1945,” spanned three stories. Comparable to other regional museums, such as the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, PAM strives at providing visitors with a carefully curated array of lesser works by historically important artists, in addition to exemplary works by unknowns, a collection of Asian art and artifacts, not to mention regional settler-colonial American art (featuring Oregon sculptor Chris Antemann), and what strives at being a comprehensive collection of Indigenous art (primarily from North America, including México).

Like many museums in mid-size cities, PAM aspires at mimicking the magic of loftier collections, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum or the Chicago Art Institute, without (hopefully) losing its connection to local communities. As a tourist, I can sincerely say that I enjoyed my visits, even though as I strolled through the European galleries I felt myself yearning for the Louvre, which I visited a few short weeks earlier. However, the one space in which I didn’t find myself comparing PAM’s exhibits to more prestigious establishments was in the Native American gallery, especially when I was looking at the Pacific Northwest Coast collection. While I’m unaware of which items on display are actually indigenous to what is today the state of Oregon, I nonetheless experienced an authentic connection between work and place, which was accomplished in a different way when looking at works by local non-indigenous artists. An unexpected delight was an exhibit titled “Breaking Barriers: Japanese Women print Artists, 1950-2000.” I was particular enchanted by the work of Oda Mayumi, whose goddess images are powerful and lyrical expressions of the feminine spirit inherent throughout nature and the cosmos. In the end, as I headed across the street to the Behind the Museum Café, I felt satisfied.

Medieval Beauty in the Heart of a Modern City: My First Visit to La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

 

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Appropriately enough my wife Sharon and I paid our first visit to Notre Dame on a Sunday during what was also our first visit to Paris. While fully aware, based on the friendly advice of Parisian friends, that Paris is much more than its “tourist attractions,” we nonetheless felt drawn toward the medieval heart of this very modern and secular metropolis. Neither of us are Christian, however, both of us—like countless people around the world—grew up hearing about this legendary place. So, we simply wanted to see it with our own eyes.

What we saw that morning was simply magnificent! For me the source of my experience wasn’t in Notre Dame’s relationship to the biblical God but to beauty and grace—it was the aesthetic experience that filled my heart with joy. The high ceilings, the stained glass windows, the carvings, statuary, and paintings, which transformed the interior of this church into a world unto itself, left my eyes straining to take it all in. It was like slaking a thirst I didn’t even know I had until I was here. However, the experience was more than visual. At the same time a mass was underway the perimeter of the cathedral was swarming with visitors, silently watching the ritual, taking pictures, occasionally lighting a candle (including making the suggested donation), then moving on. The mass in turn was performed flawlessly as word, music, and ceremony came together in an orderly universe of Catholic worship.

Then there was the journey up to the top of the tower where the gargoyles keep their watch over the city. You stand in a line outside of the cathedral, which moves sporadically until you’re finally let into the tower’s entrance. You climb several stairs to a room where you wait, buy souvenirs, and tickets (unless you have a Paris Museum Pass). From there it’s a long steep climb up, nearly 400 steps in all in a narrow spiraling stairwell. As for the view, even in a modern world of skyscrapers, the view from atop Notre Dame is nothing short of extraordinary! It is from this vantage point that you can finally appreciate why this place, not just the building, is so special. As you see Sacré Cœur and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, as well as the Seine and the city below, you may sense as I did that you’re in a space whose sanctity extends deep into the earth below and goes back innumerable generations into the mythic past. I hope my photographs do this place some justice. Please click on the picture above to see more. Thank you!

“We’ll Always Have Paris”: Seeing the Louvre for the First Time

 

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Although I have wanted to travel to Paris my whole life I didn’t make it there until very recently when I took my wife Sharon on what was our first trip together to this wondrous place. She had never been there before either, so we shared in the excitement of seeing this city for the first time.

Inevitably we went to the Louvre. In fact, it was the one thing that I wanted to do most of all. So, on Friday morning we took a taxi from the Hotel Joyce on Rue La Bruyère to Le Musée du Louvre along the Seine. Almost simultaneously, as we rode into the rotary around La Pyramide Inversée, we spotted the famed Louvre pyramid on our left and the Eiffel Tower in the distance to our right. I couldn’t believe we were finally here!

Fortunately, when we got in line we went in swiftly with our Paris Museum Passes, which we purchased at the Charles De Gaulle airport upon our arrival. Then, after checking in our coats and backpacks—which you do at separate counters—we looked at our museum map, then headed up the Denon entryway in pursuit of the Italian Renaissance galleries and the Mona Lisa. What we saw first made my heart beat faster. It was the Winged Victory of Samothrace! There she stood at the top of a wide staircase, bathed in light and splendor.

In a very peculiar sense going to the Louvre was comparable to my first trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Allow me to explain. They are both places that have lived in my imagination since childhood. They are also places whose images have inundated my visual world for so long that the idea of going to see them in person was going to see something that I thought was abundantly familiar. However, when you finally see them in person you realize in a wave of amazement that none of the countless photos and videos do justice to the lived experience. In the case of the Louvre, and my initial moment before the Winged Victory Samothrace, I was seeing this with newborn vision. In a word, I was awestruck! Indeed, that feeling of genuine wonder stayed with me throughout all the galleries, from the ancient Greek sculptures to the Flemish and German paintings.

As for Da Vinci’s “La Joconde,” of course I had long heard about how you will be disappointed with how small it is in actuality. Consequently, I did not enter the first floor gallery expecting a life-size image, but rather the 77 X 53 cm painting I had read about, in addition to seeing in art history books. What I did not anticipate was the radiant energy this otherwise modest work emitted from behind its glass encasement. The “Mona Lisa, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo” is displayed in the middle of a large gallery, surrounded by dozens of other 16th century works. Yet, there was only one image in that room that everyone wanted to see, and it was hers. So, no, I was not disappointed by this nor any other facet of my first trip to the Louvre. On the contrary, it left me wanting to return to Paris as soon as possible.  In the meantime, please click on the link below, which will take you to a flickr album I created, where you can see several more photos I took during my transformative visit.  Thank you.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ndnthinker/sets/72157676692772101/page1/

Tuesday Morning in America: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

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Image Source: Grave of the Fireflies

It’s Tuesday, August 6 from one end of the continental United States to the other. However, on the other side of the globe, it’s presently the early hours of Wednesday, August 7. I’m specifically thinking of Hiroshima, Japan, where the 69th anniversary of the Atomic Bomb catastrophe was remembered in an annual public ceremony. A year ago at this time I gave a public lecture titled “The Land Tells Us Who We Are: Manifest Destiny and the Aesthetics of Indigenous Resistance,” which I delivered at the main branch of the Minneapolis Public Library. While my talk was about how American Indian survival from and resistance to American settler-colonial imperialism was reflected in the works of an ongoing art exhibit, I took a moment to reflect on the intersection of Japanese and American Indian history as targets of American political-military aggression:

“As I’m writing these words I’m listening to Mamoru Samurogochi’s first symphony, which he titled “Hiroshima.” As I’m speaking these words to you tonight, it’s the sixty-eighth anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. For the Japanese the bombings unleashed a horrific devastation, killing countless thousands of non-combatants. For the international community, the bombings initiated a cold war, an arms race, and the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation. For the Americans, the bombings were a strategic and moral necessity, which signified more than victory over Japan; they ushered in an era of American dominance as a global economic and military super power. But what of the American Indians who fought bravely on behalf of the US? As has been well documented, the end of World War Two inaugurated an epoch of termination and relocation, as tribal sovereignty, in addition to language and tradition, saw a precipitous decline, which would take at least a generation to slow down.”

Samurogochi, as many know now, was not the composer he claimed to be, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, the music still evokes a point in time, August 6, 1945, when America unleashed a wave of devastation that was felt far beyond Hiroshima, and Nagasaki three days later, and far beyond the war it brought to an end. We’re still living in a world defined by Cold War political and technological paradigms of domination, complete with heavily armed nation-states oppressing the needs and rights of minority and tribal groups.

Japan Times: Hiroshima marks 69th anniversary of atomic bombing