An Ambiguous Shade of Something Else

Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe from 1983 to circa 1986

 

“Robert was not a literal person.
Everything he saw was an ambiguous shade of something else.
He was a metaphorical person. The irony was he took photography, which is a literal person’s perfect way to show life in snapshots, and raised the single frame to a metaphor.
A Mapplethorpe lily is not a lily is not a lily*.
This is trick photography shot by a trickster.
Now you see it.
Now you don’t.
Now, if you’re lucky, you do.
Senator Jesse Helms never got it.
Helms probably thought that Robert’s drop-dead flowers, always actually more explicit than his human nudes, were, uh, flowers.
And not the sex organs of plants or, omigod, phallic and vaginal symbols!
Metaphor is a problem for fundamentalists clamming up the hard shell.
Robert captured the essence of flowers, figures, faces, and fetishes so resonantly on the literal level that the very perfection of the moment frozen in the single frame caused the very being of the object to suggest its own becoming… other.
That capturing of the suggestive instant of becoming ambiguous was his existential magic.
Elegant flowers become sexual organs,
The shadow of a flower becomes the horned god.
Sexuality becomes theology.
Face becomes mask.
The mirror becomes window.
Life becomes death.
The cross becomes the crown.
Light becomes dark.
The looking glass makes the way out become the way in: the anal insertions.
This spinning ambiguity causes fear in the literal-minded who look at his single-shot metaphors…

…He intended his stills to be “moving” pictures, photographs that “moved” the viewer, through assault if necessary, for the viewer’s own good, the way one slaps someone who is hysterical.
Every Mapplethorpe photograph is a single frame in a movie, which, if it existed, would be a series of dissolves:
The lily dissolves to the genitalia,
The face to the skull,
The skull to the lily.
Although versed in film and video, Robert consciously kept with the discipline of the single-frame still camera.
Robert was a Platonist: he saw the real and he saw the ideal.”

Mapplethorpe: Assault With a Deadly Camera
Jack Fritscher

 

*Praraphrase of Gertrude Stein’s sentence “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Advertisements

The Roses as Sentimental Despair

 

The Rose VI and The Rose V, Cy Twombly, 2008

 

THE ROSES XXVI

“Infinitely at ease
despite so many risks,
with no variation
of her usual routine,
the blooming rose is the omen
of her immeasurable endurance.

Do we know how she survives?
No doubt one of her days
is all the earth and all
of our infinity.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from French by A. Poulin Jr.

 

The Rose series recall Cy Twombly‘s earlier cycle of paintings, Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair (1985), which also referred to quotations by Rilke, as well as Rumi and Giacomo Leopardi, embracing conceptions of nature dominated by its inevitable demise. Twombly’s ardent, bold, and often flamboyant use of colour has other affinities — with Andy Warhol‘s Flower series, for example, or Henri Matisse‘s late paper cut-outs. But just as the rose recurs throughout Rilke’s work as a memento mori, so does Twombly employ the motifs and conditions of the natural world to allude to the pleasure and transience of life.

Art of Dying

Psychedelic portrait of George Harrison. Richard Avedon, 1967

 

“There’ll come a time when all of us must leave here
Then nothing sister Mary can do
Will keep me here with you
As nothing in this life that I’ve been trying
Could equal or surpass the art of dying
Do you believe me?

There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading
When things that seemed so very plain
Become an awful pain
Searching for the truth among the lying
And answered when you’ve learned the art of dying

But you’re still with me
But if you want it
Then you must find it
But when you have it
There’ll be no need for it

There’ll come a time when most of us return here
Brought back by our desire to be
A perfect entity
Living through a million years of crying
Until you’ve realized the Art of Dying
Do you believe me?”

 

Art of Dying is a song by English musician George Harrison, released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It was written in 1966–67 when Harrison first became immersed in Hindu spirituality, and its subject matter is reincarnation – the “art” in question being the need to avoid rebirth, by limiting actions and thoughts whose consequences lead to one’s soul returning in another, earthbound life form. The song was co-produced by Phil Spector and features a hard-charging rock arrangement that has been described as “proto-disco”. The backing musicians include Eric Clapton and the rest of the latter’s short-lived band Derek and the Dominos, as well as Gary Wright, Billy Preston and a teenage Phil Collins playing the congas.

For the last 30 or more years of his life, George Harrison repeatedly identified his first experience of taking the hallucinogenic drug LSD, with John Lennon and their wives, as being responsible for his interest in spirituality and Hinduism. The “trip” occurred by accident in February 1965, and he later recalled a thought coming to his mind during the experience: “‘Yogis of the Himalayas.’ I don’t know why … It was like somebody was whispering to me: ‘Yogis of the Himalayas.'” But it was a visit in August 1967 to the epicentre of hippie conterculturalism, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, that then persuaded him to abandon LSD and pursue a spiritual path through meditation.

The mention of “Sister Mary” refers to the Catholic faith in which Harrison had been brought up as a child. Speaking to author Peter Doggett, Harrison’s sister Louise qualified his embracing of Hinduism with regard to his upbringing: “Our family were Catholics, but we always had a global outlook. We were spiritual, not religious as such. George didn’t change as a person after he went to India [in 1966] …”

Rather than Sister Mary, Harrison’s original lyric named “Mr Epstein” – the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. Given this reference to Epstein, author Bruce Spizer has speculated that Harrison was “contemplating life after the Beatles” as early as mid 1966, since “most of the song’s original verses recognize that even Mr. Epstein won’t be able to keep the group together or help out when it’s over …”

As Harrison explains in his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, in most cases one’s soul does not in fact “leave here” after death, due to the karmic debt, or “load”, accrued through actions and thoughts carried out in one’s lifetime

The mention of “a million years of crying” is a reference to the endless cycle of rebirth associated with reincarnation, where the soul repeatedly fails to leave the material world and attain nirvana, otherwise known as moksha.

Since Harrison’s death in November 2001, the lyrics of Art of Dying have been much quoted as a comment on the nature of human existence.

A Tale of Ratiocination

Cabinet of Curiosities, Domenico Remps, 1690s

 
 

The Gold-Bug is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. The story is often compared with Poe’s “tales of ratiocination” as an early form of detective fiction. Poe became aware of the public’s interest in secret writing in 1840 and asked readers to challenge his skills as a code-breaker. Poe took advantage of the popularity of cryptography as he was writing The Gold-Bug, and the success of the story centers on one such cryptogram.

Poe originally sold The Gold-Bug to George Rex Graham for Graham’s Magazine for $52 but asked for it back when he heard about a writing contest sponsored by Philadelphia’s Dollar Newspaper. Incidentally, Poe did not return the money to Graham and instead offered to make it up to him with reviews he would write. Poe won the grand prize; in addition to winning $100, the story was published in two installments on June 21 and June 28, 1843, in the newspaper. His $100 payment from the newspaper may have been the most he was paid for a single work. Anticipating a positive public response, the Dollar Newspaper took out a copyright on The Gold-Bug prior to publication.

The popularity of the story also brought controversy. Within a month of its publication, Poe was accused of conspiring with the prize committee by Philadelphia’s Daily Forum. The publication called The Gold-Bug an “abortion” and “unmitigated trash” worth no more than $15. Poe filed for a libel lawsuit against editor Francis Duffee. It was later dropped and Duffee apologized for suggesting Poe did not earn the $100 prize.Editor John Du Solle accused Poe of stealing the idea for The Gold-Bug from Imogine; or the Pirate’s Treasure, a story written by a schoolgirl named Miss Sherburne.

The Gold-Bug was republished as the first story in the Wiley & Putnam collection of Poe’s Tales in June 1845, followed by The Black Cat and ten other stories. The success of this collection inspired the first French translation of The Gold-Bug published in November 1845 by Alphonse Borghers in the Revue Britannique under the title, Le Scarabée d’or, becoming the first literal translation of a Poe story into a foreign language. It was translated into Russian from that version two years later, marking Poe’s literary debut in that country. In 1856, Charles Baudelaire published his translation of the tale in the first volume of Histoires extraordinaires. Baudelaire was very influential in introducing Poe’s work to Europe and his translations became the definitive renditions throughout the continent.

 
 

Eyed Click Beetle Alaus oculatus

 
 

The actual “gold-bug” in the story is not a real insect. Instead, Poe combined characteristics of two insects found in the area where the story takes place. The Callichroma splendidum, though not technically a scarab but a species of longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae), has a gold head and slightly gold-tinted body. The black spots noted on the back of the fictional bug can be found on the Alaus oculatus, a click beetle also native to Sullivan’s Island.

Poe’s depiction of the African servant Jupiter is often considered stereotypical and racist from a modern perspective. Jupiter is depicted as superstitious and so lacking in intelligence that he cannot tell his left from his right. Poe probably included the character after being inspired by a similar character in Sheppard Lee (1836) by Robert Montgomery Bird, which he had reviewed. Black characters in fiction during this time period were not unusual, but Poe’s choice to give him a speaking role was. Critics and scholars, however, question if Jupiter’s accent was authentic or merely comic relief, suggesting it was not similar to accents used by blacks in Charleston but possibly inspired by Gullah.

The Gold-Bug includes a cipher that uses a simple substitution cipher. Though he did not invent “secret writing” or cryptography (he was probably inspired by an interest in Daniel Defoe‘s Robinson Crusoe), Poe certainly popularized it during his time. To most people in the 19th century, cryptography was mysterious and those able to break the codes were considered gifted with nearly supernatural ability. Poe had drawn attention to it as a novelty over four months in the Philadelphia publication Alexander’s Weekly Messenger in 1840.

The Gold-Bug inspired Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel about treasure-hunting, Treasure Island (1883). Stevenson acknowledged this influence: “I broke into the gallery of Mr. Poe… No doubt the skeleton [in my novel] is conveyed from Poe.”

A Miraculous Part of the Natural World

Stag Beetle, Albrecht Dürer, 1505

 
 

“It is indeed true,” wrote Albrecht Dürer, “that art is omnipresent in nature, and the true artist is he who can bring it out.” The Stag Beetle is one of Dürer’s most influential and most copied nature studies.

 
 

Stag Beetle, Hans Hoffmann after Albrecht Dürer, 1574

 
 

Georg Hoefnagel appropriate the Stag Beetle on not fewer than three occasions. Archetype studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii shows close-up portraits of plants, insects, and small animals. It initiated at the time of its publishing in 1592 (Frankfurt) an immediate admiration of the art and nature lovers. The designs were created by Georg Hoefnagel and engraved by his son, Jacob who was said to be 17-years old at the time of the publishing (in reality he was 19-years old).

 
 

Singling out a beetle as the focal point of a work of art was unprecedented in 1505, when most of Dürer’s contemporaries believed that insects were the lowest of creatures. Dürer’s keen interest in nature, however, was a typical manifestation of the Renaissance. This beetle, rendered with such care and respect, seems almost heroic as he looms above the page.

Seen up close, the creature’s legs and spiky mandibles suggest its kinship to imaginary beasts in late Gothic depictions of Hell or the temptation of Saint Anthony Abbott.

 
 

Madonna and Child with a Multitude of Animals, Albrecht Dürer, 1503

 
 
Landscape with the Virgin and child seated at centre, several animals in foreground (e.g. dog, beetle, slug, butterfly, dragonfly, fox on a leash, frog, owl in tree trunk, spider crab), an angel addressing a group of shepherds in background at right, a bay with a city in background at left

In antiquity, insects had been included in trompe l’oeil and memento mori paintings to demonstrate technical virtuosity and as symbols of evil and death, while butterflies represented transformation and resurrection. Insects in themselves were considered unworthy of consideration as subjects for painting.

By the 17th century, the obsession with natural history —and with insects as a miraculous part of the natural world— took precedence, and symbolism was left behind. Insects became subjects of study and fascination. Dürer, as always, ahead of his time, brings his masterful draughtsmanship to his watercolor, of a beetle—which he considered a finished work of art, not a study. Durer’s realistic rendering of this humble bug is a tribute to the minutest in nature, that which is often overlooked or summarily destroyed, its importance lost to ignorance or neglect.

Kaleidoscopic Entomology

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the skull scarf, Alexander McQueen presented an exclusive collaboration with Damien Hirst. The patterns have been adapted from Hirst’s Entomology series, a body of work that he began in 2009. The large scale paintings were composed from the intricate placement of butterflies, spiders and various insect species in the formation of kaleidoscopic, geometric shapes. The scarves appropriate the motifs in the organizational layout of McQueen signature skull image, another unmistakable emblem of his brand. The partnership seamlessly plays on the shared aesthetic vision of the artist and designer, in which symmetry and strong references to natural history and the environment are significant parts of their creative vision. Butterflies, bugs, spiders and other insects have been worked into each scarf design to form kaleidoscopic geometric shapes, laid out to create the signature McQueen skull motif. The collection offered 30 unique designs.

 
 

Jacob’s Ladder Skull 

 
 

Judecca

 
 

Judecca Circular 

 
 

Judecca Circular

 
 

The Shock of  the New

 
 

Persephone Butterfly

 
 

The Forgiveness Skull Butterfly Grid 

 
 

Butterfly Skull

 
 

Butterfly Circular 

 
 

God Fearing Circular

 
 

God Fearing Circular 

 
 

Full God Fearing Circular

 
 

Heaven Butterfly Grid

 
 

Green Mix Bug Skull

 
 

Cacus

 
 

Capaneus

 
 

Do You Know What I like About You Butterfly

 
 

Panegyric Skull 

 
 

Typhon Skull

 
 

Butterfly Kaleidoscope 

 
 

Psalm 113 Circular

 
 

Minos

 
 

Perfect Moment Skull

 
 

Blue Circular

 
 

Tityus Skull

 
 

Tityus Big Skull

 
 

Full Tityus Big Skull 

 
 

Magisterium Skull

Giving Birth to a New Race

“The nexus of Born This Way and the soul of the record reside in this idea that you were not necessarily born in one moment. You have your entire life to birth yourself into becoming the ultimate potential vision that you see for you. Who you are when you come out of your mother’s womb is not necessarily who you will become. Born This Way says your birth is not finite, your birth is infinite.”

Lady Gaga
(talking about the meaning of Born This Way)

 
 

 
 

The first song written and recorded for the album was the title track itself which she wrote in Liverpool and Manchester, England, described by Lady Gaga as a “magical message” song. She wrote it in ten minutes and compared the process to an Immaculate Conception.

“I want to write my this-is-who-the-fuck-I-am anthem, but I don’t want it to be hidden in poetic wizardry and metaphors. I want it to be an attack, an assault on the issue because I think, especially in today’s music, everything gets kind of washy sometimes and the message gets hidden in the lyrical play. Hankering back to the early ’90s, when Madonna, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and TLC were making very empowering music for women and the gay community and all kind of disenfranchised communities, the lyrics and the melodies were very poignant and very gospel and very spiritual and I said, ‘That’s the kind of record I need to make. That’s the record that’s going to shake up the industry.’ It’s not about the track. It’s not about the production. It’s about the song. Anyone could sing Born This Way. It could’ve been anyone.”

Nick Knight directed the accompanying music video, which was inspired by painters like Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon and their surrealistic images. Gaga is depicted as giving birth to a new race during a prologue. A series of dance sequences later, the video concludes with the view of a city populated by this race. Critics noted cultural references to the work of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Björk, late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, as well as to Greek mythology, magical realism and surrealism.

Laurieann Gibson explained the inspiration behind the video to MTV News:
“When she played it for me, it took me a while to find out the visual interpretation that I could give back to her. And so I woke up one night and I got it, and I said, ‘I got it: We have to birth a new race.’ From the gate, Gaga was like, ‘I want Nick Knight for this video. I want a visual.’ She was always birthing something visual in her head, and Nick Knight is just, well, he’s prolific but he’s so genius. It was about pushing the bar of what a music video should be and can be. […] It’s a different time; it’s a different era; there are no limits. It is a viral message. I think that there’s something in there for everyone, and that’s what’s so amazing about the video and so specific about the message.”

Released on Monday, February 28, 2011, the video begins with a brief shot of a unicorn’s silhouette in a steam-filled alley, inside a pink triangle frame. The triangle transitions to a shot of Gaga, with two opposite facing heads, inspired by Janus, the Roman god of transition and beginnings, sitting in an ornate glass throne amidst a star-filled space. As Bernard Herrmann‘s prelude to the movie Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) plays, Gaga tells the story of the creation of an extraterrestrial race that “bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom.” Gaga sits in the throne, giving birth to a “new race within the race of humanity.” She explains that this was followed by the birth of evil, due to which Gaga splits into two opposing forces of good and evil. Her new half gives birth to a machine gun and fires it. The prologue concludes with Gaga questioning, “How can I protect something so perfect, without evil?”

 
 

 
 

The video featured full-bodied tattooed model Rick Genest (Rico), better known by his stage name Zombie Boy. Gaga painted her face in a similar way to Genest, in one of the main series of sequences. She said that the sequences displayed the fact that she would not allow society or critics to dictate her sense of beauty. “I tell you what I think is beauty, and hence the scene was of me and Rico defining ourselves in artistic way and not relying on society to dictate it,” she added. The costumes for the video were designed by Nicola Formichetti, who blogged about the various designer pieces shown in it. In the opening sequence of the video, Gaga wore a head accessory by Alexis Bittar, a diamond neckpiece by Erickson Beamon with earrings by Pamela Love, and a stained-glass dress by Petra Storrs. Finger rings were provided by Erickson Beamon and chiffon clothes by Thierry Mugler. For the skeletons sequences, both she and Rico wore tuxedos by Mugler while the slime during the orgy scenes were courtesy of Bart Hess. For her Michael Jackson impression in the alley at the video’s end, Gaga wore shirt and pants by Haus of Gaga, shoes by Natacha Marro, a Billykirk belt and LaCrasia gloves.

Hells Angels and Prolific Demons

“When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets”

Hells Angels’ motto

 
 

The Hells Angels’ official website attributes the official “death’s head” insignia design to Frank Sadilek, past president of the San Francisco Chapter. The colors and shape of the early-style jacket emblem (prior to 1953) were copied from the insignias of the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron

 
 

An image of the “HAMC Death Head design” mark registered for various goods, including jewelry, by the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club

 
 

The alleged infringing “Hell’s Four Finger” Ring

 
 

“Hell’s Knuckle Duster” Clutch

 
 

Jacquard box dress

 
 

Shoes from Angels and Demons, Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2010-2011 collection

 
 

In October 2010, the Hells Angels filed a lawsuit against  Alexander McQueen for “misusing its trademark winged death heads symbol”, after the fashion house featured motifs similar to its famous winged death head. Lawyers for the motorcycle gang cited four products from the late designer’s final collection, created shortly before his suicide in February 2011.

They named the  ‘Hells Angels’ jacquard box dress, and a knuckle-duster ring in the complaint, as well as a scarf and a handbag.

The complaint argued that the symbol has been used by the Hells Angels since at least 1948, and that it is protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The lawyer representing Hells Angels claimed “This isn’t just about money, it’s about membership. If you’ve got one of these rings on, a member might get really upset that you’re an impostor.”

Twice in the weeks leading up to his death, Mr. McQueen messaged on Twitter, “Hells angels [sic] and prolific demons.” What seemed a non sequitur then appeared to be a reference to the collection he was working on, imprinted with the angels of Sandro Botticelli and the demons of Hieronymus Bosch.

In March 2007, the Hells Angels filed suit against the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group alleging that the film entitled Wild Hogs (Walt Becker, 2007) used both the name and distinctive logo of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation without permission.The suit was eventually voluntarily dismissed, after it received assurances from Disney that its references would not appear in the film.

Some Journeys

Keith Richards photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Louis Vuitton 2008 ad campaign. “Some journeys cannot be put into words. New York. 3 am. Blues in C,” runs the slogan of the ad.

 
 


The founding member of The Rolling Stones was captured in a New York hotel room that he transformed by draping black Alexander McQueen’s skull-print scarves over the lamps and placing a skull on a bedside table.

Cracked Actor Meditating Upon a Skull

David Bowie snarling and holding a skull with a rose between its teeth

 
 

Photo by Michael Tweed

 
 

David Bowie sings in concert during his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. The skull is a reference to the “Alas, poor Yorick” scene of Hamlet. Photo by Neal Preston

 
 

Cracked Actor is a song written by David Bowie, originally released on the album Aladdin Sane in April 1973.

One of the album’s hard rockers, the song is about an aging Hollywood star in an encounter with a prostitute, the chorus including various allusions to sex and drugs:

“Crack, baby, crack, show me you’re real
Smack, baby, smack, is that all that you feel
Suck, baby, suck, give me your head
Before you start professing that you’re knocking me dead…”

Rolling Stone suggested that Bowie’s goal was “to strip the subject of his validity, as he has done with the rocker, as a step towards a re-definition of these roles and his own inhabiting of them”. However NME writers Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray considered that the song “reveals little else except that Bowie’s capabilities with a mouth-harp are decidedly limited”.

Cracked Actor became a centerpiece of Bowie’s 1974 North American tour when he would perform the song wearing sunglasses and holding a skull (à la Hamlet), which he would then proceed to French kiss.

 
 

 
 

The track also gave its name to Alan Yentob‘s documentary of the tour. In 1983 Bowie revived the song and the sunglasses-and-skull routine for his Serious Moonlight Tour. The documentary depicts Bowie on tour in Los Angeles, using a mixture of documentary sequences filmed in limousines and hotels, and concert footage. Most of the concert footage was taken from a show at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on 2 September 1974. There were also excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker‘s concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which had been shot at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973, as well as a few other performances from the tour. Cracked Actor is notable for being a source for footage of Bowie’s ambitious Diamond Dogs Tour. The title of the documentary was originally to be The Collector, after a comment that Bowie had made to interviewer Russell Harty the previous year, whereby he described himself as “a collector of accents”.

 
 

The documentary can be seen in The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page

A Dog Named Pain

A Dog Named Pain contains moments of intense beauty in which we note risk but also the grandeur of men who had surrendered to art with truly passion”
Ernesto Sabato

 
 

The drawings were made using Staedler pens and white card boards. Aute spent five years illustrating all the panels for the film

 
 

A Dog Called Pain is a film drawn and animated by singer/songwriter and artist turned filmmaker, Luis Eduardo Aute, who made more than four thousand drawings which were later processed with the digital technology for rending into 2D and 3D. It was a colossal enterprise that began with the first drawings in 1995. Aute has dedicated the past two years wholly to the film. The film borrows its name from the dog owned by the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The film, comprising seven stories or portraits, is focused on the artist-model relationship, and continuity is supplied by the dog, co-star of nearly all the episodes. Luis Eduardo Aute reconsiders the relations of such painters as Francisco de Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Joaquín Sorolla, Julio Romero de Torres, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí, and Diego Velázquez with their models, their environments, and their times. This reconsideration is, above all, a movie, and it employs the most classic film language, but at the same time it is a reflection about art and artists, their inner lives and their worlds.

In addition, homage is made in the film to such cinematic greats as Serguéi Eisenstein, Luis Buñuel, Groucho Marx and Woody Allen. One of the great triumphs of A Dog Called Pain is the sheer beauty of Aute’s projected images. Intimately paced, viewing the film is like a cinematic walk through a museum. At times, long-held images will have subtle movements such as a blink of an eye that creates the effect of the movie screen as a canvas. Nominated for a 2001 Goya (Spain’s Oscars) for Best Animated Film, A Dog Called Pain is a unique work of art.

The film, an exciting blend of humour, violence and sex – in a word, of art. The story employs the simplest resources of cinema, and is the singular creation of an artist in love with the camera, as well as with music and painting, two fields in which he has gained fame. Luis Eduardo Aute is a living Spanish national treasure, acclaimed and loved for his music, artwork and poetry.

Suppressed Human Emotions

Stills from Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)

 
 

Federico García Lorca crowded his thoughts onto a sheet of stationery from a Barcelona cafe. “I want to weep,” he wrote to Salvador Dalí. “I’ve behaved like an indecent donkey’s ass with you, you who are the best thing in the world for me. As the minutes go by I see it clearly and I am truly sorry. But this only increases my affection for you and my attachment to your way of thinking and your human quality.” Lorca avoided saying more about what had taken place between the two men.

The friendship with Lorca had a strong element of mutual passion, but Dalí rejected the erotic advances of the poet. With the success of Gypsy Ballads, came an estrangement from Dalí and the breakdown of a love affair with sculptor Emilio Soriano Aladrén. These brought on an increasing depression to Lorca, a situation exacerbated by his anguish over his homosexuality. He felt he was trapped between the persona of the successful author, which he was forced to maintain in public, and the tortured, authentic self, which he could only acknowledge in private. He also had the sense that he was being pigeon-holed as a “gypsy poet”. He wrote: “The gypsies are a theme. And nothing more. I could just as well be a poet of sewing needles or hydraulic landscapes. Besides, this gypsyism gives me the appearance of an uncultured, ignorant and primitive poet that you know very well I’m not. I don’t want to be typecast”. Growing estrangement between García Lorca and his closest friends reached its climax when surrealists Dalí and Luis Buñuel collaborated on their film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). García Lorca interpreted it, perhaps erroneously, as a vicious attack upon himself. At this time Dalí also met his future wife Gala. Aware of these problems (though not perhaps of their causes), García Lorca’s family arranged for him to take a lengthy visit to the United States in 1929–30.

 
 

 
 

Un Chien Andalou is a 1929 silent surrealist short film by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí. It was Buñuel’s first film and was initially released in 1929 with a limited showing at Studio des Ursulines in Paris, but became popular and ran for eight months. The film has no plot in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial “once upon a time” to “eight years later” without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes. The film was financed by Buñuel’s mother, and shot in Le Havre and Paris at the Billancourt studios over a period of 10 days in March 1928.

The film has no plot in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial “once upon a time” to “eight years later” without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes.

The film opens with a title card reading “Once upon a time”. A middle-aged man (Luis Buñuel) sharpens his razor at his balcony door and tests the razor on his thumb. He then opens the door, and idly fingers the razor while gazing at the moon, about to be engulfed by a thin cloud, from his balcony.

 
 

There is a cut to a close-up of a young woman (Simone Mareuil) being held by the man as she calmly stares straight ahead. Another cut occurs to the moon being overcome by the cloud as the man slits the woman’s eye with the razor, and the vitreous humour spills out from it.

 
 

The shot of the eyeball (actually that of a dead calf) being slit by Buñuel

 
 

The subsequent title card reads “eight years later”. A slim young man (Pierre Batcheff) bicycles down a calm urban street wearing what appears to be a nun’s habit and a striped box with a strap around his neck. A cut occurs to the young woman from the first scene, who has been reading in a sparingly furnished upstairs apartment. She hears the young man approaching on his bicycle and casts aside the book she was reading (revealing a reproduction of Vermeer’s The Lacemaker). She goes to the window and sees the young man lying on the curb, his bicycle on the ground. She emerges from the building and attempts to revive the young man.

 
 

An image from Dalí’s dream, part of the inspiration for the film

 
 

The idea for the film began when Buñuel was working as an assistant director for Jean Epstein in France. Buñuel told Dalí at a restaurant one day about a dream in which a cloud sliced the moon in half “like a razor blade slicing through an eye”. Dalí responded that he’d dreamed about a hand crawling with ants. Excitedly, Buñuel declared: “There’s the film, let’s go and make it.'” They were fascinated by what the psyche could create, and decided to write a script based on the concept of suppressed human emotions.

 
 

Jaime Miravilles and Salvador Dalí as the confused priests

 
 

In deliberate contrast to the approach taken by Jean Epstein and his peers, which was to never leave anything in their work to chance, with every aesthetic decision having a rational explanation and fitting clearly into the whole,  Buñuel made clear throughout his writings that, between Dalí and himself, the only rule for the writing of the script was: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” He also stated: “Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.”

 
 

 
 

Over the course of his long career Dalí associated his work with a wide range of predecessors (including Paul Cézanne, Le Corbusier, Giorgio de Chirico, Arnold Böcklin, and later Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci), but none of them came close to rivaling Johannes Vermeer. Throughout his life Dalí remained entirely unwavering in his belief that Vermeer was the greatest painter who ever lived and the artist whom he most dearly wished to emulate.

The first screening of Un Chien Andalou took place at Studio des Ursulines, with an audience of le tout-Paris. Notable attendees of the première included Pablo Picasso, Le Corbusier, Jean Cocteau, Christian Bérard and George Auric, in addition to the entirety of André Breton‘s Surrealist group. The audience’s positive reception of the film amazed Buñuel, who was relieved that no violence ensued. Dalí, on the contrary, was reportedly disappointed, feeling the audience’s reaction made the evening “less exciting.” Buñuel since claimed that prior to the show, he had put stones in his pockets “to throw at the audience in case of disaster”, although others had no recollection of this.

 
 

A death’s-head moth

 
 

Against his hopes and expectations, the film was a huge success amongst the French bourgeoisie, leading Buñuel to exclaim in exasperation, “What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder?”

Modern prints of the film feature a soundtrack consisting of excerpts from Richard Wagner‘s “Liebestod” from his opera Tristan und Isolde and a recording of two Argentinian tangos sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Olé guapa.” This is the same soundtrack that Buñuel chose and played live on a phonograph during the original 1929 screening in Paris. They were first added to a print of the film in 1960 under Buñuel’s supervision.

Film scholar Ken Dancyger has argued that Un Chien Andalou might be the genesis of the filmmaking style present in the modern music video. Roger Ebert had called it the inspiration for low budget independent films.

The Eternal Recurrence of All Things

Photographs by Chema Madoz

 
 

“Whoever thou mayest be, beloved stranger, whom I meet here for the first time, avail thyself of this happy hour and of the stillness around us, and above us, and let me tell thee something of the thought which has suddenly risen before me like a star which would fain shed down its rays upon thee and every one, as befits the nature of light. – Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:- and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon”.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science)*

 
 

*The book’s title uses a phrase that was well-known at the time. It was derived from a Provençal expression (gai saber) for the technical skill required for poetry-writing that had already been used by Ralph Waldo Emerson and E. S. Dallas and, in inverted form, by Thomas Carlyle in “the dismal science”. The book’s title was first translated into English as The Joyous Wisdom, but The Gay Science has become the common translation since Walter Kaufmann‘s version in the 1960s. Kaufmann cites The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1955) that lists “The gay science (Provençal gai saber): the art of poetry”.

Different of Himself

“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with diverse kind; thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.”

LEV 19:19

 
 

There are three laws Yahweh gave Moses, rejecting unions and mixes practiced by pagan peoples and held by the Jews as aberrations. The first forbids creation of monstrous animals; the second is metaphorically taken to be the banishment of bisexuals. They carry a notion of impurity pointing to the spiritual confusion of the gentiles. Christianity, in turn, interpreted them as laws against wickedness.

These ancient prohibitions are engraved in some of our subconscious, and are the reasons for some of our atavistic fears expressed in “antinatural” visions of monsters and prodigies. These, at the same time, are images of temptation, like the hermaphrodite, the sphinx, the ram with a man’s torso, the foetus begot by Frankenstein, today’s eugenic beings and clones, creatures of undefined sex, marked beings.

Capricorn it is merely a zodiac sign that combines in its dual image the pull to the mountain (the goat) and the abyss (the fish). But read between the lines of our atavistic fear which the ancient prohibition fosters in us, this sign could also be a mating of two beast of different species, separated by a line: the ram and the fish, in other words… Satan and Christ.

The Shaman’s Collection defies bisexuality or hemaphrodytism by attaining an open, almost graceful, almost levitating, almost superhuman asexuality, albeit carnally disquieting and vile. In sealing the male/female partition, the shaman transcends the duality that preys on common man, and sheds it as he would a corpse’s shroud.

Medusa, on the other hand, shows the frightening evil version of the androgyne as a bald (masculine) and shaved (obscene) black-mass priestess sporting a fancy shawl at her bosom as if in contempt of the pious mantilla. A sliding drop of semen stains the picture, reminding us –more to our terror, we are not quite sure in what way– of that Levitical prohibition: “Thou shalt not wear a garment mingled of linen and woolen”. We find ourselves facing the old supernatural horror that undoubtedly divides us into two: attraction and repulsion which makes us different from ourselves.

The bipartition of the picture we mentioned in the dividing line of Capricorn is also the axis of The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson’s Fantasies, in which Arturo Rivera alludes to Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll’s passion for photographing little girls. The child figure, now spurious and morbid, discovers her nakedness. She wrenches away the ample piece of clean cloth to reveal on her skin the line of an excrescence. Here, I should like to mention a “magic” experience that appears over and over in Arturo Rivera’s painting: significant coincidence. I asked the painter whether the bat drawn in the upper part of this painting referred to Lewis Carroll’s photographic studio, where, among an ample collection of toys and dolls for little girl’s comfort, was a wing-flapping, flying bat the writer himself had made. No, said Arturo Rivera; he knew nothing about that bat. I record this as one of many coincidences that abound in this artist and his work. I have noticed a whole string of them, one after the other. They apparently are not motives at the same time necessary, and they bring me to a very enigmatic aspect of his painting: nature and the distribution of objects in his pictures.

Updating a myth rather than portraying symbols, the appearance of a wide range of figures like geometric bodies, plants, dissected animals, organs, etc. could hardly be considered a sign of a purely compositive or simply polysemic reasoning or ratio: These figure are synchronized. As in the bones that a soothsayer throws on the ground, or a flight of birds at the moment a question is asked, or the interpretation of a sacrificed animal’s entrails, or the three coins disbursed with a consultation of I Ching, the essence is in the coincidence, not in cause. Reading and interpreting Arturo Rivera’s pictures cannot, then, be based on artist’s intentions so much as on the speculation the paintings inspire. As if before an oracle, one is looking at a conveyance of truth rather than a strict revelation of truth.

Three pictures bear me out on this: The Island of the Dead, an extraordinary conveyance of what Arturo Rivera saw in Arnold Böcklin‘s homonymous work, a vision. In North, bipartition again mates animals of different species, not to produce a monster but to depict a re-orientation, expressed here by the archetypical change of skin, and the image of mature man overcoming death and ascending to a higher plane of existence. Legatee, conveys androgyny offering milk from the breast. Arturo Rivera’s paintings revive one of art’s ancient functions: making the viewer experience something that surpasses him in space and time, keeping the myth alive.

Text by Jaime Moreno Villareal

 
 

Fall, 1997

Gesso colors on canvas

 
 

The Island of the Dead (Homage to Böcklin), 1997

Oil on paper/linen

 
 

North, 1997

Oil on wood

 
 

Legatee, 1996

Water-colored pencil and water color on paper

 
 

Capricorn, 1996

Sanguine on paper

 
 

Saturn, 1997

Water color and oil on linen

 
 

The Empty Room, 1997

Gesso colors on paper

 
 

July 17, 1975, 1 p.m. : On the Docks of New York, 1996

Cold encaustic on canvas

 
 

Medusa, 1996

Oil on canvas/ wood

 
 

The Temptations of Saint Anthony, 1997

Egg tempera and oil with metal inlay on paper/wood

 
 

Epilogue, 1997

Gesso colors and oil on canvas

 
 

The Shaman’s Collection, 1997

Oil on wood

 
 

Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson’s Fantasies, 1997

Oil on canvas

 
 

Arturo Rivera (Mexico City, 1945). Assiduous visitor as a child to the Chopo Natural History Museum, from an early age he coupled his taste for drawing with a passion for dissecting animals and studying bones. He studied painting at the Mexican National School of Plastic Arts, the San Carlos Academy (1963-68), and serigraphy and photoserigraphy at the City Lit Art School of London (1973-74).

Rivera traveled through South America and the Galapagos Islands. He lived four years in New York (1976-79), where he exhibited in the Francis Gallery and the Jack Gallery in Soho, as well as in the Walton Gallery in Chicago. In 1979 he met the Surrealist painter Max Zimmermann who invited him to be his assistant for the courses he was giving in the Kunstakademie of Munich. There he increased his knowledge on traditional painting techniques and how to handle them. During his stay in this city (1980-81), he exhibited in the Haus der Kunst. Rivera returned to Mexico in 1981 at the invitation of Fernando Gamboa to exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art (1982). Since then he has had a number of one-man exhibitions in Mexico and cities abroad.