Sunday, September 28, 2014

Philip Glass, The Photographer, Cité de la Musique, Paris

The Photographer @ Cité de la Musique
I can’t imagine why I have never previously made the connection between Phillip Glass’ minimalist music and Edweard Muybridge’s photographs. And yet, it is so obvious, as if the work of the two artists were made for each other: both are structured through repetition, movement towards an infinity that nevertheless finds natural resolution. Both Muybridge’s photographs and Glass’ music are caught between a stasis and movement that bring surprises to the otherwise highly defined rhythms.

All of the resonances were captured so the production I saw last night of Glass’ chamber opera, The Photographer, based on Muybridge’s trial for homicide. The music and photographs are brought together with spoken text by David Byrne and dance choreographed by Shang-Chi Sun. The music, text and dance relate the sensational story of Muybridge’s murder of his wife’s lover and then, as we know, his acquittal at trial. It’s a great story that, like the tensions in still images that are set in motion by a photographic camera, interrupts the narrative with bursts of unpredictability and flamboyance from the dancers in this particular performance.

The innovation of this staging of The Photographer is very much in its bringing together of different media. The modern dance element, inspired by the photographs and Glass’ music is repetitive, postured, yet always very simple and singular. Video projections of Muybridge’s photographs are patterned on the screen behind the dancers, in no particular order, demonstrating the postures and positions of the body in motion, as well as the extraordinary images he took in the Yosemite Valley. The lighting casts shadows of the dancers to fill the screen when there are no other photographs projected.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen more of in this performance was the use of chiaroscuro. The infinite repetitions and patterns of Glass’ music, the same in Muybridge’s photographs that put animals and human figures in motion, and the three dancers whose figures are reflected in shadows on the screen behind them were in perfect conversation. Often though, the shadows were not marked, and could have been more dramatic, in an attempt to magnify further the narrative of repetition and auguring that is Muybridge’s life story.  In the early days of moving images, the days when Muybridge was working, shadow plays told familiar narratives, but as a function of their production they could also appear mechanized. It would have been convincing if the shadows had mimicked these characteristics of the shadow play, and thereby accentuate the multi-media concert of The Photographer. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Perugino, Master of Raphael @ Jacquemart-André Musée

Fragment of Raphael's Baronci Altarpiece from the Brescia
Like all of the exhibitions of Renaissance masterpieces that I see in Paris, my first reaction to the Pérugin, Maître de Raphael exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André was wonder. I was amazed at the sight of all these priceless paintings in one small space. Given all the difficulties of negotiating the loans, transporting, handling of these fragile paintings, most of which look as though they just left the artist’s studio because they are so clean and vivid, and because most Renaissance masterpieces just don’t travel, seeing them together in this exhibition is a must. In addition, some of these works are being shown in France for the first time, and all of them are superbly presented in the intimate of the space of the Jacquemart-André. In fact, one of the real treats here is the possibility to move up close to these treasures and see each brushstroke as though we are watching it being painted.
Raphael, Predellas from the Fano and Oddi altarpieces
Vatican Museums
My favourite room was towards the end with the three predella panels, including those from the Fano, the Oddi altarpieces from the Vatican Museums and the two Tondos from Nantes. For me, the predellas are the most intimate of Raphael’s work, painted with the labour of love, not always as important as the main altar piece because they were not necessarily going to be looked at, even seen, by most congregation members. Because traditionally the predella was not a part of the main commission, artists freely explored their talents in such panels. and therefore, filled them with a delicacy and intimacy that isn’t apparent in the larger pieces. The opportunity to be up close to the predellas is once in a lifetime – every tiny gesture, every blemish of the skin is so delicately painted and placed and as I peered into the strains of the colours, I thought I saw Raphael’s hand moving across the panels. In these, the luminescent blues, reds, the opalescent skin, the complicated folds of fabric, all of the features that were signature of both Raphael and Perugino’s work, and indeed, of the Renaissance more generally, are heightened by the size, the delicacy of these narratives.  We see a head turn, a surprised expression, a mule in repose, all of which are so delicately painted, it is as if they make up a private world, into which we are invited to all.

Raffaello Angelo 2 (frammento pala Baronci).jpg
Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece by Raphael in the Louvre
The four surviving pieces of Raphael’s Baronci Altarpiece are also brought together here and are resplendent. The Louvre’s angel is also on display here, with its wonderful story of being discovered following a conversation in a taxi in Strasbourg with one of the curators from the Louvre. The angel from the Brescia is more beautiful though, reminding of the Madonnas in deep reflection painted in previous years, also on display in an earlier room. The sketches of the entire altarpiece from Lille accompany the four surviving fragments to give the overall arrangement, and also indicating that the entire piece was Raphael’s creation.
Perugino, Don Baldassare di Antonio di Angelo. c. 1499
Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze
Two monks from the Uffizi, who were once placed at the corners of an altarpiece are divine for their simplicity of execution. Their heads look up in veneration to, presumably, Christ on the cross. The tender and rich Saint Jerome from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is so sensuous that again, it’s not possible to resist his intimate world. What makes him special is his pure white dress against the dense landscape of the desert, foregrounding his figure as well as his purpose.
Perugino, Saint Sebastian, c. 1500
Perugino’s most appealing characters are deep in reflection; even Saint Sebastian, his body pierced with arrows seems to be transcending the pain he must be feeling, still alive, to fall into deep reflection. These figures are dreamy and mystical, yet lifelike thanks to the freshness of their skin, the delicacy of their expressions. Still, the best part of this exhibition is being up close, sharing the same air as these 500 year old treasures. Once inside and in the sway of the skin and fabrics of the paintings, the veracity or otherwise of the claim that Perugino was Raphael’s master, ceases to matter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

L'Intérieur, directed by Claude Régy for the Festival d'Automne

L'Intérieur, directed by Claude Régy for the Festival d'Automne
Maurice Maeterlinck wrote Intérieur in 1894 for marionettes, and Claude Régy first directed the play in 1985 with a French cast. Tonight I saw Régy’s revisited production with Japanese actors from the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center. Though I can imagine the play with marionettes, it’s hard to imagine the fragmented, almost mechanically pronounced words of this short play being spoken in French by French actors. The Japanese cast, speaking in very resonant, almost musical tones was perfect. It was as though they held the resonance of Maeterlinck’s words translated into Japanese in their voices which were, in turn, held in their bodies as vessels. The spoken dialogue is sparse, simple, factual almost, and yet it too, like the voices that reverberate in the bodies of the actors, is profound. They announce statements that expland well beyond the events taking place on stage, such as the old man’s warning: « Prenez garde ; on ne sait pas jusqu’où l’âme s’étend autour des hommes »
L'Intérieur, Directed by Claude Régy for the Festival d'Automne
The beauty of this production is in the slow, silences of the staging. A family—a mother, father, two girls and a child—are in their house, and the most significant event in the moment is that their child sleeps. “Outside” the “house,” a separation of spaces that is bare, but distinct, on Régy’s stage, some people comment on what is taking place inside the house. And then, they must tell the family that one of their daughters has drowned in a nearby pond. But how?
L'Intérieur, Directed by Claude Régy for the Festival d'Automne
It’s a play about death. Played out in the tension between inside and outside the house, the Japanese actors in this version of the play are like ghosts. Dressed in simple clothes, most of the time, they walk on white sand, slowly so that we can hear every footstep, the sand underneath their shoes. The silence of the step was loud in a theatre full of people so still. The silence of the step became a language of its own. The light changed very subtley, slightly, so there were times we could see the actors’ faces, until it faded away again and they became silhouettes. And there were times when the translucent light of the night was blue, at others, the characters were walking slowly, through a world of yellow.   

Although the words are profound, I was struck that in a piece focused so specifically on death, how it happens, how to live in the presence of death, what it means, how it transforms the lives of those around it, and so on, there was a distinct absence of melancholia, even mourning. In fact, all emotion was held in the performance, as well as the meaning of the words. Apparently, Régy and the actors have no language in common. He directed a cast without speaking their language. Surely this must contribute to the importance of the resonances and sonorities of the language, making them as heavy as the meaning of the words? Together with the meditative like movements and the haunting, mysterious light, the unique use of a foreign language created an indistinction between conscious and unconscious. This created further distance from the language, allowing the light, the stage, the characters’ movement to fill spaces beyond language. And it was in these spaces that the most significant things were communicated. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Une Histoire: Des Années 1980 à Nos Jours au Centre Pompidou

Olafur Eliasson, Cold Wind Sphere, 2012
When the Centre Pompidou changes the display of the permanent collection, it's an occasion. And the new curation of the permanent collection is just that: a treat to be savored. The hanging follows on, chronologically and within the space of the museum, from the issues and concerns of the Magiciens de la Terre redux. Even though it isn’t made obvious enough, the collection presents post-1980s art that follows the themes begun by the original Magiciens de la Terre in 1989.
Walid Raad, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes Souheil Bachar, 2001
In some of the early rooms of the new hanging, visitors are introduced to single works by artists from the world’s most troubled post-1989 regions. Works from the Middle East, Serbia, Albania, and of course, Israel and Palestine are captivating for what they show as much as what they do not show.  To my own surprise I really enjoyed Walid Raad’s video, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes Souheil Bachar, 2001. I was surprised because I have never seen what the fuss around Raad’s work was all about. Hostage tells the story of the low-level Lebanese worker from the Kuwaiti embassy in Beirut who was held with the American hostages caught in the crossfire over the Iran-contra affair during the second Reagan administration. Raad re-presents Souheil Bachar’s video tapes #1, #17 and #31 in which he tells the shocking narrative of the Americans who wanted him to fuck them. In a female voiceover that overlays animated images of the hostages, Bachar remembers the American’s obsession with their own bodily hygiene and their disgust at his. And yet, they could not stop touching him. One night he even felt one of the American’s press his body so close that he felt his erection. The narrative is shocking, not because we hear anything we didn’t already know, but because Bachar’s story, as it is represented by Raad, reduces this public political event to a private struggle of the Americans with their own bodies.
Maja Bajevic, Women at Work (Under Construction) In Construction, 1999
The works in these early rooms that reuse the archival were exceptionally compelling: Maja Bajevic’s Women at Work (Under Construction) In Construction, 1999 was wonderful. Bajevic stages women war refugees embroidering the scrim that protects scaffolding while the National Gallery in Sarajevo was being renovated. On the one hand, it’s a very familiar use of women’s work to re-articulate a public and political space, and on the other hand, as a form of memorial to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovnia, it’s an innovative and powerful challenge to social change. Chris Marker’s Detour Ceausescu, 1990 in which he uses the footage from the Romanian revolution that we know from Farocki and Ujica’s Videogramme of a Revolution, or Thomas Hirschhorn’s Outgrowth, 2005, are very powerful critiques of state violence. Hirschhorn’s familiar anti-aesthetic  is both amusing and disturbing in Outgrowth: globes on shelves have growths covered in masking tapes, as though they have contracted some kind of virulent disease. Taped to the shelves on which they sit are these magazine pictures of disasters, state violence and war. The message is clear.
Thomas Hirschhorn, Outgrowth, 2005
Other political works of art, especially those that engage with the world and make us look at it in different ways were also extremely powerful. I sat through Tony Oursler’s New York 9/11 as he captures the events unfolding and the responses of New Yorkers in the days that followed. As his camera moves in and around ground zero and the streets of New York City, I was deeply moved by a city coming to terms with this great disaster. Even though the hand held camera and other aspects of the aesthetic might be otherwise alienating, I was transported back into the confusion of those days following September 11, 2001. An interesting contribution from Amar Kanwar on the ecological fallout as a result of industrial developments in India: The Scene of the Crime, 2011 was also moving, though it unfolded in a slower, more subtle and almost invisible way, just like the disaster it documents.

Amar Kanwar, The Scene of the Crime, 2005
Works that were not as directly political are also in abundance, even though I did not spend as much time with them. There were rooms filled with experimental art, post-minimalist works by Daniel Buren, Steven Parrino’s Necropolis (the Lucifer Crank) for Anger, 2004 – a post-avant garde, post-structuralist film. An absolutely divine piece by Olafur Eliasson, Cold Wind Sphere, 2012, in which light creates space, memory and a world of its own. There were also works from the collection with which I was not previously familiar, and was inspired to see more: Alain Bublex’s Plug-In City, 2000, being one example.