Monday, December 3, 2018

Qualifying Feminism: Empowerment and the Arts (Part IIIa) (Updated 1/3/19)

"You've come a long way, baby." But, no, this is not a vintage ad for
Virginia Slims. It's a (1896) self-portrait by New Woman photographer
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864 -1952). Then again, for a woman of that period,
blatantly smoking a cigarette in public was a radical feminist statement...
that is, when it wasn't illegal (see quote below).

"Though men could, and did, smoke with abandon anywhere they wished, a woman with a cigarette was regarded as dangerously sexual, immoral and not to be trusted. That the government tried to ban only women from smoking says a lot about how society responded as women claimed new rights at the turn of the 20th century."


The New Woman

"As educational opportunities were made more available in the 19th-century, women artists became part of professional enterprises, including founding their own art associations. Artwork made by women was considered to be inferior, and to help overcome that stereotype women became "increasingly vocal and confident" in promoting women's work, and thus became part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer "New Woman". Artists then, "played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplifying this emerging type through their own lives," including Abbéma who created androgynous self-portraits to "link intellectual life through emphasis on ocularity". Many other portraits included androgynously dressed women, and women participating in intellectual and other pastimes traditionally associated with men."

- Reference to the New Woman via the Wiki entry for New Woman painter, Louise Abbéma (1853 -1927). Inset right is one of her self-portraits. Below is an example of her work: La dame avec les fleurs (1883). More of her work can be found here.

"At the age of 18, Abbéma painted her first portrait of the 'Divine Sarah,' which she showed at the Paris Salon of 1876. It was an instant success, and the work propelled the young painter into the limelight alongside her famous subject. From that moment, Abbéma became Bernhardt’s official portraitist; she also received a flood of commissions from wealthy and fashionable clientele. Her works hung in the homes of the French elite, as well as on the walls of the Paris Town Hall and Opera House.

Yet, it was not just her famous subject that brought her success – Abbéma possessed, like Bernhardt, a certain je ne sais quoi. She was brash, smoked cigars, and dressed in men’s clothing, and the attention she attracted brought her much public acclaim. Favored almost as much for her flamboyant behavior as for her popular paintings, it is no wonder that Abbéma became fast, lifelong friends with the equally eccentric Bernhardt. Throughout their fifty-year-long friendship, Abbéma would paint Bernhardt’s portrait numerous times, and would serve as her companion and confidante until Bernhardt’s death in 1823."

- Excerpt from the article: Bernhardt and Abbéma: Leading Ladies of the Belle Époque. Primarily known as an actress and muse to a number of artists and writers (including the equally flamboyant Oscar Wilde, who referred to her as the "Divine Sarah" or the "Incomparable One"), Sarah Bernhardt (1844 -1923) (in costume, inset left above) was also an accomplished sculptress.*

"The Woman's Building was designed and built for the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. It had exhibition space as well as an assembly room, a library, and a Hall of Honor. The History of the World's Fair states 'It will be a long time before such an aggregation of woman's work, as may now be seen in the Woman's Building, can be gathered from all parts of the world again.'

14 women architects submitted designs for the Women's Building. The Board of Architects selected Sophia Hayden's design. Alice Rideout was chosen as the official sculptor for the Women's Building. She created the exterior sculpture groups and the pediment. Enid Yandell designed and created the caryatid that supported the roof garden.

The Women's Building contained exhibits of works by women across a variety of fields from fine art, applied art, literature and music, to science, and home economics. There were also exhibits about women in American History and other cultures and places in the world.

... Buildings at world's fairs are often demolished when the event ends, and finding another home for them is rarely practical. (The exception was The Crystal Palace after the Great Exhibition of 1851.) The Woman's Building was destroyed as part of the general demolition after the Fair. Sadly, after the exposition, Cassatt's mural and many other artworks by many women were placed in storage and subsequently lost.

Eighty years later, the Woman's Building had been almost lost to history. With the flourishing of second-wave feminism, women went searching for what had gone before. Feminist artist Judy Chicago and her team of students, in the midst of creating The Dinner Party, discovered a copy of the Woman’s Building catalog in a second-hand bookstore. When the Los Angeles Woman's Building was opened in 1973, the founders decided to name the organization after the 1893 Woman's Building."

- Excerpts from the Wiki entry for The Women's Building (inset left is a photo of the interior): a segregated exhibition space made by women for women at the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. Inset right and left above are photographs of sculptress Enid Yandell (1869 -1934) standing beside her massive caryatid of the goddess Athena. Interestingly, Yandell maintained a studio in Paris where the 40-foot statue was sculpted, and finally shipped to the states. Allegedly, while in Paris, Yandell also "worked with" Auguste Rodin. As for the fate of her Athena: it was never cast in a permanent material and deteriorated within a year. (Note:There seems to be no evidence of the finished piece online.) In reference to the Woman's Building founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila de Bretteville and Arlene Raven in 1973: it was formally designated a historic cultural monument during the summer of this year.

"In the dread art of war the male element of the race asserts itself alone. In its antithesis, the art of peace, woman is paramount... A generation ago the seers of our race foretold two great things: a material growth and prosperity, the like of which the world has never seen; a mastery of electricity, that most potent of man's friendly genii, and a great city through which the traffic of the world should roll, one of the strongholds of the earth–all this the voice of the male seer foretold from his tower, and much more.

A clearer, sweeter prophecy went forth from the tower where the wise women watched the signs of the times: "Woman the acknowledged equal of man; his true helpmate, honored and beloved, honoring and loving as never before since Adam cried, 'The woman tempted me and I did eat.'"

We have eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the Eden of idleness is hateful to us.

- Excerpt from Maude Howe Elliot's The Building and its Decoration, a chapter from the 1894 publication: Art and Handicraft in the Woman's Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, edited by Maud Howe Elliott. Insert left is the official poster for the Woman's Building created by French painter, Madeleine Lemaire (1845 –1928).**

"What started as a playful game in woman's fashion is gradually becoming a distressing aberration... It is high time that sound male judgement takes a stand against these odious fashions... the excesses which have been transplanted here from America... the look of a sickeningly sweet little boy is detested by every real boy."

- Quote taken from a vintage Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung's 1925 article: "Enough is enough! Against the Masculinization of Woman."  Found in Marsha Meskimmon's We Weren't Modern Enough: Women artists and the Limits of German Modernism. Inset right is the lovely actress, Louise Brooks... and her "sickening, sweet little boy" look...?

Note: challenge for the day: substantiate the phrase "sound male judgement." ;-)

“The chief obstacle to a woman's success is that she can never have a wife. Just reflect what a wife does for an artist: Darns the stockings; keeps his house; writes his letters; visits for his benefit; wards off intruders; is personally suggestive of beautiful pictures; always an encouraging and partial critic. It is exceedingly difficult to be an artist without this time-saving help. A husband would be quite useless."

-  A quote from the New Woman painter, Anna Lea Merritt (1844 –1930). Inset left is her 1885 painting Eve.

"In 1907, the French filmmaker, playwright, journalist, feminist, and political activist Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) gave a lecture on the “international task of French Women.” She urged her audience to “create things anew and according to your own spirit” and to organize into cooperatives and unions. Tami Williams’s in-depth historical study and critical biography Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations reveals the breathtaking extent to which Dulac followed her own advice. Among the most prolific and influential figures in early French cinema, Dulac is today virtually forgotten."

-  An excerpt from Jenny Mcphee's 2014 article: The "Pure Cinema" of Germaine Dulac. Inset right is the cover of an early French cinema review featuring a photo of Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) a pioneer filmmaker whose 1928 Surrealist film La Coquille et le Clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) predated  Buñuel's  and Dalí's Un Chien Andalou. She was also on the editorial staff of the radical feminist newspaper La Fronde (The Sling).

“Do you really believe ... that everything historians tell us about men – or about women – is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by men, who never tell the truth except by accident.”

- Quote from Il merito delle donne, oue chiaramente si scuopre quanto siano elle degne e più perfette de gli huomini (On the Merit of Women, Wherein Is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men) by 16th century Italian writer and poet Moderata Fonte (inset left). An additional article (in English) can be found here. More quotes can be found here. Other Italian poets of the period: Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara, Chiara Matraini.


Impressionist painter,
Berthe Morisot.
Well, it took long enough, but finally I've the presence of mind (and quality time) to tend to the last Feminist Art and Empowerment post - which, incidentally has already fragmented into Part 3a and Part 3b (no, it never ends) - but, first, allow me to back up a bit and clear up an oversight.

In "A Day for the Little Ladies," which mostly focused on the political aspect of first-wave feminism in relation to International Women's Day, we witnessed a solidarity of assertive, empowered, formidable women who, outraged by their second-class citizen status, literally fought "tooth and nail" for emancipation. In some countries, such as Russia, they also helped ignite actual revolutions; in Spain, they led them.

Après le déjeuner - oil painting - 1881, Berthe Morisot.

Marie Spartali
Yet, this was merely a portion of a much larger picture. Underlying the political strides of the feminist movement during the latter decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th there emerged a different form of feminist insurgence (and/or resurgence); equally as liberating and, perhaps, even more radical. A creative New Woman was finding her voice and autonomy under the auspices of what was, in effect, a new cultural renaissance across the globe. While the New Women's contributions may have been undervalued at the time, or lost in subsequent years - as were those of women who flourished in the initial Renaissance (see here) - the New Woman reopened the door for all future generations of women and her existence was the crucial, empowering force which lay dormant in the contemporary woman's psyche until the next wave of feminism was established.

Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni.
1884, Marie Spartali.
And, who were these New Women? They were the artists, writers, poets and performers of the late Victorian era, the Belle Époque, the Fin de Siècle, the Naughty Nineties, the Roaring Twenties and the beginning of the Jazz Age. Talk about an exciting, multi-faceted time! Within this period (covering approximately 40 years) the art world would explode with new forms, innovations, and a multitude of new genres: Romanticism, Symbolism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Constructivism, Futurism and early Modernism. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Arts & Crafts movement were established earlier during this period. Art Nouveau (Jungendstil) and, later, Art Deco emerged. Surrealism was born. Poster art flourished. It was the Golden Age of Illustration. Photography became an art form and the first motion picture was shot in 1888; by 1896, movie theatres had opened in France, Italy and Great Britain.

And, as for the New Woman, she was a player in all of these arenas... and, very often the star...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Baudelaire, Rodin & the "Crouching Woman" (A Speculation)

Detail of Je suis belle (I am beautiful), a 1882 sculpture (plaster)
by Auguste Rodin housed in the Musée Rodin in Paris; it was
originally entitled L'Enlèvement (Rape and/or Abduction).

"Mystérieuse faculté que cette reine des facultés ! ...C’est l’imagination qui a enseigné à l’homme le sens moral de la couleur, du contour, du son et du parfum. Elle a créé, au commencement du monde, l’analogie et la métaphore. Elle décompose toute la création, et, avec les matériaux amassés et disposés suivant des règles dont on ne peut trouver l’origine que dans le plus profond de l’âme, elle crée un monde nouveau, elle produit la sensation du neuf. Comme elle a créé le monde (on peut bien dire cela, je crois, même dans un sens religieux), il est juste qu’elle le gouverne."

("How mysterious is Imagination, that queen of the faculties! ...It is Imagination that first taught man the moral meaning of colour, of contour, of sound and of scent. In the beginning of the world it created analogy and metaphor. It decomposes all creation, and with the raw materials accumulated and disposed in accordance with rules one cannot find save in the furthest depths of the soul, it creates a new world, it produces the sensation of newness. Since it has created the world, (so much can be said, I think, even in a religious sense) it is proper that it should govern it.")

- Excerpt from La Reine des Facultés, one of Baudelaire's critical essays from his Salon de 1859 (French only). Inset right is the cover page from an online illustrated edition of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal1857, a .pdf in both French and English. (Note: downloads immediately.) For views of the many different covers of Baudelaire's masterpiece published over the years, see this page (click on the arrows).

"Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière."

("I am beautiful, O mortals! as a dream of stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.")

- The first 4 lines of Baudelaire's poem, "La Beauté," from Les Fleurs du mal inscribed at the base of Rodin's bronze sculpture Je suis belle (inset left). The original (1882) plaster was entitled L'Enlèvement (Rape, or Abduction), but when it was cast in bronze Rodin added the lines from Baudelaire's poem, and retitled the piece to Je suis belle. Mysteriously, he also altered the last line of Baudelaire's quatrain to read: "Etant alors muet ainsi que la matière," ("So being mute as matter"). (See here.)

"These lines might not seem fitting for a piece originally exhibited as The Rape in 1900. But this past title, the sculpture's current title and the poem inscribed on its base all speak to an ambiguity that characterizes much of the installation. I am Beautiful presents two figures—a more masculine standing figure and one that is more feminine grasped in the former’s arms. Are the two locked in an embrace, the female figure having leapt into her lover’s arms just moments before? Or is it darker, showing a scene of abduction?"

- Excerpt from Love and Lust at the Rodin Museum, a review of an 2017 exhibition at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA).

"This two-figure group appeared in 1880 at the top of the righthand pilaster of The Gates of Hell. It is a combination of Crouching Woman  and Falling Man, whose back seems to arch under the strain of holding her in his outstretched arms. Also known as The Abduction, Carnal Love or The Cat, the group began its life as an independent sculpture circa 1882...

It illustrates Rodin’s use of assemblages, which became one of the characteristic features of his working method. The sculptor thus profoundly altered the meaning of Crouching Woman, a very open female figure whose posture may appear either obscene or erotic, by turning her over and folding her up into a closed ball, which the man lifts into the air like Atlas..."

- From the Musée Rodin page describing Je suis belle.  Inset right (above) is allegedly the first incarnation of the "Crouching Woman" Rodin created in 1880 for his Gates of Hell. (Note: I have also seen this same figure referred to as Andromeda.) There is also a second crouching female figure at the top of the left-hand pilaster (not shown). Lastly, there is a third figure: a separate piece Rodin created and actually entitled La Femme Accroupie (The Crouching Woman) in 1882 (inset right below), the same year he created L'Enlèvement (Je suis belle)Inset left is the "Falling Man," located directly beneath the female figure on the Gates of Hell. Rodin recycled the Falling Man again, as well, in 1882.

"Rodin had illustrated this poem with an image of a reclining woman encircled in the halo of her hair, presenting a much more serene interpretation of the poem. In the sculpture, however, the original title of The Rape as well as the opposition between masculine and feminine, vertical and horizontal, and round and erect shapes suggest a vision of the “rêve de pierre” as tainted by a certain violence and conveys a message that is more difficult to decipher."

- A reference to the poem "La Beauté," from the 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du mal Rodin illuminated with some of his own drawings in late 1887 and 1888.

"Have pity, cruel girl, I can’t go on, I can’t spend another day without seeing you. Otherwise the atrocious madness. It is over, I don’t work anymore, malevolent goddess, and yet I love furiously. My Camille be assured that I feel love for no other woman, and that my soul belongs to you. … Ah! Divine beauty, flower who speaks and loves, intelligent flower, my darling. My dear one, I am on my knees facing your beautiful body which I embrace."

- A reposted quote, taken from a 1886 letter Rodin wrote to Camille Claudell in the early days of their affair, currently at the Musée Rodin.


Well, my friends, It appears I'm continuing to embrace the inevitable online distractions I've (continuously) been presented with all month... while researching - and attempting to finish - the post-that-shall-not-be-named (again). But, I couldn't resist posting my latest "find" as it relates so deeply to my previous find.

Once again we are presented with a sculpture... this time a creation by Auguste Rodin (Fr) (inset left, as a dapper young dude), Camille Claudel's lover. I confess, when I first set eyes on the full version of Je suis belle (see photos above) I was appalled. Especially as the first example I discovered online was entitled "The Rape." In ways, I suppose, I'm still appalled, but, in trying to solve the mystery of Rodin's (possibly) most bizarre creation and, at the same time, coming across its connection to poète maudit, Charles Baudelaire, well, I am compelled to elucidate.

As it stands, it appears many critics find Je suis belle disturbing, but, none seem to grasp just exactly why. While they might admit the odd coupling seems "tainted by a certain violence" or, conveys "a message that is difficult to decipher," or, resort to adjectives like "darker," one gets the impression the critics are lost at sea. My favorite understatement: it "embodies a difficult notion of beauty."

I'll say it does! Because, if you look very closely at the women's face, she's obviously insensible. And, if you take into consideration the position of her body - her dangling limbs, and a compression unlikely to be achieved by a living body - she may, In fact, be a true homage to Baudelaire (and/or the Symbolists in general): that is, a fresh corpse...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Camille Claudel, Lost... & Found

Detail of L'abandon (or Sakountala) - bronze - 1905, Camille Claudel.

"Camille Claudel died in a lunatic asylum in 1943, alone and forgotten. Few people remembered that in her youth, she’d been regarded as the greatest sculptress of her generation. By the time she died, aged 78, amid the chaos and carnage of the Second World War, she’d become an obscure footnote in art history, merely remembered (if at all) as the muse and mistress of Auguste Rodin.

After the war Claudel’s work was ignored, while Rodin remained a household name. Yet lately something rather wonderful has happened – she’s been rediscovered, not only as Rodin’s model or his bedfellow but as an important artist in her own right."


Yesterday was a strange day... previously referred to as an "André Breton" sort of day... that is, dreamlike... or maybe the fragmented trance state which precedes the more coalescent realm of dreams. (But, yes, "surreality" is as good a word as any.)

I'd been attempting to establish a healthy beginning to my proposed third Empowerment post but was distracted (as I often am) by my research. Yes, I'm afraid I was down one rabbit hole after another. The André Breton post was one off-shoot of my mental travels and this post is, yet, another unexpected fruit from that particular tree; the sort of information that is just too amazingly wonderful to "save for later."
Some months ago, I'd come across a photo of a beautiful sculpture by Camille Claudel I'd missed previously (in 2016, while researching the Into the Madhouse section of this post.) Actually, I think it's possibly the most emotionally-satisfying sculpture I've ever seen. It wasn't the greatest of photos, however, and I saw no other evidence of it online at the time, but, I added it to my files, knowing that I'd share it on the blog eventually. Anyway, to "cut to the chase," I intended to use it in Empowerment Part III, but I needed both its date and title, so I wondered if, by this time, there was more information online. And, there certainly was... more than I could possibly hope for! Not only are there far better photos online now - and a plethora of documents referring to Camille -  but the photos of L'abandon (inset right, also above and below) were there to announce the opening of a new museum in March of last year... in Nogent-sur-Seine, France. And, the name of the museum is... (are you ready?):

I really cannot say just how deeply happy I am to discover this information. My very special thanks go out to all the very special people who made this come to pass. I cannot think of an artist more deserving... or a more fitting postscript to the events of her tragic life. Merci!

Incidentally, regarding the other working title of L'abandon, Sakountala (or Shakuntala): it's the name of Sanskrit play - full name: Abhijñānashākuntala - by a fifth century Hindu poet, Kalidasa. I've just read the play and I'm still not sure why Camille chose that title, but, interestingly, (via this translation) we learn:

"The term Shakuntala means one who is brought up by birds (Shakun). There are references stating that Shakuntala was found by Rishi Kanva in a forest as a baby surrounded by, or, as some believe, being fed by birds after being left by her mother, Menaka."

A link to a related article (in French): Visite en images du nouveau Musée Camille Claudel.

"Tell me, beloved, what you want of me -
I am Love, who is filled with the all:
what you want,
we want, beloved -
tell us your desire nakedly."

- Poem fragment from The Mirror of Simple Souls, 1290 ?, Marguerite Porete.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An André Breton Kind of Day

A portrait of André Breton by Victor Brauner.
(Click-on images to enlarge.)

"I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality."

- Quote by André Breton found here.

"Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I 'haunt.' I must admit that this last word is misleading,tending to establish between certain beings and myself relations that are stranger, more inescapable, more disturbing than I intended. Such a word means much more than it says, makes me, still alive, play a ghostly part, evidently referring to what I must have ceased to be in order to be who I am. Hardly distorted in this sense, the word suggests that what I regard as the objective, more or less de liberate manifestations of my existence are merely the premises, within the limits of this existence, of an activity whose true extent is quite unknown to me."

- The first paragraph from Nadja, 1928, André Breton sourced here.

From left to right: Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, Marcel Duchamp
and André Breton, New York 1942. (Source). The painting in the 
Ernst's Le Surréalisme et la peinture (Surrealism and Painting), 1942.

"Always for the first time
Hardly do I know you by sight
You return at some hour of the night to a house at an angle to my window
A wholly imaginary house
It is there that from one second to the next
In the inviolate darkness
I anticipate once more the fascinating rift occuring
The one and only rift
In the facade and in my heart
The closer I come to you
In reality
The more the key sings at the door of the unknown room
Where you appear alone before me
At first you coalesce entirely with the brightness
The elusive angle of a curtain
It’s a field of jasmine I gazed upon at dawn on a road in the vicinity of Grasse
With the diagonal slant of its girls picking
Behind them the dark falling wing of the plants stripped bare
Before them a T-square of dazzling light
The curtain invisibly raised
In a frenzy all the flowers swarm back in
It is you at grips with that too long hour never dim enough until sleep
You as though you could be
The same except that I shall perhaps never meet you
You pretend not to know I am watching you
Marvelously I am no longer sure you know
You idleness brings tears to my eyes
A swarm of interpretations surrounds each of your gestures
It’s a honeydew hunt
There are rocking chairs on a deck there are branches that may well scratch you in the forest
There are in a shop window in the rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
Two lovely crossed legs caught in long stockings
Flaring out in the center of a great white clover
There is a silken ladder rolled out over the ivy
There is
By my leaning over the precipice
Of your presence and your absense in hopeless fusion
My finding the secret
Of loving you
Always for the first time"

- A poem by André Breton found here

André Breton by Marcel Duchamp, 1945.

"...Breton began to believe that our everyday encounters and chance findings are actually psychologically pre-ordained by our subconscious.

As such, found objects were direct, already existing embodiments of our inner desires, that just need to be found, in a privileged chance encounters.

To trigger these encounters, the Surrealists would visit flea markets in the hope of being ‘called’ by certain items. Because of this, and also due to the group’s interest in primitive art (which they believed was art straight from the psyche, devoid of social interpretations of norms), the Surrealists are known for having been avid collectors of all sorts of objects.
However, the concept that Dali came up with is slightly different from that of chance objects. Dali’s aim when creating Surrealist Objects was to bring objects from dreams into the real world, whereas Breton understood objects as entities which reveal one’s inner desires. We therefore see two categories of objects used by Surrealists: on the one hand, those created from dream-material, which eventually become symbolically functioning objects – as most of them are twisted enough to not really be functional anymore; and on the other hand, objects revealed through chance encounters, which eventually help the Surrealist to fulfil an existing unconscious obsession, or to complete a piece which was missing a little something."

- From Objective Chance and the Surrealist Object. The Surrealists and their relationships to found objects bring to mind Louise Nevelson and her psychic posse (via this post):

"These helpers of Louise Nevelson would get up very early in the morning. She lived in a town house in Manhattan, I believe; and they would go up and down the alleys, looking for discards. They were all kinds of individuals who were perhaps misfits in the outer world, but she believed them to be tremendously psychic. They all worked for her as her technicians, her helpers, in finding objects and wrapping them up in newspapers and paper bags, bringing them home; and then when they had all these treasures before them, they would let the objects tell them where to use them. And this came from a kind of psychic dialogue with the found object – which, I might add, was very similar to what Carl Jung taught many of his patients, to engage in with many natural things in their own experience."

Breton and some found objects... found here.

"About four o'clock that same day a very tall man was crossing the bridge that joins the separate islands. The bells, or perhaps it was the trees, struck the hour. He thought he heard the voices of his friends speaking: “The office of lazy trips is to the right,” they called to him, “and on Saturday the painter will write to you.”  The neighbors of solitude leaned forward and through the night was heard the whistling of streetlamps. The capricious house loses blood. Everybody loves a fire; when the color of the sky changes it's somebody dying. What can we hope for that would be better?"

- From Les Champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), 1920, André Breton, found here. As for the other Magnetic Fields, try here.


What's an André Breton kind of day? Well, let me put it this way, don't drive large vehicles or operate heavy machinery.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Qualifying Feminism: Empowerment and the Arts (Part II)

A poster in a London bus station featuring an image by the artist Egon Schiele.
The banner, however - strategically plastered over the figure's pubic area -
was not of the artist's device. See here or here.
(All images in this post can be clicked-on to enlarge.)

The C-Word: Censorship

Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal.”

- Egon Schiele, Austrian painter (June 12, 1890 - October 31, 1918).

"The purging wave seems to know no bounds. The poster of an Egon Schiele nude is censored; calls are made for the removal of a Balthus painting from a museum on grounds that it’s an apology for pedophilia; unable to distinguish between the man and his work, Cinémathèque Française is told not to hold a Roman Polanski retrospective and another for Jean-Claude Brisseau is blocked. A university judges the film Blow-Up, by Michelangelo Antonioni, to be "misogynist" and "unacceptable." In light of this revisionism, even John Ford (The Searchers) and Nicolas Poussin (The Abduction of the Sabine Women) are at risk."

- Via an English translation of one of the more coherent passages from the notorious "#MeToo" backlash letter published in Le Monde earlier this year, written and signed by 100 French women-of-note, up to and including Catherine Deneuve. The original document (in French) can be found here and, in English, here. Inset left is the  painting under scrutiny at that time, Thérèse Dreaming.

"As with previous awareness raising campaigns, it is not unlikely that the backlash will snowball and that the deeply entrenched patriarchal mechanisms that have maintained sexism for centuries will reassert themselves. That is after all how the system has survived to date. It is also all too likely that we will all — men and women — soon grow weary of allegations of sexual harassment as we have done in the past, making #MeToo a distant memory, a bud that did not blossom into long-lasting structural change. As Jessa Crispin writes in her manifesto about why she is not a feminist, popular social movements must, by their very nature, be “banal… non-threatening, and ineffective.” This underscores the problem with movements propelled by hashtags and celebrities."

- Excerpted from the Public Seminar article The Many Faces of the #MeToo Backlash, written by Maryam Omidi.

"In an angry riposte, French feminists described the letter’s signatories as “apologists for rape” and “defenders of paedophiles”, a reference to Deneuve’s vigorous support of the French-Polish film director Roman Polanski, convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl.

'There’s nothing really new in the arguments they use; they’re like the embarrassing colleague or tired uncle who doesn’t understand what’s happening,' a group of feminists wrote in an open letter of their own to French radio."

- Regarding a backlash against the former backlash via this article. Inset left is a still from Repulsion, a Roman Polanski film starring Catherine Deneuve (pictured) as a woman who kills two men, one of whom sexually assaulted her. As one might expect, Deneuve's character is portrayed as psychologically deranged (i.e., violence of men is expected and often applauded in a patriarchal society, violence in women - even when justified - is pathological.)

As for Roman Polanski, in 2018: "in light of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Polanski from its membership." As for Polanski's relationship with his "victim," Samantha Geimer, apparently they have become friendly... see Samantha Geimer on Roman Polanski: 'We email a little bit'.

"The problem of comprehending Lolita begins with this moral discrepancy and her literary position as a rape victim. It causes us to unravel with Humbert. We question the book, ourselves, our culture, and in the space between our disgust and Humbert’s desire, we obsess over and recreate the story. Spawning two films, several musical adaptions, ballets, plays, a Russian opera spin-off, fashion subcultures, and endless memorabilia, Lolita is a transcendent literary icon. Her ghost lingers in Lana Del Rey, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and many a pop icon seen cradling a teddy bear in skimpy lingerie. The hyper-sexualization of young women is Lolita’s legacy, a cast thrown sixty years into the future: a transition from rape victim to sex icon."

- From Emily Roese's 2016 (Huffington Post) article: The Problematic Idolization of Lolita. Inset right is a detail from a poster for Stanely Kubrick's 1962 film adaption Lolita.

"Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent, to live and participate, to interpret and narrate. A husband hits his wife to silence her; a date rapist or acquaintance rapist refuses to let the 'No' of his victim mean what it should, that she alone has jurisdiction over her body; rape culture asserts that a woman's testimony is worthless, untrustworthy... Having a voice is crucial. It's not all there is to human rights, but its central to them, and so you can consider the history of women's rights and lack of rights as a history of silence and breaking silence."

- From Rebecca Solnit's A Short History of Silence, an essay from her (highly recommended) collection: The Mother of All Questions, 2017, Haymarket Books.  Regarding the photo (inset left) - "STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT" - more info can be found here and here.


Apparently, the poster which introduces this section is one of several which appeared in London bus stations this year announcing an exhibit of artwork by Egon Schiele, a Viennese artist and painter, known for his oddly contorted human figures, both nude and otherwise (inset right and sourced here). I don't know that any feminists were involved in the censorship of his work - and, possibly, the exhibition of his nudes in a bus station wasn't the most brilliant of plans to begin with - but, in terms of censorship "100 years old and still too daring" makes a significant point. In terms of culture, are we as a species moving forwards, backwards, or remaining stationary? More importantly, will the censorship of art and/or the artist - either contemporary or from the distant past - solve anything? Lastly, is the sensual and/or sexual content of art - regardless of the variety explored or intimated - a feminist issue? And, if so, should art fall under the jurisdiction of any and/or all other political and societal movements as well?

While I can both sympathize with and applaud the #MeToo
(and subsequent Times Up) movements - which marked the historical moment when women finally broke their silence and dragged a few "rape culture" enthusiasts out from under their proverbial rocks (where they'd been congregating for a very long time) - the infamous backlash letter signed by 100 French female luminaries was correct in one respect: suppressing a work of art due to its sexual content or the sexual behavior of its makers - even when said content or behavior is presently considered taboo - is antithetical to the nature of art, human creativity and human expression. But, most importantly, for a feminist, fanning the flames of censorship can also backfire.

Then again, history tells us that in almost every case of censorship or prohibition - across the board - the eradication of the offending behavior was not achieved... neither in the short term and, most certainly, not in the long term. Case in point: Lolita, the 1955 novel written by Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). Basically, it's a feminist's nightmare - and a hebephile's wet dream - following the obsessional musings of a middle-aged man directed towards his manipulative, sexually precocious 12-year-old stepdaughter whom he eventually rapes. Banned in Great Britain and France for a period of two years, it was then banned in Australia from 1958 to 1965. Meanwhile, when it arrived in America, 100,000 copies were sold in its first three weeks. After all, nothing says "Must Read" like the word: "Banned"...

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Farewell to a Free Spirit (with 8/17/18 update and Addendum)

Oksana Shachko (January 31, 1987- July 23, 2018)

"... I was deeply inside the religious world and very concentrated on my craft. It started to take off for me. At ten years old I had already started painting in churches and exhibiting my art. I was deeply inside all these institutional bodies, and because of it, I started believing in God. I always went to Church to pray. When I was twelve years old I decided to go live in the church, to paint icons and spend my life praying. I wanted to stop living a normal life and become a monk.

... (but) I started to think that I didn’t want to overwhelm my parents with stress, so I decided to stay. At that moment, I started to think about the meaning of believing. It was a big paradox for me. My parents are religious, they believe in God, they go the Church… But they refuse that I become a monk. I didn’t understand. I continued living with my parents and started searching for an answer to my questions. I continued painting icons but started engaging in more conversations with the people surrounding me. I wanted to know why they came and prayed in front of these icons. I also starting becoming critical of the Church. When I was fourteen, I found a group of young people from fifteen to twenty years old who organized philosophical clubs out of school... They were very critical of religion. I found them very interesting. I started to come more and more and read their books. I discussed religion with them and continued to say, “God exists,” wanting to prove it to them. One year passed, two years passed, and I became a total atheist...

Oxana and Sasha Shevchenko,
Kiev, 2013
... At this time, I met with Anna Hustol and Sasha Shevchenko with whom I created Femen. I never thought about feminism before. In Ukraine, feminism is never talked about. We had a lot of meetings with professors, the University director, the mayor, and some businessmen to gather money for the students. When I went to see those people, I was accompanied by a guy and they only listened to him. That was not normal. When I was seventeen, I started to get very angry about this with the other girls. That’s when we decided to create a girl movement, to prove to everybody that we are able to create, to do things, and to work."

- Excerpt from: A Meeting with Oksana Shachko,  a November, 2017 interview with Armelle Leturcq for Crash magazine from which the photograph of Oxana (inset left) was taken. The icon in the background - featuring the Virgin Mary wearing a burqa while breast-feeding the infant Christ - is her own work; a detail of which is shown later in this post. Inset right is a detail of a photograph found here.

"During the five years she was in Femen, Shachko was arrested dozens of times, interrogated, allegedly abused by police and spent almost a year in jail. She was also one of the members who was allegedly kidnapped in Belarus in 2011 after protesting the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko during a topless rally. Shachko and other members said they were forced to strip naked in the woods, were beaten, had oil poured on them and were threatened to be set on fire." 

- From Oxana's Huffington Post obituary.


Oksana Shachko (or Oxana, as she preferred) was an almost fragile young woman... slightly built and diminutive, but, at the same time, striking enough to have been a model, and fierce enough to have been a prize-fighter. She showed great skill as an artist at a very early age, and was groomed as a painter of religious icons: a highly traditional and stylized genre of image-making that left little room for personal expression. As a prepubescent girl, she was spiritual to such a degree that she came very close to entering a monastery.

However, by the latter half of her teens all this would change. She would question the validity of religion and turn to atheism. She would question her position as the subordinate female of the species and turn to feminism. She would question her own convictions in relation to the apathy she found in her native Ukraine and turn to activism. Ultimately, in 2008, she would help organize a small band of Ukrainian feminists. They called themselves "FEMEN" and set in motion a series of outrageous, theatrical demonstrations in response to the political, patriarchal and demoralizing injustices to women they observed in both Western and Middle Eastern societies. Inset right below: Oxana at work.

Unfortunately, FEMEN was not an entirely successful experiment. The women were often berated, humiliated, beaten and imprisoned. And, although they gained enough notoriety to make headlines worldwide - consistently photographed by male members of the press - they failed to make a favorable impression on a number of their fellow feminists who - with a few exceptions - managed to miss the point.

And, it got worse. In a 2016 interview, Oxana reflected: "After our protest against the elections in Russia, I was detained for two weeks. In the police department, I was blamed for everything and deported. From then on, I was denied entry to Russia, for life. We were arrested after every action in Ukraine but never were deported of course, because we were the citizens of the country. Yet our activism became physically impossible. In the end, we were accused of preparing a terrorist attack against Putin and the Patriarch Cyrill. They planted weapons, bombs, and also the portraits of these two beauties. Within one day... we managed to escape from Ukraine."

Monday, April 23, 2018

Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

Our Godmother... feminist artist, Judy Chicago.

"I told Chicago that I was struck that, though she had often struggled in her career — overcoming the disapprobation of critics, the indifference of institutions and overt and tacit misogyny — she had managed to hold onto a sense of her work’s importance. She said, with her usual matter-of-factness, that it was simply a matter of pragmatism."

- Excerpt and photo (above) via the recent NY Times' feature: Judy Chicago, The Godmother.


It's pretty much impossible to keep up with Judy Chicago, but never let it be said some of us  don't try! Recently chosen as one of the Times' Top 100 most influential people, and appearing on the cover of NY Times' (February) Women's Fashion issue, Judy is always newsworthy. Don't believe me? Just check out this avalanche of Judy articles appearing within the past year.

Anyway, she isn't our Godmother for nothing... although Our Fearless Leader, or Her Majesty will do...  Which is why I'm here today. I realize it's a little late but at 6:30 PM tonight EST Judy was at Stanford University chatting with art historian, Marci Kwon, at the Bing Concert Hall.

The event was Livestreamed here. When and if archival footage appears, I'll update this post with a link.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Writ on Paper, Wrought in Stone (with Addendum)

An interior photo of Cologne Cathedral in Westphalia, Germany.

"This is what linked all people, she wanted to say, in spite of time and space; this joined them in a timelessness, a spacelessness, in a collective mind that transcended all boundaries. This is what endured forever and ever, as long as the painting was preserved, as long as the written word endured. Sappho's few words, Plato's, Homer's... The works of a great artist entered that other kind of reality, the words of a great poet lived there; this is what human history is all about, our efforts to transcend our limitations, our petty wars, our fears. We build our cathedrals, paint pictures, write our poetry, our music, all in the same effort to transcend ourselves. They fill the history books with trash about conquests, wars, treaties, but, these are transitory. The human spirit sails above them, yearning for that other reality... finding it in moments of great art..."

- Excerpt from Welcome Chaos, a science fiction novel by Kate Wilhelm first published in 1983. Inset right is an interior photo of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais in Beauvais, France, found here. (Click images for larger views.)

"At about the same time Hugo began experimenting with a new approach to prose, based on telling the story of less than ideal characters—a poor bohemian girl, a deformed bell-ringer and a lecherous archdeacon—the three pillars of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Few fans of the novel, which has inspired several successful films, know that Hugo wrote it to save the famous Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame from demolition. During the Revolution Notre Dame had been used as a saltpetre plant. By the nineteenth century it had suffered so much neglect that builders wanted to reuse its stones for bridge construction. Gothic art was then regarded as ugly and offensive; so Hugo’s choice of the location was deliberate: it linked the grotesque characters with the ugly art. The first three chapters of the novel are a plea to preserve Gothic architecture—in Hugo’s words, a “gigantic book of stone,” which he, as a Romantic, found beautiful."

- Excerpt from How Did Victor Hugo Save the Famous Cathedral of Notre Dame From Demolition?  The photos - inset above and below - are of the famous Notre Dame (de Paris) gargoyles which were found here.

“He therefore turned to mankind only with regret. His cathedral was enough for him. It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquillity and benevolence. The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him – he resembled them too closely for that. It was rather the rest of mankind that they jeered at. The saints were his friends and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and kept watch over him. He would sometimes spend whole hours crouched before one of the statues in solitary conversation with it. If anyone came upon him then he would run away like a lover surprised during a serenade.”

- Excerpt from Victor Hugo's 1831 gothic masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

“Everything has been said about these great churches,” Rilke wrote. “Victor Hugo penned some memorable pages on Notre-Dame in Paris, and yet the action of these cathedrals continues to exert itself, uncannily alive, inviolate, mysterious, surpassing the power of words.… Notre-Dame grows each day, each time you see it again it seems even larger.” 

- Rainer Maria Rilke quote from a 2014 New Yorker article (7th in a series): Street of the Iron Po(e)t by Henri Cole.

"This time, Paris was just what I had expected: difficult. And I feel like a photographic plate that has been exposed too long, in that I remain forsaken to this powerful influence... Out of fright I went right off Sunday to Rouen. An entire cathedral is necessary to drown me out... Would you believe that the glance of a woman passing me in a quiet lane in Rouen so effected me that I could see almost nothing afterward, could not collect myself? Then gradually the beautiful cathedral was finally there, the legends of her densely filled windows, where earthly events shine through and one sees the blood of its colors."

- From a 1913 letter by Rainer Maria Rilke to Russian-born psychoanalyst - life-long friend and one-time lover - Lou Andreas-Salomé. Inset left is an interior shot of Rouen Cathedral found here. Inset right is one of series of paintings of Rouen by Claude Monet (and here). Inset left (below) is another.

"Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe, which is disposable. You know it might be just this one anonymous glory of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we have been, to testify to what we had it in us, to accomplish."

- Orson Welles, from his 1975 docudrama Vérités et mensonges ("Truths and lies") which focuses on the career of an art forger. The "stone forest" in the quote was a reference to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres.


This is another of the 3 posts I had been working on - apart from the previous one - and it was a post I personally needed to create at the time. That is to say, like Rilke, I found myself (emotionally and spiritually) needing "an entire cathedral" to contain my high anxiety. Generally, I might have relied on the sight of Sandia Crest - mountains and cathedrals, after all, have a great deal in common in a symbolic sense... they both represent the union of the cosmos and earth - but there's an underlying order in the structure of a cathedral, an authentic Sacred Geometry evidenced by features like the (south) rose window (inset left) from the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris. What the mountain might intimate, the cathedral spells out in no uncertain terms. In this case, the source: the "dame," lady or mother, the infinite symmetry of the circular form from which the cathedral unfolded and inevitably returned.

(Appropriately) I'd been reading Kate Wilhelm's apocalyptic "Welcome Chaos"... and came across the first paragraph (quoted above) which ultimately inspired this interlude post. The quote resonated with me because it occurred to me recently that what is generally considered the history of the world is, for the most part, the history of war and the acquisition of territory. For the rest of humanity's long saga one ultimately has to turn elsewhere...