Thursday, May 7, 2020

Trebitsch Lincoln's Secret Lives

The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln by Bernard Wasserstein (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988)

            Like Woody Allen's Zelig, Trebitsch Lincoln was the consummate social chameleon, and like "Lazlo Toth" (aka Saturday Night Live's  Father Guido Sarducci, aka etc.), he though well enough of himself to court relationships with world-famous people and did so with awesome determination.  In The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln  (Yale University Press, 1988) Bernard Wasserstein writes a fascinating report, not without a "true" scholar's apology for allowing "curiosity" to progress into "genuine interest" and "virtual obsession" .  His writing on the many-faceted personality of this historical (hysterical, nonetheless "highly disturbed") figure, for whom the word "scoundrel" is a polite understatement of what must have been a phenomenal life.  (Would you prefer "rogue"?)  He presents us with a well-documented (mostly from the records of the British Foreign Office, as well as a few encounters with the subject's distant relatives) text on what he considers to be "the closest accessible approach to the true history of a false messiah."  (The book really doesn't really give one a romantic notion; although, he'd make good company for Jacob Frank and Sabbatai Tzvi.)

            One should look at the life (lives?) of Trebitsch Lincoln with caution: "Don't try this at home, kids."  He is but a mortal; born Ignacz Trebitsch in 1879 at Paks, Hungary to a prosperous, religiously conservative Jewish family.  Talented for little scholastically or professionally (He had hollow careers as an actor, journalist and industrialist, among others), he was, however, brimming with bravado, linguistically adroit and motivated by a modicum of tsoris. Wasserstein allows us a broad view of the culture in terms of time and space which nurtured Trebitsch, the impressive array of social, political, economic and religious bureaucracies entangling both Eastern and Western hemispheres through whose loopholes the subject masterfully slipped and whose movers and shakers he tantalized.  

            Despite his chronic financial destitution, it would seem  even superficially that he had made it successfully: such as the times he was known (and "functioning") as Ignatius Timotheus Trebitsch, Lutheran (not too long afterward Anglican) missionary to the Jews, as I.T.T. Lincoln, British M.P.,or as the Chinese Buddhist Abbot Chao Kung (who he died as in 1943).  But most of the time he was not productive in these guises, save the temporary satisfaction of his ego's hungry ghost.  And he had little material impact on history, save his mere existence.  It was all much to the joy of the media and the bane of those whose financial empires he drained in a flury of misfortunes.  From Berlin to Brooklyn to Budapest, Shanghai to San Francisco to Montreal, he attempted to storm into the countries and consciousness of an amazing number of people of high rank and stature.  He offered a colorful package particularly to budding Western Buddhists and other Eastern mysticism-craving Europeans.  Again, his successes were enough to make one wonder, "Why not try.  What's to lose?"  To Hitler and the Japanese occupation forces in China, for example, he positioned himself as the incarnate of spirits of both the Dalai and Panchen lamas (simultaneously!) and offered the powers of his good offices (i.e. whatever worked).  "Teflon" Trebitsch (my nickname for him) even evaded suspicion / harassment / more properly, death by the Germans they apparently knew of his Jewish genealogy because there were officials who trusted him.

            In the end, we are tempted to respond in the classical manner, "Who was that masked man?"  Wasserstein's well-indexed, annotated text is perhaps a bit short of the sensationalist style which assures a best-seller at airports stalls; nonetheless, it is the author's true fascination with the chase that makes the book highly readable.The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln is much more satisfying than a silver bullet anyway.

(Originally Published in Points East, 1993)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Nyah Weh S'gano

From the gentle Glenn Schiffmann

 "Thank you for being someone who is not adding to the confusion on this planet?"

Seneca People of the Longhouse.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

URBAN CHINA: Shanghai Magazine / Planning Group Has Finger on the Pulse of China's Future

Whoever controls the wrecking ball usually wins land rights battles, but not necessarily in China anymore. In 2007, for the first time in its history, China had in place legislation that offered equal protection for state and private entities which was quickly put to the test by a growing number of protagonists coined by the media as “nail families”, (ding zi hu). The residents of these households, of no set number of folks, primarily in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, refuse, even to the point of committing suicide, to move from their dwellings to make way for “progress”. There is one report of demolition company thugs pulling a 54 year old man out of his home and beating him to death.

In addition to challenging the establishment at every level, the plight of these 21st Century folk "heroes" have also captured the imagination of the international media and academic community due in no small part to the striking photographs of remnant buildings crowning Brancusi-like pinnacles in the midst of deep construction canyons.

According to Global Times, at the end of January 2011, due to pressure from lawyers, China’s Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a joint statement about new legislation that attempts to mitigate disputes over house expropriation and demolition. It strives to give equal consideration to both public interests and property owners' individual rights, and to create a more transparent, level, non-lethal process. It defines the basis for claims of eminent domain; it also rules-out land developers' involvement in the demolition and relocation procedures, outlaws the use of violence means of coercion, and promotes more equitable financial compensation basis on par with the region.

Unlike their predecessors, today’s elected officials, are slowly learning to listen to news from “below”, to observe and understand the ways of the people, not just respond to the needs of the Party. In his introduction to  "The Mystified Boat: Postmodern Stories from China, [1] Manoa Co-Editor Frank Stewart has noted that China’s street-level reality today is fraught with "shifting points of view, characters who misunderstand each other in ways that have direct consequences, unreliable narrators who address readers in order to tell them what to think, events that are improbable or impossible in life outside the story -- these are some of the startling elements possible in life outside the story.”We can continue to expect great things from the people who brought us  fen shui and Traditional Oriental Medicine; there is a precedent for diagnosing the character of a disharmony -- whether economic or corporeal, and to reinstate its systemic balance by economic readjustment. It's just a matter of scale.

A product of its socialist society, Urban China's contents are deeply scrutinized by the Party’s regulatory machinery to assess compliance with the status quo. Nonetheless, its mission is to demystify that same governmental machine; the publication also informs upper echelons of power about the impact of public policy in real time. Unlike American and European sleek architecture and planning publications, it is less a fanzine for the elite aesthete; its contents are directed to both official and informal operatives who are looking for trends and opportunities.

After years of resistance, putting up with condemnation of their buildings, cutting off water and power, and developers’ early offers of financial compensation, most families finally vacate in exchange for significantly larger pay-outs, new residences and additional land to earn a living. One family succumbed by taking a sum equivalent to 1600% of their original purchase price, upwards of $2.7 million! Not every nail family has caved in, however. In Beijing, for example, a six-lane highway completely surrounds the Zhang family’s home. A four-lane highway isolates another holdout family in Shanghai. (Japan and even the USA has "nail families"; farmlands remain within the perimeter of Tokyo's Narita Airport.)

 When looking at these images from a Western perspective, it’s easy to jump to a conclusion that it's another case of the little guy against the bureaucracy and greedy developers. It is not only tempting to play that duality game but according to The Wall Street Journal, it is also possible "Fighting Eviction: The Video Game" is a digital time-killer that pits feisty homesteaders against demo goons hired by property developers, government guards and ever - present opportunistic gangsters. As noted in China Realtime Report, player avatars include “a woman in curlers who throws sandals at encroaching attackers, a pot-bellied man who drops dynamite from the roof, and an old man with a shotgun. When you win a level, the woman appears, pointing a finger at the Forbidden City, the symbolic center of the government’s power. When you lose, the house collapses in a cloud of dust.” A related blog post in The Wall Street Journal points out that film critic Li Chengpeng drew attention for his piece, “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” in which he compares the plight of James Cameron’s Na’vi to the people who live in “nail houses”.

Business Not As Usual

The continuing saga of Mr. and Mrs. Nail and their Little Tack (remember China’s one-child per family!) is not just about rampant development for progress’ sake. Rather, under the bleary eyes of the Internet-glued world, China is taking pains to learn about itself, its huge and massively growing self ... on its own terms.In the past Chinese people had little agency to petition for a better life than to offer a bundle of smoking sticks of incense and few burning wads of Bank of Hell paper money to offer to a deceased ancestor. Maybe one of them might bribe an official in a dream and affect a more desirable outcome of some terrestrial problem. Even courtiers and bureaucrats sought out auspicious signs and assessed news from “above”.

China's renowned city planning formalities have been emulated by other East Asian population centers. From capital cities to villages geomancy has been highly regarded in societies ruled by emperors, kings, warlords and more "modern" revolutionary dictators. But will principles from Tao to Mao hold up today in support of the world's fastest process of urbanization in recorded history? 

With China's current population around 1.35 billion, capturing the diversity of  opinions and experiences, providing appropriate ways to analyze the information, recognizing trends and taking action is understandably a daunting task, but one that is essential to that big dream of progress. 

A New Finger on the Pulse of China's Urban Future

"It is very difficult to find another civilization in history like China’s, which has been extremely meticulous about control for thousands of years," observed Jiang Jun, Editor-in-Chief of Urban China, in an essay, "Informal China". "This control is not only on political and ideological levels, but is also present in material and spatial realms: from macro-scale urban planning, meso-scale traditional construction rules, to countless micro-scale details of daily life."

Since 2005 Urban China城市中国, has been the only magazine published both in, about and for China devoted to issues of urbanism [2][3]. Jun describes the UC mission as a means to “challenge the way we see this world and, in so doing, re-imagine what the world can be.” 

Urban China’s slogan is “Urban Wisdom Advancing with China”, and its content is at once technical and theoretical, presenting statistical data and analytical considerations. It functions as a research network, think tank, documentary archive, and a tool for artistic production and urban activism.

Urban China incorporates frameworks ranging from ecology, anthropology, media, technology and architecture to demography, political science, geography and sociology to clash and merge in nonlinear ways. The editorial team has at its disposal a vast archive of documentary images, statistics and anecdotal commentary to create what is at once a vehicle of artistic expression and tool for urban activism. UC’s graphic design presents almost a tongue-in-cheek impression that accentuates the incidental, every-day elemental material icons of one’s existence.

Through rigorous research and creative considerations of outcomes,UC has documented how Chinese urban dwellers – like nail families -- create innovative solutions to the problems of daily existence in the 21st Century. They account for the material and ephemeral, the practical and the practically impossible. For example, one issue showed how a basketball produced for export was repurposed as a water bucket by the same factory workers who made it. Some how it is all going to make sense, on a huge scale.

While China is its focus, the UC process indirectly encourages all earthlings to try to come up with new ways to address change and its partner “uncertainty”, to document existence, and to create strategic systems by which to make sense of everyday life. This is possible, it offers, through “dialogues, collections, classifications, explorations and networks”. Even for those who cannot read Chinese, the images themselves provoke consideration about one’s own quality and quantitative measures of life.

There is not doubt that the best laid plans for China's cities of the future -- even those with the "benefit" of input of internationally recognized "green" urban planners and architects -- have to be sensitive to the realities of how  local people do live. For example a widely publicized green city project destined to be a show-piece during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo was never accomplished. In fact, according to Yale University's environment 360 online journal, "Although the project was widely publicized internationally, most locals knew little about it. The political leaders who championed the project were ousted in a corruption scandal, and their successors have allowed construction permits to lapse."

Each issue of Urban China has a theme, such as “Migrating China”, “Chinatown”,  “Urban Graffiti” or “Informal China” and blends the past with the present through graphic details such as archives of historic maps juxtaposed with those of new planning charts. For example, traditional Chinese paradigms, such asfeng shui, are mixed together with diagrams and photographs of current development projects.

In another issue there is an image entitled “Labor–Insurance -- Gloves Coat”, depicting a pair of thick wool work gloves positioned next to a child’s coat knit from the same material”. The caption notes that housewives unravel the yarn from unused extra gloves and repurpose the raw material for more useful commodities. Images of street markets are next to new high-rise towers; personal laundry hangs on public telephone wires. We may take them for granted, but in officially formal China, any informality or unofficial enterprise that permeates these membranes, emerges at an unprecedented scale. The implications are becoming more universal for populations outside China, particularly those with large populations and cities utilizing upon traditional Chinese principles, such as those in Japan and Korea.

In 2010 a consortium of three American museums collaborated to present a major exhibition devoted to the UC oeuvre, “Urban China: Informal Cities”: New York’s New MuseumUCLA’s Hammer Museumand the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. According to New York City’s New Museum Curatorial Associate and UC exhibition Curator Benjamin Godsill, issues are “brilliant and strange, intellectual and graphic cornucopias that track the rapid development and flux that are the hallmarks of China today.”

During one of the "Conversations" at the Hammer Museum (see below for links), Jiang explained a common urban planning process based on industrial development needs. For example in a region where shoes are manufactured, the government planning department may situate a new town and factory to make shoelaces adjacent to one that makes innersoles. 

The only Urban China online English language presence is a Facebook page. As mentioned, the magazine is published in Chinese, but Brendan McGetrick has compiled a few issue samples with English translation as a beautifully produced print volume,Urban China: Work in Progress.

Urban China reminds me of the early publishing efforts of Richard Saul Wurman, an American architect by training, whose Man-made Philadelphia and Access© guides deconstructed elements of urban life in a number of major cities world wide. Through the use of analytical tools and orderly graphic design, he made the city observable and arguable more accessible. His latest project is 19.20.21, the title being a reference to 19 cities (includes Beijing, Shenzhen, and Shanghai, Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe, Jakarta, Singapore, Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, Karachi in Asia alone), each with populations of 20 million people in the 21stCentury. Over half the population of the world now lives in cities; the globe is web of cities rather than nation-states. He postulates that denser populations will not only improve the quality of life but may actively result in better environmental solutions.

What next for China? What's next for the new democracies of the Middle East and of the seemingly worn-out socio-economic realities known as Europe and the USA? Stay tuned!

(Note: None of these graphic images are the property of the blogger, nor is this blog intended for commercial purposes. it is purely for public information. The images will be removed when requested by the copyright owners. Thank you in advance.)


Links to Archives of Urban China "CONVERSATIONS" 
@ UCLA’s Hammer Museum 2009

7/1/09 -- Jiang Jun, editor of Urban China magazine, and curator Benjamin Godsill of the New Museum introduce a dynamic multimedia presentation on the history of Urban China as well as the exhibition Urban China: Informal Cities. Godsill and Jiang will discuss the rapidly changing nature of Chinese cities and what these alterations of space mean for forms of social control and organization in contemporary China. Never before seen photographs, maps, and diagrams from Urban China's extensive collection will accompany the talk. Co-presented with the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House Urban Future Initiative. (Run Time: 1 hour, 41 min.)

5/19/09 -- An art critic and international curator, Hou Hanru is also the director of exhibitions and public programs at the San Francisco Art Institute. Recent curatorial projects include the 10th Istanbul Biennial and Trans(ient) City, 2007. Qingyun Ma is principal of the Shanghai-based design firm s.p.a.m., established in 1996. Since 2007 Ma has also served as dean of the USC School of Architecture, where he has enhanced the program by developing a number of global initiatives. Conversations on Urban China was co-organized and moderated by Sylvia Lavin, Director of Critical Studies and MA/PhD programs in UCLA's Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Professor Lavin is a leading figure in current debates, known for her scholarship in contemporary architecture and design. She has published in leading journals of the field, and her book Form Follows Libido: Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture was published in 2005. (Run Time: 1 hour, 29 min., 39 sec.) 

4/29/09 -- Widely known for innovative installations such as Sleepwalkers, presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2007, Doug Aitken utilizes a wide array of media and artistic approaches, leading us into a world where time, space, and memory are fluid concepts. Catherine Opie is engaged in issues of documentary photography and in how aspects of identity and collective behaviors are shaped by architecture. A Professor of Photography at UCLA, Opie was featured in a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2008. Conversations on Urban China was co-organized and moderated by Sylvia Lavin, Director of Critical Studies and MA/PhD programs in UCLA's Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Professor Lavin is a leading figure in current debates, known for her scholarship in contemporary architecture and design. She has published in leading journals of the field, and her book Form Follows Libido: Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture was published in 2005. (Run Time: 1 hour, 20 min.)

 [1] Stewart, Frank and Batt, Herbert J., eds., Winter 2003, Volume 15, Number 2,  University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu
[2] The magazine's website (Chinese only) is  Not supported by all browsers. 
[3] There is a "fan" page on Facebook, the source of the covers in this report.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Where is the breath in digital recording?

The passing on of oral tradition has built into it system the contemporization of the tradition. People forget. People relate what they learn from someone else, however well-intentioned or skillful, who’s memory might not have been so keen. So the technology of digital recording and motion capture is something to be celebrated in principle. But then the content becomes fixed; it becomes institutionalized. It loses its vitality.

This following article comes from Japan House Los Angeles.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Choi Kyu-il: Seal Engraver

"Don't you think you should know where all that wabi-sabi came from?" asked Kang Joon-Hyuk, Korea's most creative and enthusiastic promoter and producer of contemporary ddfcultural arts, when we were working together on the 1990 Los Angeles Festival in Los Angeles.

Back then, I was completely captivated by my new (since 1985) study of  Chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony with a master teacher/practitioner in Los Angeles Sosei Matsumoto. I could talk of little else to friends or any who was within 2 feet of me.

I must have been insufferable in sharing my then three (of a total of 8 to date) Japan  exploits with Mr. Kang. In 1989, a fabulous week of classes at the Midorikai program for foreign students in Kyoto's Urasenke school and visiting temples as part of the entourage of the grand tea master Hounsai, Sen Soshitsu XV, I took a trip northward to Kanazawa where I happened to be introduced to Nanen, a contemporary Japanese artist who carves stone seals utilizing kyujitai, the traditional pictographic shapes of Chinese characters. She was printing them in a variety of colors and gold leaf on various types of hand made washi, some of which were being converted into fans and lanterns. 

Here, however, was someone who knew how to capture my obsessive compulsive attention,   to get me to channel my enthusiasm toward a heritage that was and is in its own right superb without equal. He decided to introduce me to his friend Choi Kyu-il, an artist who is a stone seal carver, so we got in his car and drove to a nondescript neighborhood somewhere in Seoul.

Stone seals, used throughout Asia for their imprinting utility, figure into the full length and breadth of Korea's history, beginning with the mythic founder Tangun who is said to have descended from heaven to rule the people carry three stone seals. For centuries their creators have taken a backseat in the cultural hierarchy in deference to calligraphers. Choi prefers to be called an artisan rather than an artist.

Choi Kyu-il's brush paintings and seal carving.
The son of an itinerant pushcart worker father (and the usually under reported mother) Mr. Choi, then 67 years of age, had lackluster success at a number of small businesses following his college education. Most importantly, the family man of four children and an enterprising wife, was completely uninspired. At the age of 32 he tried his hand at seal carving, a solo venture informed by renowned books of Chinese calligraphy undertaken without "benefit" of teacher.

We entered the building from the sidewalk but immediately stepped down through a narrow corridor. Sunlight didn't seem to be a priority for this somewhat bent over man with a long white beard and hair. Stones in various sizes from palm-sized to those more like parking lot barriers, were scattered on the floor, leaning up against the walls and his work table. Also, there were lots of large sketches on white paper made with brush and ink.

Mr. Choi's "studio" was more like a quarry but in the basement of yet another 1950s concrete building that survived Korea's tumultuous 20th century of occupation and war, New and Old Village movements and general corruption. With the kind translation of Mr. Kang, I learned that Mr. Choi had a unique artistic practice. He carved but rarely printed his works on paper.

In my native enthusiasm, I recited the itinerary of my recent exploits in Japan, shared some photos of Nanen's work. It was pretty innocent, but in hindsight a bit rude to my hosts. 

Nonetheless, as one artist interested in another, Mr. Choi asked, "How fast does she carve?"
Speed is one of his well-honed faculties, and he exercises himself in other media, such as croquis, the rapid Western-style drawing technique. Only Choi uses brush and ink rather than the usual pencil or charcoal, and works on the floor. After "performing" a few female nudes, he handed me a brush and invited me to try. While I have seen more women's bodies in my life than he has, nonetheless, I was unsure where to place the first line and breathless when I called it quits ending, rather than completing the form. He beamed at the "finish line". Another "Ta-da!" He gave me his as a gift, along with a few others of lobsters and horses.
His fame spread slowly due to the fact that he is never sells his work, the stones themselves, and is reluctant at best to have them printed. His first exhibition was in 1985. His workplace, extremely cramped with stacks upon boxes upon crates of the soft "soapstone" used by seal carvers, resembled more likely his former construction supply store.

When one looks at a carving, whether it's the statue of "David" by Michaelangelo or anything before it or after, speed is not the first thing that comes to mind. Even Michaelangelo's fabled comment about just cutting away everything that wasn't David, doesn't seem to be relevant to Choi's process. 
Next, Mr. Choi took it upon himself to create his first Romanized image in stone by carving my first name into the narrow edge of a stone blank about 3" x 1" x 2", tiny by comparison to the seemingly baby boulders stacked everywhere in his workspace. Getting slowly up from his bench, due to a chronic physical disability, he took a thinner  tool and began to dig into what seemed to be his clenched palm. A cloud of white stone dust grew and spread over his hand. At once, he blew it away opened his palm fully to reveal a multi-lined poem scratched carefully on its wide surface. I almost wanted to shout, "Ta-da!"
Choi is said to profess never to repeat a knife stroke, believing that each movement has a life of its own. Thus it is easy to see this otherwise reclusive artist feeling content as a social being. It took him 12 years to develop his technique of il do il wek, or "one touch, one stroke" through which he calls into being Chinese characters in no less that 36 different styles, including those reflecting ancient Chinese oracle-engraved bones. He has worked with hieroglyphic forms as well as narrative images of nudes, Korean farmer dancers, and whatever else pleases him. 

He proudly showed me a low table top upon which as assembled 27 stones, the face of each were over 6 inches square, of the character for "travel" carved in myriad layouts. Each was a stunning, animated image;
they promoted great
movement despite
 collective weight.

I found his work hanging in one of Insadong's tiny tea rooms, a bartered exchange, I was assured by my friends. One of his works, the entirety of the Kumgang Sutra, (Vajrasamadhi Sutra) encompass 1,111 stones, 6 cm X 6 cm, when rubbed required 11 large, uncut sheets of paper. He has also done other sutras and many poems of his favorite Korean and Chinese poets, but few have been seen by the public.

Kyoto Journal #60 (2005)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hop Skip Jump: Ups and Downs of Korean Shamans in New York City

(First published 2003)

Ground Zero and Niagara Falls were a hop, skip and jump away from each other when Kim Keumhwa  Korea's National Shaman, came New York to present Daedong Gutt, a grand community ritual to promote harmony and reconciliation, during the Lincoln Center Festival.

Like typical tourists, the site of the World Trade Center was the first stop for her troupe of 18 master ritual artists, most of whom were making their first trip to the USA. Standing along the perimeter, a cyclone fence protecting one world from the other, Ms. Kim's attention was at once fixed across the broad plateau and drawn inevitably upward along the phantom limbs. A tall, elegant woman, she stood extremely still and seemed preoccupied with this experience even during the festival's fanfare.

Two days later, and two hours into the 3.5 hour ritual before an SRO crowd at John Jay College Theatre, the cacophony of hand drums, gongs and screeching woodwinds made mince-meat out of linear thought. Ms. Kim, whose vitality defied her 72 years of age, lost not one beat as she hop, skipped and jumped barefooted up a 10 foot ladder, landing upon the twin rails of the razor sharp chakdu (Korean rice straw cleavers).

Demonstrated earlier to easily slice fabric but make no impression when pressed to her arms, legs or tongue, the chakdu were braced tightly, edges up, atop a "tower" composed of two oil drums seated end-on-end, upon which a large water-filled crock and wood box filled with 30 pounds of uncooked rice were stacked. 

A slight breeze came across the stage, rustling USA and Korean flags fixed -- like a skyscraper topping off ceremony -- atop twin 25 foot bamboo poles flanking the chakdu "tower". Five, colored streamers attached below the flags picked up on the breeze as the music reached a frenzy. Ms. Kim took hold of the vertical poles to steady herself and began to slowly turn around atop the cutting edges.

The other shamans rubbed their palms together in traditional circular motion, their attention completely supporting their senior colleague who, now facing the audience, indicated to the musicians to stop playing. From here, she began to speak the oracle of the spirit of the "Knife Riding General" whose brilliantly colored striped costume she wore:

"So many souls remain wandering among the remnants of Ground Zero who are still suffering … Pray with your heart to whatever god you will … Get on with your lives with renewed integrity and compassion … Be happy and respect each other." 

It is from this vantage, for over half a century, that Kim Mansin has been called upon to reconcile relationships and promote harmony among ancestors, spirits and those of us still kicking and screaming and trying to make sense of life. She gets the Big Picture. She said she felt a lot of compassion for those souls at Ground Zero and would be happy to do a ritual to release them. It's her job.

Receiving life-saving spiritual initiation at the age of 19 from her grandmother, also a renown shaman, the charismatic woman has been an acclaimed master ritualist of the northern provinces style for over half her life. Her title, Mansin, reflects her command of 10,000 spirits, and they, her. Designated by the Korean government as primary presenter of Important Intangible Cultural Property #82, Seohean Pongeoje, West Sea Rite for a Bountiful Fishing Catch, she also convenes public rituals, including one to promote reunification of the peninsula. She has many private clients, including women and men who, due to their own possession by malevolent spirits and unsettled ancestors, require initiation and would then follow in her footsteps, literally.

"I get on the chakdu to assume the bad fortune, the pain, of others, she explained. "I poke myself here and there, arms and legs, to assume and block the pain on behalf others. The chakdu blocks petty spirits and misfortune. Therefore they must be kept exceptionally sharp."

She acknowledges that she has been hurt by the chakdu, "The spirit sometimes leaves a mark to show the presence of insincere people."

A visit to Niagara Falls seemed an excellent way to "come down" from the rigors of the "performance", and the troupe did just that. Standing safely behind the guard rail on the Canadian side, Kim Mansin took it all in, as if viewing it from some distant place. The seamless, mighty flow of water was relentless in its pull on the imagination: horizontal then downward. Attraction to the edge was palpable. Perhaps acting for personal fame rather than the redemption of others is a recipe for disaster. Those who dared the devil and took the plunge would know, too. Shamanism isn't for everyone.

"You have to work at it and give it your all to be of help to people," she reflected. Think of it like this: A candle gives light, but it burns itself away in doing so. You aren't helping others if it isn't difficult."

Monday, June 18, 2018

Artist as Shaman: RIP ED MOSES

“My thought is that the artist functions in a tribal context, that he is the shaman. When the urban life came in, tribes no longer existed … but there was still a genetic core of shamans, broken loose and genetically floating around. And when they had this gene, they shook the rattles. The shamans were the interpreters of the unknown, they reacted to the unknown with symbols and objects and wall painting. And that’s where it all came from. That’s where I came from. But when you’re a young man you don’t know that. -- Ed Moses


That's life. Will the big guy on top crush the little guy on bottom? Cheering on the little guy to hold on. Don't give up! I found the upper guy oppressive. And what's up with the place they seem to touch? Were they separable? Inseparable? How long until I see it as a Whole Object in Balance?

Three times I missed the difference.
I thought I forgot to copy the other one and send it along.
I thought I took another photo of the same image.
The short term memory loss is crazy making.
I must remind myself that I am skilled.
Reliable beyond my idea.

Multiples like scales practiced.
Which one do I like?
Thinking about looking at photo contact sheet through a loupe.
Looking for that distinction?
Perfect one?

Primari-ly but not primary.
Blue, Orange and Green
Is the same amount of yellow included in both orange and green?
Is this  yellow what makes the composition hold together?

The tombstone says we add the yellow.
I don't miss it at all.
I like the whilte of the
5 distinct panels of color.
Yellow hops over white like a child caught in an ambivalent divorce of parents with joint custody.
 But what if ...

Which one?

Something is becoming ...
In the process 

Making room for strong opinions

Random thoughts looking for PATTERNS
Yellow hops over white.

For more information on Ellsworth Kelly, try Artsy!

(Not) Prime Footwear

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Works by 5 Women Artists Among 9 New Acquisitions @ LACMA

 Works by Betye Saar, Martha Boto, Ruth Asawa, Julie Mehretu and Jennifer Bartlett were formally welcomed into LACMA at the 2018 Collectors Committee weekend. Here's the full list of acquisitions. Excellent. Thanks, Guerilla Girls, Lynda Resnick, Ann Colgin and other collectors for making this possible.

Betye Saar’s I'll Bend But I Will Not Break (1998) is a sculptural tableau comprising an ironing board imprinted on top with a diagram of a British slave ship, showing how scores of bodies were sandwiched into the ship’s lower deck. An iron—chained to the ironing board just as slaves were chained to slave ships—refers not only to female labor but also to the marking of slaves with branding irons. In the tableau, a sheet is pinned to an ordinary laundry line with letters “KKK” appliquéd onto the sheet, a reference to the white sheets and hoods worn by the members of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the first large-scale work by Saar to enter LACMA’s collection and will be included in the artist’s upcoming LACMA exhibition Betye Saar: Call and Response (opening 2019). Gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Martha Boto’s Optique Helicoidal (Mouvement) (1967) is a superb work by a major representative of the kinetic art movement, one of the only women to work in this vein. Created in Paris following Boto's move there from Buenos Aires, the work combines modern technology and new materials (e.g. aluminum, stainless steel, and Plexiglas) to produce mesmerizing optical effects. Deceivingly simple, the work is precisely conceived to trick the viewer’s eye and induce contemplation. “My particular means of movement, color, and light can give the illusion of contraction, or multiplication, so that by optical means the spectator undergoes a series of reactions,” said Boto. This is the first work by this pioneering postwar Latin American artist to enter LACMA’s collection.
Gift of Gayle and Tim DeVries through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Parviz Tanavoli’s , Lion and Sword II, 1975, and Lion and Sword III, 1976, two carpets; , 2008, a screenprint; and , 2015, a portfolio of four screenprints. Tanavoli, one of the founders of Iran’s main modernism movement, has a long-standing fascination with lions, which he has rendered in a variety of media and configurations. In these two carpets Tanavoli highlights a long-established emblem of kingship and the Iranian state—a lion with sun rising from its back (Shir u Khurshid). More recently Tanavoli has returned to these earlier designs in a series of prints, where he redeploys the original images by focusing on color and form. The two carpets will be featured in the upcoming exhibition In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art (May 6–September 9, 2018). Gift of Hope Warschaw through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S.027, Hanging Six Open Hyperbola Forms that Penetrate Each Other, with a Half-Hyperbola at the Top, (1954) is an early and unusual example of her ethereal hangings that redefine the notion of sculpture as solid form. Described by the artist as “open hyperbola forms that penetrate each other,” the work was inspired by a 1947 trip to Toluca, Mexico, where Asawa observed local artisans forming baskets from a mesh of interlocking wire loops. Upon her return to the U.S. she began her lifelong journey of transforming this functional technique and modest industrial material into poetic works of art. While also known for her drawing, printmaking, and civic art initiatives, Asawa is most revered for these transparent looped-wire sculptures. Gift of an anonymous donor and the 2018 Collectors Committee with additional funds from the Buddy Taub Foundation.

Julie Mehretu’s Epigraph, Damascus, (2016) is a monumental six-panel work that uses photogravure, a 19th-century technique that fuses photography with etching, with aquatint (using sugar lift and spit bite) and open bite. Mehretu created the foundation of the print from images of architectural drawings of buildings in Damascus, which she then overlaid with an array of marks—a fusion of past and present that, in the context of Syrian history, resonates with the regrettable reality of history repeating itself. Epigraph, Damascus joins one print by Mehretu, Local Calm (2005), and one painting, Untitled (2012), in LACMA’s collection, and will be featured in her mid-career survey, Julie Mehretu, co-organized by LACMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art (opening at LACMA in November 2019) Gift of Kelvin Davis and Hana Kim through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Forest Spirit Figure (Nigeria, Niger Delta, Ijo culture, 19th century), a monumental sculptural figure with seven heads and 14 eyes, emblematic of its role in protecting a community and promoting well-being. This commanding guardian figure is the most imposing and expressive of all known examples, and among the most remarkable works of sub-Saharan Africa. It was the centerpiece of Tradition as Innovation in African Art at LACMA in 2008. With its alert, superhuman vigilance, the forest spirit figure will have prominence in LACMA’s permanent collection galleries, underscoring the multiplicity of visions that LACMA embodies and imparts. Gift of the Silver Family and the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Collection of African Ceremonial Barkcloth Paintings (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mbuti culture, 20th century) are 29 barkcloth paintings created by nomadic groups of people known as the Mbuti, who reside in the Ituri rainforest. Mbuti men harvest bark from trees and pound them into pliable sheets that serve as painting surfaces for Mbuti women, whose art, with its aesthetics of asymmetry and visual dissonance, mimics the imagery of the rainforest and aligns with the syncopated polyphonic rhythms of Mbuti music.
Gift of the 2018 Collectors Committee.

 Jennifer Bartlett’s House Piece (1970) is an early, seminal work that demonstrates the artist's innovative and characteristic use of enameled steel plates as standardized units for her compositions. It comprises 61 12-inch-square plates to which color was applied in the form of dots to create multiple representations of what Bartlett described as a “banal, yet poignant” image of a house. The fact that she submits the house image to an almost relentless deconstruction, analysis, and reconfiguration problematizes*  any fixed notion of “home,” while also investigating the nature of representation itself. House Piece will be featured in the LACMA’s 2021 exhibition Coded: Art at the Dawn of the Computer Age, 1960–1980. (Editor's Note to Visual Artists / Curators: How about if you leave the writing to the writers. I'll not mess with the visual artmaking.)
Gift of the 2018 Collectors Committee and the Schloss Family.

Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta (Korea, Joseon dynasty, 17th century) is a Korean gilt wood sculpture depicting one of the most powerful bodhisattvas in the Buddhist pantheon. Mahasthamaprapta symbolizes the power of wisdom in Buddhist practice, and in East Asian Buddhist art is often paired with Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Like Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta is an emanation of the Buddha Amitabha (Buddha of the Western Paradise or Pure Land), and is often depicted in China, Korea, and Japan. This sculpture is a significant addition to LACMA's collection of Korean Buddhist art.
Gift of Florence and Harry Sloan through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Hakuin Ekaku’s  Willow Kannon (c. 1755) depicts the Bodhisattva of Compassion who sits in meditation, her eyes slightly opened in accordance with Zen practice. The willow to her right signals that she is the Willow Kannon, evoking both her strength and flexibility. This monumental masterwork is by Hakuin (1685–1768), the best-known Zen Master of the last 500 years, and Japan’s greatest painter-monk.

Willow Kannon joins LACMA’s other 10 works by Hakuin; these 11 artworks will form the core of a proposed exhibition on Zen art by curator and head of Japanese art at LACMA Robert T. Singer. Gift of the 2018 Collectors Committee with additional funds from an anonymous donor, Laurie and Bill Benenson, and Richard Wayne and Charlotte Wayne.