Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2013

palestine

Joe Sacco is a journalist and cartoonist, well-known for merging reportage with visual storytelling.  If anyone knows me well, this is my man.  On top of that, he lives in Portland.  Don’t think he could get any cooler!

Palestine is a graphic novel documenting Sacco’s 2-month experience interviewing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza during the first intifada.  It illustrates the power of visual journalism through in-depth interviews and cultural immersion as it covers a complex, nuanced issue.

Sacco leverages hard reporting, hundreds of interviews, and personal refugee camp experiences to document Palestine and the spirit of its people – from seeing Palestinians hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers, to staying in Palestinian hosts’ homes for days without a change of clothes.  Sacco’s reporting is complemented by powerful images drawn from his notes and sketchbooks, creating a fluid storyline, and ultimately almost a print version of a film documentary.  Sacco is less interested in getting the scoop, and more receptive to finding stories that will resonate long after breaking news has faded — and this is probably what draws me to his work (aside from the visual stuff, of course).

I love how he isn’t afraid to get his hands and boots dirty, as he digs in deep to let that environment sink in.  He truly captures the personalities of every person he meets there, often in just one or two comic panels.  He seems to cover nearly all aspects of Palestinian life and the conflict, from clashes between Israeli soldiers and the teenagers who hurl rocks in the muddy streets; the way prisoners create societal order within prisons; the different types of torture inflicted in these prisons; the way rain pours in through holes in the roofs of refugee camp huts; the way Palestinians all gather in shabby living rooms to guzzle down tea and discuss their woes; to the perspective and opinions of European-like Israelis living in the big cities, such as Jerusalem.

Like I said, Joe Sacco is my man.

Advertisements

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 12.53.58 PM

Mulisch is a Dutch half-Jew who considered this book his “magnum opus.”  He intertwines religious, historical, and scientific philosophy with a narrative, but the ideas take precedence over character development and writing style.  The book is a memento of sorts, of Mulisch and his best friend — their intellectual relationship and brotherly love, that is stronger than their familial or romantic ties with others.

It’s whimsical, clever, and informative; and full of historical and philosophical name-dropping.

One of the names mentioned is Piranesi, an 18th century Italian artist known for his atmospheric and imaginary architectural drawings.  One of the most interesting parts in the book is the description of “Somnium Quinti” (Quinten’s Dream), which is perhaps inspired by Piranesi’s work.  Quinten dreams of an “interior exterior” — that is, a strange architectural world/phenomenon where he is the only one present amongst a deserted, grey, silent city — stairs, balustrades, doorways and arches all intertwined and built on top of one another in an endless formation, similar to something Escher (or Piranesi) may have drawn.

It’s an interesting book, but not my favorite.

PiranesiPyramid the-gothic-arch

Quote Highlights:

“‘Shall I tell you something, Marilyn?  Believe it or not, I’m happy now.  Because I know that one day I shall look back at this evening in the knowledge that I was happy then.  Maybe you can only be happy via that mirror.  One day I’ll lie on my deathbed in the knowledge that I’ll never get up again–and then the thought of this evening may perhaps ease my death.’  He took a sip, but did not swallow.  He swished his tongue about in the wine, the smell of which now penetrated his nose from inside, and it seemed to him as though those few cubic inches in the darkness of his mind in some way contained the whole world, just as a drop of dew on a stalk of grass mirrors the landscape.”  (p. 183)

 

“She was a professional musician; she knew that making music was not about expressing emotions but about evoking them: and that could only succeed when it was done professionally–that is, dispassionately, like a surgeon operating…” (p. 79)

 

“But in politics the words themselves are the deeds,… There’s a bad smell about doing things verbally without doing anything.” (p. 416-417)

 

“It was orderly disorder, or disorderly order–it was a third possibility: an artistic, unplanned arrangement of countless things, which had obviously landed somewhere by chance, casually put down, forgotten… but which here formed an incomprehensible, harmonious creation, just as a swarm of birds at a certain moment took on a perfect shape that had not been composed by anyone.” (p. 365)

 

“Might it be that beauty was geometrically and musically calculable but that, in turn, perfection somehow diverged from it?  Just as a straight line drawn with a ruler was always somehow less than a straight line when Picasso drew it without a ruler?”

(Note: I have to say here, that ‘beauty’ and ‘perfection’ should be switched.  Perhaps perfection can be geometrically calculable, but it’s beauty that diverges from it…)

 

“With eyes closed, squeezed shut by the darkness, Onno and Quinten listened to the thin Gregorian chant, which hung in the air like a silver cobweb.  For Onno it exuded a desperate loneliness, a metallic freezing cold, which seemed to flow in through a chink straight from the Middle Ages — but for Quinten its harmonic unanimity evoked the image of ten or fifteen men, sinking after a shipwreck but holding each other to the last.” (p. 652)

 

“I have a feeling that the world is very complicated, but that there’s something behind it that is very simple and at the same time incomprehensible… a sphere.  Or a point.” (p. 601)

 

“But causal explanations can never be justifications for his behavior.  Man is not a machine, or simply an animal… That’s why behavior must be judged not causally but finally… Moreover, it’s an unacceptable insult to people who have had an equally rotten childhood and who do not commit crimes.” (p. 576)

 

“When he emerged from under the trees, his bare feet sinking into the sand, still warm from the sun, the moonless starry sky spread out with a gesture that he thought he could almost hear: like a marvelous chord played by the whole orchestra.  Compared to this, the sight of the heavens from his hotel room on the twenty-fifth floor, pale because of the city lights and the exhaust fumes, was a record on an old portable gramophone.” (p. 186)

 

“That was also inconceivable — too much had happened to him in the meantime for that: you couldn’t expect a stone that you’d let go of to return into your hand halfway, like a yo-yo.” (p. 542)

 

And, perhaps my favorite quote of the whole book (strangely): “Only when she was alone did she have the sense that she really existed; other people might be frightened precisely because of that sense, but she was frightened of other people because they stole it from her.” (p. 187)

Noguchi_2

“You can find out how to do something and do it, or do something and then find out what you did.”

Isamu Noguchi.

I’ve been meaning to write about my visit to the Noguchi Museum in Astoria/LIC last weekend.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to write on my art blog or this one, but it’s here for now.

I hadn’t heard of Isamu Noguchi before, so going to the museum was sort of on a whim, after a friend mentioned I should check it out.  It was a sunny Sunday morning.  I got coffee at Bakeway first (very good coffee, pretty good banana bread), which is on Broadway in Astoria, then walked straight to the sculpture garden.  It was really cold that day, so my fingers were freezing, but I caught a glimpse of a cat wandering around the sculpture garden (separate from the museum), and took some pictures.  Seems like it will be a good place to return in the warmer months.

Kitty

The Noguchi museum is part indoor and part outdoor, as there is a garden as well as some parts of the former warehouse-turned-museum that are open-air.  This is something the sculptor/landscape architect designed to be a sort of culmination of his major works, and which now serves to carry on his legacy, in a city where he’d previously had a studio (he worked primarily in New York and in Japan, if I remember correctly, though he travelled a lot as well).

Upon entering, and again, knowing nothing of this artist — I merely wandered through the clearly Asian-influenced sculptures and the garden filled with rocks, trees, and stone works.  Hm.  Interesting.  Peaceful.  Thoughtful… Meditative.  Buddhist?  Nature?

I sat down in a room that was showing a film about Noguchi’s life, not expecting to end up sitting there for an hour.

But I was sucked into the narrative of his life.  Not only was his work interesting, but his life — his character, his way of living, his approach, even the way he dressed and held himself — fascinated me.  Noguchi was born the son of an American woman and a Japanese man — a poet — who later left Noguchi’s mother for a Japanese woman and family.  Noguchi and his mother remained in Japan throughout his childhood, which influenced him deeply in his work.  Yet despite the extent to which he was constantly drawn to his roots – the culture, nature, and way of life in Japan – he was an international traveler, and gained inspiration from his travels in Europe, Mexico, and Asia.  This, and he was caught between being half American and half Japanese during WWII, when he didn’t feel at home in either country.  And he continued to attempt to connect with his father, to much frustration.

IMG_1591

But while he seemed to be the child of an identity crisis both personally and politically, the consistency in his work and the way he held himself seems to be unwavering, like he was always quite certain of himself and his talent.  While macho American artists like Jackson Pollock, hailed by Greenberg, were busy strutting their feathers in New York during the art world shift in the 40’s and 50’s (when abstract expressionism took center stage), Noguchi, whose work was more low-key and ground-level and thus not in the ring of fire, remained on the fringes of the art world doing his own thing.  He drew up plans for architectural installations, gardens, public sculptures, and even worked on set designs for Martha Graham’s performances.  His work was natural, earthy, organic, albeit borderline conservative in some ways — but I was drawn to this, to this merging of art and life that he seemed to do so well, so naturally, so artlessly.

IMG_1581

At a certain point, Noguchi grew tired of the “politics” of the art world and returned to Japan (he did this several times throughout his life) — where he carved a studio space for himself in the country, and with the help of an assistant continued experimenting with myriads of stones and materials.  There was an interesting quote in the film, and though I wrote down the jist of it, this isn’t verbatim: “Work is like a conversation with oneself; through trial and experimentation, you try to nail something down.”

His assistant spoke of Noguchi: “If he made a mistake and cut too much on a stone, he would be disappointed.  If he left the stone for a while, a year or two, the stone would heal like a cut in the hand. Perhaps the thought in his mind had changed, but the stone had also changed color, and the beauty began to emerge again.”

At the moment this may be my favorite picture of Noguchi.  He’s dressed so sharply yet so simply, an outfit so ordinary yet striking at the same time — artist + camera exploring the world.