Themes In Art: Farmers, Japanese and Newly-Texan Moravians.

One thread connecting two seemingly disparate stories. Just go with it.

I've been thinking about block printing lately and our recent viewing of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which is AWESOME, gave me lots to get excited about. The story centers on a community of farmers and a collection of samurai. Viewing of the three hour masterpiece spanned the entire weekend. Lingering thoughts on the film and its characters were interspersed with a road trip out of town and into Texan farmland.

We took a day trip to the Northern European part of Texas, 90 miles west of Houston, where immigrants from Germany and the Czech Republic (formerly Moravia) settled, fleeing the Austrian Empire. Our main agenda was to take a tour of the "painted churches." These are turn of the century farm churches, often far from the next town. Though the exteriors are simple and the surroundings, farmland, the interiors are exploding with color and design.

Queen of the Painted Churches, St. Mary's at High Hill.

St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Praha, Texas.

I'm really into these panels framed with flora, but completely absent of fauna. I know it's supposed to be paradise, but it seems post-apocalyptic. Stay tuned to see something similar from a synagogue in Venice.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Dubina, Texas. Built 1876, rebuilt 1912.
Inlaid marble cross leads the way to salvation.
Most of these churches have outdoor restrooms. This one is labeled in both English and Czech.

In Shulenburg we passed a Czech bakery. After a quick and excited turnaround we were in line staring at the variety of kolaches, basically a filled pastry. I've seen kolaches all over Houston, but they're notoriously non-vegetarian. However, I learned that the traditional kolache is filled with poppy seeds, sweet cheese, or fruit. 

Later that day while wandering around La Grange I spotted the Texas Quilt Museum. We had fun looking through the beautifully preserved 19th century building filled with all kinds of hand made quilts. Now I want to make a one like this antique paper cutting style. 

But back to the Samurai.

The plot in short: a village of farmers intend to keep safe from the bandit's harvest time plunder. Their strategy is to employ samurai, basically another enemy to intimidate and kill the roving bandits. The story is set in the 16th century, medieval! just the way I like it, and is gorgeously shot. There are so many wonderful things to say about Kurosawa's film (see Alex), but I want to focus on the Academy Award nominated costumes by Kohei Ezaki.

They're lovely. And full of fantastic prints. I'm always looking for the detail work in any art form and it's plentiful here. Kurosawa was known for considering historically accurate dress and I think it shows. You can really imagine the feel of these organic fibers, cotton, linen and silks, hand dyed with local plants, and stamped by hand with wood block prints.

Medieval era samurai, and some farmers, typically wore three garments: hakama, kimono, and kataginu.

Heavily pleated hakama on the left paired with printed kimono.
Kataginu, sleeveless jacket with bold shoulders.
Probably my favorite print, a bow and arrow feather repeat across the back of Kikuchiyo's kimono.

One shoulder off for combat.
These are some examples of what the bandits wore. 

Too many tragedies. 


Anokhi in India.

Thinking seriously of future plans involving...

the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing in Jaipur.

Anokhi, a pioneer of hand block printing for the export market, is known for its success in preserving and revitalizing traditional Indian textile skills, and for its involvement with educational and social projects in Rajasthan, India.  

Each pattern starts with carving one to thirty print blocks out of teak and then applying the pattern with vegetable dye on the highest quality material, usually a sublime gauzy cotton. 

I have one stunning vintage Anokhi piece in my closet (I'm guessing mid 70's era, found at the Salvation Army in Philadelphia). Even though the skirt is almost entirely covered with color, you can see bits of the pure cotton in between. The construction is also meticulously done with side pockets, side buttons, French seams, and a delicate trim below the skirt yoke.


Sick-In-Bed Double Feature.

It's strange staying in bed during the day, but I need to combat my everlasting cold. I made the most out of it by playing two movies which seem to have quite a few things in common.

Number one: they both made me laugh my ass off. Good medicine, right?

Sacha Baron Cohen in Brüno, 2009

I have a crush on SBC, always have. He's amazing. Well educated, interested in religious and cultural affairs and current issues, unafraid of making the world uncomfortable for the sake of social progress. Also: incredibly funny. And good looking. And he speaks German in this one. Swooon Schatzi.

I love LOVE everything about this movie. How have I never seen this before? 

Louis CK's Pootie Tang, 2001

I especially love Wanda Sykes, as Biggie Shorty, giving her best Lady Miss Kier moves.

#2: Both lead characters, icons really, are true individuals. The attention to style and costume in these two movies is totally inspiring and satisfying.

#3: Both struggle against adversity, whether it's homophobia, xenophobia, malt liquor, or corporate America. I thought the gay conversion segment in Brüno was especially heartbreaking and the Pootie Tang PSA's encouraging healthy lifestyles, equally heartwarming. 

*too much information warning*
In Pootie Tang there's a small part played by an intense comedian poet I met at the Flea Theater in NYC and briefly dated. 

Watch these and be cured of all ills.


Homesick For Traveling: A Medieval Weekend In Philadelphia.

The Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia from Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981). 

Hey. I don't remember seeing the poster for this film at the Philly airport. I guess it's because of the Liberty Bell Strangler. Bummer, because it really captures the essence of the city. 

It's always strange revisiting the places of past lives (I was in Philadelphia for five years). The main reason for my somewhat capricious trip was, as I mentioned earlier, to attend the symposium on the reception of medieval sculpture. Two full workdays of lectures on medieval art. In Jamie dialect: magical elixir of happiness. 

I left Houston at 4am and went straight to the Penn Museum for immediate immersion. Hours later I emerged with my fellow medievalist, a Tufts colleague and current Penn PhD student. We raced over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for another lecture given by the curator of sculpture at the Louvre. After: well earned drinks at a new Stephen Starr restaurant on N. Broad, Route 6 (maybe a reference to the road through Cape Cod?). It was actually really good, though I usually don't like his style over substance strategy. Check out the gourmet unexpectedness of the fresh fish sandwich and whoopie pies. 

I wasn't asleep until well after midnight. I was too delirious, too excited about my bold introduction to a certain senior scholar who did in fact flash Ripoll on the screen during his lecture. I'm still somewhat shocked at my confidence as I waited patiently to introduce myself and my parallel research interests. Professor was very enthusiastic. After our animated chat he handed me his card, wrote his personal e-mail (which enables him to exchange large files), and encouraged me to submit my paper to a conference taking place in Ripoll next year. YES. The next day he remembered my name and introduced me to another student who is writing his thesis on Ripoll. Truly a major moment for this art historian.

Only for art history would I wake up at 7am on a cold Saturday morning. I met with my Tufts friend and her Penn classmates and together we settled in for eight hours of lecturing. Though there were many interesting topics discussed, from performativity in medieval art to the erroneous placement of medieval art in modern museums (looking at you Yale Museum) to 19th century restoration work on a medieval portal, I think everyone in our group agreed that the best all around lecture was by Georg Geml from Vienna. His paper was entitled "C'est un saint qu'on ne fete plus": On Images of John the Baptist's Passion in the 19th and 20th Centuries and it was all about gory Counter-Reformation style Johannesschüssel:

Johannes-Schüssel aka St. John's Head on a Platter.

Oh those Germans.

The best one Geml showed, from a museum in Cologne, had more guts trailing out. I couldn't find it online. Better get back to Germany soon.

I learned from my weekend roommate that the neighborhood around 12th and Callowhill is known as Eraserhood. I never knew about this. Better revisit the Lynch classic.

From our place in West Philly I took the 64 bus to Federal Donuts in South Philly. I love taking the bus around Philadelphia and I love donuts. Especially green tea sesame ones. Sesame!

My last minute attempt to see the revamped Barnes on the "Champs-Élysées" was not rewarded. Apparently you still need to reserve a month in advance. I am slightly outraged by this exclusionary policy. Isn't that why they moved the collection to Center City? I'm an art historian! Without people like me (ok, people much more scholarly than me) no one would understand the value of these works. 

The Art of the Steal.

Better to stick with fond memories of the original and forget about the scandal? What about the glowing NYT review? I have mixed feelings over all of this.

After my donuts and a nice tea date with my American Swedish Historical Museum friend (+her two year old and still growing baby-in-belly!), I walked from South Street to Ritz at the Bourse to see The Loneliest Planet. This is the same theater I rushed to post GRE to see The Science of SleepI have a crush on Gael Garcia Bernal oh do I. Also, this film takes place in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, near my favorite, Armenia. I was intrigued by the simple, but layered plot, which I won't say much about here. It was an appropriate choice for a solo attendance on a cold and grey afternoon. 

The Loneliest Planet, Julia Loktev, 2012. Hani Furstenburg, on the right, is radiant.
She reminds me so much of Bergman muse Liv Ullmann. 

Spare and provocative, somewhat flawed, but I appreciated the restraint from indulging in exposition and useless filler dialogue. Without these, the simple events take on an intensity that includes the audience in a dynamic way. This is again a kind of Mona Lisa painting: with little information, you're left to your own unique interpretation. One of the lighter topics that resonated with me was the feeling of traveling. 

During our summer adventure I remember when I started feeling homesick. It was in Athens, week 3. A day or so later I was happy to continue traveling on and on to new countries forever. I realized that I thrive on adapting to new environments, which is why I enjoy the small tortures of relocating frequently. Within disorientation the potential for exhilaration increases. Traveling is when you are truly awake, all senses are open and receptive, passive moments are rare. I am especially interested in the way you learn about yourself. Both through the context of others who seem very different from you, but in fact have many similarities of course, and how you negotiate traveling situations, especially crises. 

Cultural observations in Turkey by artist extraordinaire Alexander B. Teich.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. My dream job.

As soon as we returned home I experienced a deep melancholy and desire to be back on the road in Europe. I missed traveling. So I set about planning our next trips. To Los Angeles and another to New York. And there I go to Philadelphia. It's not that I don't like being in Texas, in itself a great new adventure, it's just that I love being a part of the traveling experience; from rushing through the airport toward your departing jet to reunions at arrival (mine or others, I love airport reunions), reading maps, constructing itineraries, getting lost, making new friends from strangers, seeing how people are dressed, learning new words on the spot of necessity, testing personal relationships and communication while constantly negotiating new terrain, trying new food, understanding rituals of all kinds  >> cultural explosion. My idea of home must have changed, probably for survival's sake, along the way.

I'm starting a top five in five years travel plan. These selections are based mostly on art history and culture, of course. So far:


*if, in the next five years, relations with the Middle East improve, then include one or more:

Big plans.

Imagining that I was in De Palma's Philadelphia or even Lynch's Eraserhead, I marched around with Siouxsie and the Banshees' Kaleidoscope (1980) playing on repeat, loudly. The entire album is cinematically atmospheric, the sounds threatening and seductive. It was the perfect soundtrack for today's Philadelphia, which despite gleaming new developments, retains some of that old grit and menace. 

Happy House

Red Light


Pre-Cinematic Bruegel.

Hunters in the Snow, Bruegel, 1565.

I'm consistently drawn to the expression of proto-cinematic movement in art that predates the motion picture. I'm always on the lookout for it and have seen examples in everything from prehistoric cave paintings to ancient Greek vessels to, as I argue, the Romanesque portal sculpture at Ripoll.

I pulled this from the Tufts Art History site:

Professor Martin Schulz, Academy of Arts, Karlsruhe, Germany, describes his lecture: "Animated and Animating Landscapes: Space Voyages and Time Travel in the Art of Pieter Bruegel the Elder."

"The lecture will explore the famous painting "Hunters in the Snow" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I will focus on the spatial effect of the landscape as an animation of the gaze and a translation of images through and across different media: from illumination via drawing to panel painting and finally, in a long leap ahead, to the immersive possibilities of film, video, and many digital based images.

I am going to argue Bruegel's landscape appears to have a pre-cinematic quality. The immersion of the gaze lends itself to a travel through time and space from the depictions of the months in the medieval books of hours up to the cinematic adaptation and transformation of the painting, as it was accomplished by Andrei Tarkovsky in his film "Solaris" from 1972. This leads to a crystalline compression of space and time, in which past and present, actual and virtual space, material and mental images, painting and film and, not least, technology and gaze permeate and determine each other."

Sounds like a very interesting paper. Space Travel!