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  • Writing About Attention

    "Writing about attention, I see that I have written a good deal about pain. This is no coincidence. It may be difficult for others, but pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in, was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right."

    -Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

  • If A Thing May Be, It May Also Not Be

    “Psychoanalysis uses the term 'anticipatory grief' referring to the feelings experienced by those waiting for someone to die. Knowing their loved one is dying, they start the mourning process before the actual death.”[...] “But it could be argued that anticipatory grief is in fact a phenomenon that occurs when the one we are mourning is very far from death. The result of anticipatory grief is the painful realization that the object already contains the possibility of its non-existence. A nothingness is created.” (From: The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression - Darian Leader)

    Pain of actual and potential loss is the primary idea behind the video piece If A Thing May Be, It May Also Not Be. In this video I explore a personal relationship between two opposite stages of life and also examine where I am standing in relation to those; how I can see my own self in those two images, both the infant’s and the elderly person’s, and how peculiarly analogous I see them to the other.

    Freud touches on the idea of anticipatory grief in his paper ‘On Transient’. When we think about the transience of an object, there is a “foretaste of mourning over its disease”. Concepts of time and mortality are closely involved here, but also the sensation of love. In this video, I try to broach the question if the act of anticipatory grief is a part of the birth of human love itself? Does love always involve this “foretaste of mourning”?

    Time and space are the other two notions that strike me in the subject of loss. “We preserve the lost object inside of us in a symbolic space of representation, not allowing it to be forgotten. Being forgotten is a kind of death. There is also a temporal dimension to loss, since it relates to losing a possession we once had, in the past. However, it is in the present that we are made aware of an actual or potential loss”. We sense the potential loss by imagining a future that the loved “object” is no longer possessed or no longer ‘present’, therefore its potential absence can be sensed in the present, which again causes the ‘anticipatory grief’.

    In relation to mourning and melancholia; Giorgio Agamben also writes: "Although mourning follows a loss that has really occurred, in melancholia not only it is unclear what object has been lost, it is uncertain that one can speak of a loss at all.”

    The realisation that something we love or admire could be lost can cause massive discomfort, though I have tried to challenge this fact by showcasing one of the most comforting actions of all, which is falling into sleep. Here the act of sleeping can be equated with the notion of rebirth into presence.

    This notion harmonizes the eastern sufism and mysticism perception of the death which suggests that death accompanies life; and that beauty, joy and pleasure are indebted to death, that death like any other fundamental rule of life is required so that all beings would be able to achieve perfection. From this mystical point of view, death is a simple phenomenon; when it happens it does not affect life. Life is a continuous and perpetual movement that nothing can stop it.

     

    ...
    A starling flew away.
    What made you gloomy? Consolations are not few.
    this sun
    tomorrow's baby
    next week's pigeon 
    Somebody died last night.
    And wheat bread is still delicious.
    and water is still pouring down.
    The horses are drinking.
    ... 
    -Sohrab Sepehri, from the poem The Movement of The Word Life
     

  • Pretense of Letting Go

    Longing is the core of mystery. Longing itself brings the cure. The only rule is, suffer the pain. Your desires must be disciplined And what you want to happen in time, sacrificed." ~Rumi

    Section One : “I left my country with one suitcase.”

    I had heard this sentence many times that it became a cliché at some point, a form or an image on book covers and film posters, the silhouette figure of a man with one suitcase in hand. It became a shallow symbol of leaving, and nothing more. I never thought of its origin and of its real meaning, until that night; that very particular night in August 2012, that I started packing “my life”.

    I had been a collector by nature all my life. Growing up I used to collect stamps, leaves, match boxes, shiny candy wrappers, postcards, maps of different cities and countries, colorful erasers in different shapes… And I would only get rid of them if there was no more space in my room. As an adult I continued the same manner with different objects. But that night it took me hours to really understand that I am not able to fit everything in one suitcase. That’s a very simply logical fact to understand, you only need to compare the size of a suitcase with everything else around you; with all the clothes in your wardrobe, with all the books on the bookshelf, with all the pictures on the wall, with all the plants by the window, with all the shoeboxes under your bed, with all the treasures here and there; you only need to compare the size of a suitcase with all your past… It sounded simple to understand but the fact is that it was maybe the most difficult thing that one could really deeply comprehend.

    I sat there just in the middle of my room among all the objects I wanted to fit in one suitcase. The suitcase became easily full only with “essentials”. There was only a little space left for keepsakes. I had to choose, I had to prefer some objects over the others, I had to prefer some memories over the others, I had to choose part of my past and not all of it, and in order to do that I had to review all my past.

    Was it possible? Could I go through all the objects in my room and recollect the memories which tied me to those objects? Did I really understand on that short night of August that what those objects represented in my life? Did I really “need” those objects? I do not know. But I know that I wanted to bring something from my past, something tangible to hold in my hands and feel the past in them; something that could retain the softest sounds of my memory, or the effaceable smell of our house.

    “But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest, and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” -Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

    Among all those piles of objects, I strangely didn’t pay such attention to the photographs. At that point, they didn’t seem linked to my memories, or perhaps they were linked but too directly and immediate that I my mind couldn’t handle. I never truly find out the reason, but I left piles and piles of family albums behind. I didn’t even pick my art-photographs, though I scanned many of them and brought them with me in non-physical form. Now that I think, I feel among all those remained objects I miss the family albums the most.

    I do not know how, but anyway I picked a few objects and placed them in my suitcase: One object as the memory of all the afternoon teas I had with friends.

    One object as the memory of all the family meals.

    One object as the memory of a friendship.

    One object as the memory of the all those streets I experienced love for the first time in.

    One object as the memory of all the nights I read Rumi with my father.

    One object as a memory of my homeland.

    On that night of August, I wished desperately that I could fit all my memories in one suitcase. I thought I was losing my past as I was losing the objects. When I zipped the suitcase that night and when I left that room with all the remained objects a few days later, I felt something pulling my heart from the outside. I was attached, and my attachment to the past was being embodied in an attachment to the objects. A few days later I was in my new home, 7000 miles away from my homeland, and I could feel the strings between my heart and something in outer world being stretched more than anytime. 3

    Section Two: “Let’s build us a home, brick by brick.”

    The concept of home can easily evolves when one moves to another place with completely different background and history. Everything is new; people’s faces look different, the smell in the air is different, the sun feels different on your skin, the sounds from the street is different. For the first few days you only feel the advancement and novelty of your new life but gradually you come out of your “tourist role” and realize that you need to search for your home. You first start referring to your previous neighborhood as home, then to your previous city and finally, to your motherland as your ultimate home. When people ask you: “Are you going home?” you cannot think about anything but your country. Days pass you by and you still feel the strings pulling out your heart.

    You ask yourself if the objects from the past may help. You bring them out of your “suitcase” and place them all over the house. One in the bedroom, one on the shelf, one in the kitchen...They become remnants of a “home” you cannot let go of. They become the home itself.

    After a while you realize that you are not a collector anymore. You realize that there is no pictures on the walls. You realize you have become disable of finding new things. You realize you have made a home with no opening toward the new world outside. When you walk in the street and happen upon a beautiful feather, you don’t pick it up; you take a deep look at it and tell yourself: that’s not yours.

    Migration can make you a minimalist, or at least it was true in my case. My mind was so 4 cluttered by memories that I didn’t feel there was more space in my surroundings for more objects. I hold on to a few items to hold back the past.

    “As humans we crave beauty and we attempt to hold on to this experience through physical evidence.” -Stephanie LaCava, An Extraordinary Theory of objects

    Section Three: “I pretend I let go.”

    In the book Ruling Your World, Mipham Sakyong talks about attachment and explains this Buddhistic belief that “clinging will never lead to lasting happiness.”

    “What do we discover when we let go? Space. Sometimes it is known as openness, selflessness, or emptiness. Is it empty because we lost something? No it is empty of our concept of what we thought it was. Emptiness is empty of our assumptions, and it is full of compassion. This is basic goodness. Discovering it is freedom. We realize that assumptions are the basis of most of our experiences. We discover that when the mind and the world are empty of those assumptions, we can live in space like the garuda because we’re running on equanimity instead of attachment.” -Mipham Sakyong, Ruling Your World

    After reading this book I decided to challenge this idea and reexamine my relationship to the objects through my artwork by pretending that I am letting the objects, and therefore my attachment to the past, go.

    I decided to take photographs of the objects not to get attached again to a new object(the photograph), but to create a new memory: Memory of a very cold winter day when I took all my objects to the outerworld, walked for a long time on white white snow listening to its empty sound under my feet, and pretendingly made new little homes for each of the objects and pretended to abandon them there in the world; then carefully gathered them all back, brought them home and placed them where they truly belong to. And by this, besides creating new memory for myself, I have added a new memory of space to the landscape. I have added something from my past to my new environment, I have added a piece of myself to my new home, I have made an impression to this space like footprints on the snow. i have made this space mine.

    The object can hold an unexplored world, containing within it memory, emotion and untapped creativity. -Susan Pollak, The Rolling Pin

    I pretended I let go of possession of the objects but instead developed a different kind of attachment to their memories. Now I am asking myself: Isn’t memory a possession? Doesn’t it again make me emotionally attached to a new place, to my new home? Or as the concept of Prajna explains, am I not just attached to being attached?

    As an artist dealing with the issues of home and attachment, I believe I’ve managed to let go of the strings in the daily life, but when I step into my studio/my art world, I allow myself to be the most attached person on the earth, the most nostalgic one; I allow myself to keep longing, to go deep in melancholia as “longing is the core of mystery”. 

  • Black Maria Film and Video Festival

    Monday, March 4
    Naropa University-Performing Arts Center

    “The Black Maria Film Studio was the world’s first purpose built motion picture studio. It was erected in 1893 by Thomas Edison to facilitate the production of the earliest moving images known to exist. Edison’s motion picture technology allowed previously unimagined expressive possibilities and freed creative individuals to interpret and represent, and audiences to experience the world as never before. It is the pioneering and adventuresome spirit of innovation and pursuit of fresh, bold, insightful, passionate, and diverse and independent filmmaking that drives the Festival’s work.”
    John Columbus
    Founder / Executive Director

    The Black Maria Film and Video Festival is an annual international juried competition and award tour which has been exhibiting and rewarding innovative and novel works from independent film and video makers since 1981. This festival is uniquely known for its National Public Exhibition Program which calls attention to a collection of variant contemporary works.
    Every year Black Maria festival tours to approximately 65 venues - museums, colleges, libraries, community organizations - across the U.S. and abroad with the objective of presenting works of art with imaginative, perceptive, and even uncommon spirit.
    What makes the black Maria festival exclusively interesting, in my opinion, is its recognition and support for these independent film and video artists whose works are visually very poetic, socially responsive and culturally diverse.
    This year in its 32nd, the festival presented a program of the 2013 winning shorts, ranging from a variety of narrative, animation, documentary, and experimental.
    The First Person Cinema Program hosted the Black Maria Festival at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado on March 4th.
    The evening included a conversation with festival director, John Columbus around the eight short films [1] featured from three different categories. Four short films from Juror’s Stellar Selection, three short films from Juror’s Citation Selection and one short film from director’s Choice Selection.
    In this article, I will be focusing on three short films, one from each category:

    -Feral by Daniel Sousa (Juror’s Citation Selection)
    -Bridge by Kevin T. Allen (Juror’s Stellar Selection)
    -Bloom by Scott Stark (Director’s Choice Selection)


    Feral:
    Daniel Sousa
    2012, 13 minutes

    Feral is a short animated film telling a story of a wild boy who is found in the woods by a hunter and brought back to civilization. During this short animation, we observe the boy’s attempt to adjust himself to this new environment, his failure and his reversion back to his wild state.
    The structure in this animation seems very associative, abstract and poetic with painterly quality; the animation includes 2-D, graphically animated characters and hand-painted frames which comes from Sousa’s background in illustration-making and painting.
    In Feral, traditional hand-drawn elements and digital composites come together creating beautifully hazy and dreamlike layers of visuals to express a powerful narrative and a poetic statement.
    Compared to Sousa’s previous works, Minotaur (1998) and Fable (2005), Feral has developed a more unique approach to style and technique; the linear work has been replaced with silhouettes and cut off shapes filled with painted textures, and the final result seems to bring a more emotional connection with the audience.
    As almost all Sousa’s works, the theme of Feral has root in mythology and fairy tales and is a study in archetypes of human nature and all our struggles between conflicting instincts; our intellectual and our physical selves, our thoughts and our urges.
    The story reminds me of Kaspar Hauser[2] and other historical accounts of abandoned children. It is one of those animated films that would make you stuck in your thoughts with loads of questions: What is it that specifies us as human beings and separates us from the other animals. If we were raised without the benefit of human contact, culture and education, would we still behave like humans? Or are we more like mirrors that reflect any environment we are exposed to?


    Bridge:
    Kevin T. Allen
    2012, 11 minutes
    Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge are the leading characters of this super 8mm short film by filmmaker, sound artist and radio producer, Kevin Allen. Using contact microphones, Allen has been successfully developed a sound-based study on these three bridges of New York, made them audible and revealed their underlying stories.
    The film seems to address these bridges as anthropological body for discussion which finds culture not exclusively in human forms, but also inherent in physical landscapes and material objects, like bridges.
    The imperfectness of the medium, providing the grainy look, gives a complete different face to these familiar scenes and evokes another period of time. Sounds and visual impressions make the Bridge become a very tactile film which takes the viewer to those places in a very intimate way.
    Despite a comment from the festival’s executive director, John Columbus on the film being challenging, I believe that the beautiful use of light, sunsets and sunrises, passing trains and cars, saturated-colored textures and the rustiness of the bridges along with crisp and powerful sounds, all create a clear and distinct understanding of the film which occurs to the viewer during the first five or six minutes of the film; but unluckily, serving the rest as tediously repetitive sceneries, and unlike Allen’s previous work, Kieu(2006) the viewer is reluctant to watch through the end of the film thirstily.

    Bloom
    Scott Stark
    2012, 11 minutes
    “Texas-based film/video artists Kelly Sears, Mark and Angela Walley, Scott Stark, Alec Jhangiani, and Alex Luster delved into the vast collection of movies, newsreels, and homemade films in the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and created entirely new works from the footage. These new reworking are creative intersections of past and present, bringing new life to cinematic memory.”[3]
    Scott Stark’s Bloom is one of the works in that collection which is made for TAMI’s Mess with Texas program.
    Bloom can easily be divided into four main segments: Footage and moving images of oil drilling and oil fires from the first half of the 20th century, images of flowers in bloom, an experimental soundtrack and also pieces of Roger and Hammerstein’s song “Edelweiss” in different versions.
    Stark combines all these elements in fast pace, fades them into one another and repeats them over and over to juxtapose man and nature as a photographic collage.
    There is a very distinguishable contrast between oil drilling/oil fires imagery and flower’s images by their nature, which makes the viewer only think of the classic incompatibility of nature and industry. You can also find the same kind of counterpoint in the soundtrack; the shuddery characteristic of experimental sound work against all the dreamlike childhood memories that Edelweiss brings up in mind.



    References:
    [1]
    Juror’s Stellar Selection:
    -Bridge / Kevin T.Allen
    -Here and Away / Meena Nanji
    -Lionfish Delusion / Quique Rivera Rivera
    -Nile Perch / Josh Gibson
    Juror’s Citation Selection:
    -A Catechism of Familiar Things / Gina Napolitan
    -Feral / Daniel Sousa
    -Magnetic Reconnection / Kyle Armstrong
    Director’s Choice Selection:
    -Bloom / Scott Stark
    [2]
    Kaspar Hauser was a German youth who claimed to have grown up in the total isolation of a darkened cell. Hauser's claims, and his subsequent death by stabbing, sparked much debate and controversy. Wikipedia
    [3]
    From Texas Archive of the Moving Images
    www.TexasArchive.org