Objects have connotations unrelated to their purpose. Art can stretch these personal and universal undercurrents into something that celebrates life.
Federico Uribe was born in 1964 in war-torn Colombia. The Columbian Conflict, as history books name it, began in the mid-sixties and continues today. His homeland has been ravaged by armed warfare for the entirety of his life. You might think that this would make a broody, angry artist, and he was such for a time, but he decided that, in order to live, he needed to celebrate the life he was given and reconcile with his past. The key to that was to look at the world around him with new eyes and to use his hands and creativity to remake the world around him with humor and beauty.
Uribe has also made fantastic animals from colorful shotgun shells, turning something ugly and violent into something beautiful and playful. It is by remembering how to play that Uribe triumphs over the darkness and regains his childhood. That childhood is imbued with a reconciliatory power that shows us we can change our world by changing our perspective and helping others to see our vision. As Uribe puts objects in new contexts, we can put ourselves in new relationship with each other and with nature. The way to capture this energy of transformation is not through political statements, but through authentic feeling.
In Good Faith, Federico Uribe
Mahatma Ghandi once said “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Please visit Federico Uribe’s website to see more of his wonderful vision.
What can animals teach us about ourselves and the world around us? Perhaps humans are not as superior as we would like to be.
Beasts do not speak our language, nor do they build civilizations we recognize, so we usually consider them lesser beings. Most people are ignorant of the richness of animal life and experience, oblivious to the fact that an animal can teach us much about survival, satisfaction, and sustainability. When catastrophe strikes, the modern human being lacks skills which are intuitive for many beasts, even “domesticated” ones. On that note, I think we could argue that, in some cases, man is actually the one who has been domesticated. Did you know that science now believes that cats meow and purr chiefly to influence human behavior?
Many people recognize the unique personhood of their pets and service animals–their moods, quirks and tastes–and bond deeply with companion animals. In many cases these animals become part of our families and gain a worth slightly below or equal to our own. Precious few humans have the opportunity to enter into an understanding with a wild animal, a contact that verges on the totemic and the spiritual even as it is visceral. This short film, Man and Beast, directed by Daniel Ariola tells the story of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. In these days of Marvel super hero films, it has a mythological ring to it.
Video via Peter Simonite on Vimeo
Growing up in Queens, the largest borough of New York City, in the 1950s and 60s, Rabinowitz was plagued by an intractable stutter. Placed into classes with troubled students as well as those with physical and mental impairments, he was lonely and frustrated. It was only with animals that he was able to relax and speak normally. The beautiful jaguar he met at the Bronx Zoo became a symbol of the voiceless and helpless. He saw himself in her captivity and frustration. It is she who lends an air of mystery and mythology to Dr. Rabinowitz’s story. His interest in animals led him to study science, which took him out of human civilization to truths that lie in the jungle, beyond human awareness. The second jaguar encounter confirmed his youthful promise and set him on a journey to protect animals all over the globe. Dr. Rabinowitz’s journey ended last year, as he succumbed to leukemia at the age of 64. What a privilege that he was able to dedicate his life the protection and study of animals that inspired him!
Dr. Rabinowitz worked for the Wildlife Conversation Society for almost thirty years. He discovered new species of mammal, including the Leaf Deer, in Myanmar, where he also helped found five national parks. He created the Jaguar Corridor, a series of protected pathways and environments, from Mexico to Argentina and established the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. As the head of Panthera, the company he co-founded to continue his mission of helping big cats, he initiated work on a Tiger Corridor in Asia. He also worked in Taiwan and Thailand, founding and championing national parks and animal sanctuaries and studying beasts. His vision and drive are legendary, all stemming from childhood pain he was able to transmute into action. You can read a tribute to him on Panthera’s website.
Bombarded with cultural traditions and unrealistic fantasies, we often forget that a woman is a person and it is her right to define her life in her own terms. When she is allowed to do so, the power, truth and beauty of her uniqueness far surpasses anything culture or advertising has shown us. Men experience cultural objectification to some degree, as well, but are more likely to be rewarded for breaking the mold, while women are most often castigated.
The following is a luscious music video by the Brazilian band Francisco, el Hombre(Francis the Man) from their 2016 album Soltasbruxa (LettheWitchesOut). The video was directed by Rafa Camâra and filmed in an early 20th Century mansion in Havana, Cuba. It features the sultry voice of Juliana Strassacapa backed by guest vocalists Salma Jô, Helena Macedo, Larissa Baq and Renata Éssis, as well as the Cuban dance company Danza Voluminosa. The gentleness of the song and the fluid elegance of the dancers do not diminish the defiant spirit that gives this song power.
Danza Voluminosa was founded in 1996 by Juan Miguel Mas. Unlike conventional dance troupes, they do not pressure their dancers to maintain or lose weight, but seek out heavier body types. They teach their dancers to embrace their bodies and express their emotions through movement. These dancers may move differently than the body types the world is used to putting on display, but they are no less creative and expressive. Their work has been praised for its sensitivity, emotional impact, beauty and uniqueness.
Francisco, el Hombre was formed in 2013 when two brothers, Sebastián and Mateo Piracés-Ugarte, left Mexico and moved to Brazil. There they met Juliana Strassacapa, Rafael Gomes and Andrei Martinez Kozyreff and decided they needed to do something different with their lives.
“Four years ago, us friends felt an urgent need to live, to feel, to learn and grow. The way we found to do that was to get out of our “nest” and travel in order to learn. Music was the means that we found to be able to travel without money. We played on the street, in restaurants in exchange for food, in hostels in return for a night’s stay. And that was inspired by the figure of Francisco el Hombre. Meaning, we didn’t think about forming a band, it was about a learning experience.” –Sebastián Piracés-Ugarte, Billboard Magazine, 11/14/2017
Francisco, el Hombre
Named for a legendary folk musician from Colombia, who sang and played as he traveled, Francisco, el Hombre spends a great deal of time touring throughout Latin America, singing about the struggles of common people. They are no stranger to injustice themselves. In 2015, the entire band was robbed and lost all of their possessions after playing a show in Mendoza, Argentina. They had to crowd source to rebuild the band, but the experience seems to have made them more resilient. They did not travel to the Latin Grammys when Soltasbruxa was nominated, preferring to tour among the people who understand them best.
Latin American art and music has always been among the most political and socially conscious, and Soltasbruxa is no exception. It is a stirring mix of feminism, anti-capitalist and anti-greed sentiment, and idealism shattered and bent by reality. Triste, Louca ou Má is among the gentlest tracks on the album, which starts with the keening excitement of the title track and builds into to the riotous harmonic strains of Calor da Rua (the Heat of the Street), a exposition of domestic violence on the street. The entire album is full of surprises and quick changes in tone. Sensual melodies, daring harmony and infectious dance music are all present and delightful, but it isn’t merely entertaining. It is an explosive shout for those who are tired of losing.
Humanity can be callous and wasteful, but we often form attachments to things. Can connecting with sentimentality help encourage awareness?
In this age of technology and mass production, we are accustomed to replacing things as they age and break down. It is usually easier to buy a new item rather than repairing an old one. At the same time, who hasn’t lamented that new products are not made like they used to be, that they break down more quickly or are just plain cheap? There are also those items that have sentimental value for us: grandma’s china, a trinket from a beloved friend or spouse, a piece of art or serving ware picked up while traveling. We don’t like losing these things. Any replacement will lack resonance and memory, which lie not in the form or function of the thing, but in its symbolic value as a connection between us and another person, place, time or culture. Once that connection is broken, we slide farther away from our past and feel a little less grounded. As a person who has been through three floods in my home, I have felt that discomfort and can vouch that it has little to do with materialism. We often say that stuff is “just stuff”. That is true most of the time, but not when it has memory attached to it.
Japanese artisans have a way of memorializing such objects when they are broken. It’s called kintsugi, the art of repairing ceramics with lacquer and gold leaf, elevating them to the level of fine art. They may or may not lose functionality in the process, but they become more precious and gain more significance as symbols. This beautiful film from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England gives a marvelous taste of this traditional art form.
The golden connections of kintsugi remind us that relationships and connections are important, that they cannot be replaced. In our pursuit of innovation and excellence, we have to be careful to safeguard and nourish those things that make us human. The synchronicity we find there is worth the time and effort spent.
The next time you break something precious, think about making it into a piece of art. If you need help doing that, there are artisans like the makieshi and disciplines like kintsugi in many cultures. They can enrich your life with symbols, repurposing and elevating what has broken or been worn out. These artisans need the work and our global culture needs the richness they supply. What can be more excellent than honoring our experience and those who have impacted our lives?
As artists, sometimes we assume that we understand our creations. Connecting with an audience shows us the things we miss.
Andrew Myers makes clever paintings by screwing screws into a wooden base and painting them. He was deeply moved when a blind person attended one of his shows and was able to experience his art by touching it. Struck by the lack of tactile art and the prevalence of a hands off policy in museums and galleries, he wanted to do something to reach out to those who could not partake in the visual aspect of the art world.
George Wurtzel has spent his life working with wood. He is a craftsman, making fine furniture and other projects, and teacher. In the summer he works at Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa Ca, a camp for the visually impaired, where he inspires blind folk to make things with their hands. He does this by example, as George is blind.
This wonderful project brings these two talented artists together.
What an incredible gift to be able to “see” things differently! When art can bridge boundaries imposed upon us by our nature and our nurture, it is a transformative experience that changes us forever. I wonder how musicians might use vibration to reach out to those who cannot hear, how dancers might move with those who have movement issues, how singers might make sounds with those who cannot form words. Our art and culture could not help but be enriched by new perspectives and the therapeutic value of these endeavors would be tremendous.
Maybe you are the next artist to reach out and connect with an unexpected audience. I can’t wait to see what you will do!
All images and video used in accordance with fair use policy for educational purposes.
I have always loved making things: textures and patterns create a sense of calmness for me. In my early years I made a texture book into which I glued pieces of fabric. I would spend hours rubbing my hands over the small swatches. Geometric patterns, fuzzy fake furs, textured weaves… they were all delightful. I think I must have worn that book out at some point, but I never lost my love for fabrics, texures, patterns and colors. This love would resurface from time to time. A few years later in grade school I would get in trouble for filling my desk with pretty rocks from the playground.
These creations by German land-artist Dietmar Voorwold take me back to my childhood. Trained as a photographer and graphic designer in Dusseldorf, Voorwold returned to school later to study Art Therapy at the Institute for Humanistic Psychology (IHP) in Eschweiler, Germany. For several years, he spent time working with children, adults, and people with special needs in educational and therapeutic institutions in Germany, Holland and Great Britain, focusing on “self-expression, joy and inspiration.” He found great satisfaction and collaborative potential in making patterns from stones, leaves and other natural materials. In 2008 he moved to Scotland and began to concentrate on making temporary outdoor installations.
Nature is the perfect stage and canvas for the beauty and lightness that I like to express. –Dietmar Voorwold
Land art, the arrangement of collected natural materials into patterns and forms is increasingly popular. In a world that seems so technological and so regimented, it becomes more and more important that we cultivate the simple side of ourselves, that we recognize who we are as part of nature. Otherwise, it is simply too easy to get lost on the sea of social media, to become ungrounded and feel that we are being carried away on the current. Nature is far more difficult to fake than our daily online lives and it offers us a tactile, physical relationship that we cannot replace with virtual reality. If we are clever, we can find ways of using technology to help us record and memorialize those moments of synchronicity and meaning that are the fruits of that relationship.
Thankfully we have rebellious artists like Dietmar Voorwold to take us down the paths less traveled to those places where everything connects. The result is never quite what we expect, and that is the allure and magic that keeps us interested in the world around us. Call it enchantment, call it synchronicity, but do not let it pass from our existence.
The word flourish signifies not only rampant growth, but a gesture or set of gestures that personify vitality and life. That gesture may be expressed in words, carpentry, architecture, music, dance, cooking. There is no pursuit known to humanity that cannot be executed with flourish. One of the most striking exhibitions of this creative gesture is in the music and dance style known as flamenco.
Flamenco’s origins lie in Andalusia with the Roma people of southern Spain, known as gitanos. The ancestors of the gitanos came across Europe and north Africa from northern India and were known pejoratively as gypsies. It is no accident that this vibrant celebration of life and passion came from a people who were persecuted and denigrated. The subject matter is often painful and dark, presented with an emotional intensity and controlled artistry that transmutes such feelings into beautiful, cathartic moments.
Flamenco is a musical tradition that flowered into dance. The dancer embodies the anguish and beauty of the singer’s voice, the rhythmic anxiety and ferocity of the guitar. In most traditions, dancing favors the young, with supple bodies that are flexible and strong. Flamenco favors the emotional palette of the mature dancer and it is not unusual for a flamenco artist to dance well into their fifties and beyond. The duende, or soul of the dance will not give itself easily to the dancer who has not experienced the difficulties of life. In a happy contrast, the flashy and spellbinding footwork is likely to keep the dancer in shape for many years.
This video is from the documentary, Flamenco, Flamenco by Carlos Saura. It’s a beautiful documentary you should check out when you have the time.
The form above is alegrías, or “joys”, a particularly fast paced style, or palo, of flamenco in twelve-eight time, with accents on beat 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12. As the strong beats get closer together in the second half of the bar the rhythm pushes forward with a tense agitation. The dancer is Sara Baras, who has toured the world as a soloist and as the lead dancer of her own company. She has also appeared as a model in London, Madrid and Lisbon, and been featured in Mission: Impossible 2. When she was younger, teachers complained that her feet were too loud, but their percussiveness is a strength and hallmark of her particular gift. Both Sara and her dancing exemplify the meaning of the word flourish in all its shadings.
Sara is a native Andalusian, but it should be noted that, during the Spanish recession, the flourishing of modern flamenco has been sustained and enriched by people from other lands, among them northern Africa, the United States and Japan. It seems fitting that its Roma roots have been extended back out into the global sphere. They carry with them a very important message: We do not flourish when life is easy; we flourish when we surmount our difficulties.
Mary Ann Toots Zynsky, known as Toots, decided as a pre-teen that she was meant to be an artist, beginning her creative life as a painter and sculptor. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which she had been told was the best of the best. And yet, nothing really sparked her interest; everything felt stilted and quiet. In fact, she planned to leave the school at the end of her Freshman year in order to pursue studies leading toward medical school. One day she grabbed a map and decided she would visit each department, perhaps hoping for a reason to stay. Everything changed as she walked down a hallway to a room that had been deliberately placed far from the main studios. Here, loud music played and hot glass swirled in the air, manipulated by artists that moved together to make colorful shapes that solidified into glass. I’m sure the music was loud and the atmosphere somewhat wild… it was 1970 after all…but the voice inside of her must have spoken with a voice to match. The next week, after classes ended, the glass studio, which had recently gained independence from the ceramics department, opened its doors to anyone who was interested. Toots Zynsky did not miss her opportunity.
Video via Corning Museum of Glass on YouTube
It is fascinating to note that Toots was not drawn so much to the final product as she was mesmerized by the process. It was the music reverberating in the space, the concept of collaboration as a kind of dance, the roar of the furnace, the hot liquid glass in motion and the counterpoint of color that quickened her pulse. When art comes from this kind of place, the final form it takes is secondary. It also didn’t hurt that this was a new medium for art and there were few rules to be broken. It was an exciting time to work with glass. On top of that, she earned her BFA working under the guidance of Dale Chihuly, who remains one of the biggest names in glass art worldwide.
In the early 1970s, along with Chihuly and some fellow RISD graduates, Toots was part of the founding team of the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state. Her work was groundbreaking: experimental installations featuring slumped plate glass and forays into video and performance art in collaboration with artist Buster Simpson. Finding new and interesting possibilities, she wasn’t sure she wanted to stay with glass. She returned to the east coast to pursue new projects in new media.
“I started wondering what I was doing with glass and why. There were other materials and ideas that fascinated me, and I started working with cloth, light, wire, and barbed wire. I was interested in barbed wire because it’s such a powerful symbol of the failure of humanity— that we had to come up with this material to keep each other apart.”
In 1980, Toots became assistant director and head of the hot shop at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop in New York City, now UrbanGlass. Here she pioneered works that combined glass with barbed wire, pulling her interests together. She began to work with nets made from heavy glass threads which she dubbed filet de verre. These threads were fused and shaped inside of a kiln. Her first piece made entirely from filet de verre was Clipped Grass (1982). It is a beautiful, humble work of realism, glass fashioned into the image of a nest made from grass clippings. This simple piece was the precursor to the fanciful colored forms which would become Toots’ signature work.
In the early days, she had to employ teams of assistants to pull the glass into threads using an old Venetian method. This took time and resulted in unevenness. There was also a limit to the length of thread that could be produced. When Mathijs Van Manen, an inventor who had also worked with special effects for film and television, came to New York from Amsterdam to check out her work, he was amazed at what she was doing and dumbfounded at how she was doing it. Within 24 hours, he rigged a machine to turn rods of glass into threads. Toots took a trip to Europe to collaborate further on the design of this machine and stayed on the continent for 16 years. Together, she and Van Manen produced a series of kilns which she still uses in her work, although these instruments now incorporate cutting edge software and electronics. She also has special heat resistant gloves that allow her to reach into the kiln and twist the work into shape. These are the product of a desperate moment in Italy when, showing her technique to Italian craftsmen, she plunged her hands into a kiln to rescue a piece that was going awry.
“The architects were so curious and I was so nervous and the piece just wasn’t going right. All of a sudden, I reached into the kiln, grabbed the vessel, and gave it a big squeeze. Finally, I had the form that I wanted! And I thought, Why didn’t I think of this before? I was fed up with the piece, so I tried something different because I had nothing to lose.”
There is more to her work than technique, innovation and boldness. There is a great deal of sensitivity. As a synesthete, Toots relates sound to color. The rhythms of music are translated into patterns of colored glass that are like frozen portraits of sound.
After going through a period of loss in which she no longer felt like dancing, or even moving or listening to music, she began to create darker pieces with fewer colors and more shading, explorations not of music rhythms, but of the feelings she had for people she had lost. What an honor to be remembered in such a personal way by such a great artist!
Toots Zynsky continues to make beautiful things that fill a need in her life and delight others. She has collaborated on costume and scenic design for theatrical works and continues to explore what glass can express. Please check out more of her work on her website.
The power of the spoken word and the captured image can be woven together in a way that evades description.
I thought I had finished synkroniciti’s short cycle on Yemen, when I ran across this beautiful poem by Yemeni poet Dr. Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh read so sensitively by Sarah Ahmed. It is a lament for the city of Sana’a, the longtime capital of Yemen, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It reduced me to tears.
The soft, sensual sibilance of Arabic, the restrained elegance of Tony Anderson‘s Ember, which makes a perfect musical backdrop, and the moving images of Sana’a and its residents, especially the young girls in white dresses running freely among the growing flowers and the crumbling ruins, imbue this short film with deep longing, nostalgia and hope.
May we hold this lovely city and its people in our thoughts. Even more, may we work to end participation in her destruction. Thank you to director Abdurahman Hussain and all who worked on this stunning piece of documentary video. You can read more about Hussain here. Such splendid, human work.
I hope one day that I will be able to visit this incredible, resilient city and to pay her and her citizens respect. Peace!
If you would like to read more of our series on Yemen please check out these links:
Reality is shaped by human constructs of which nature never dreamed. Art exposes and reevaluates these things, creating necessary discomfort.
Let’s talk about money, once labeled the “root of all evil” in the Hebrew Bible. Our modern social system runs on it, and yet what is money? A promise that vouches that we are worthy of the things we need and want, a watermark of our usefulness. If you have more of it, you are thus a better person, right? Something in many of us seems to fidget at this, to recognize that there is error here, an error that has been multiplied many times over, creating cracks that reach to the bottom of our society and threaten the planet which cradles us. Mark Wagner reveals and exploits those cracks to create art.
This ingenious video presented by The Avant/Garde Diaries plays up sociopathological overtones, even putting Mark into an orange shirt and shooting in such a minimalistic way that he seems to be some sort of prisoner speaking from his jail cell, or, worse, some sort of serial killer of dollar bills hard at work in his dark attic, stabbing and slicing his victims into pieces for his brilliant, grisly collages. All this from a guy who might ride next to you in the subway-a hidden, dangerous subversive.
Despite their immense cleverness, intricacy and beauty, which make me smile in spite of myself, I’m not completely sure how I feel about Mark’s collages. The destruction of hundreds of bills that could possibly help people in need reveals a certain privilege, an artistic hubris that smacks of a large ego. And yet, I appreciate the boldness of striking at a taboo that has sanctified our currency. Many people believe it is illegal to destroy or deface the American Dollar, but that assertion lies in a gray area. It is illegal to alter or destroy a bill for the purpose of defrauding someone, but the government itself destroys bills or coins when they become too disfigured for use. Doing so for artistic purposes, or even for simple low-tech mischief, is not typically construed as a crime.
The message here cuts deeper. The very word currency refers not only to money, but to “the quality of being generally accepted or in use”. If we accept the system money creates without acknowledging that it has a dark side-the extra pressure and amplified greed which it adds to the common goal of survival-we fail to safeguard our souls and our world against the resulting injustices. And yet, if we suddenly reject a system that underlies our entire civilization, we will destroy that civilization. We have to establish some sort of compromise, recognizing that money is only material, a necessary evil, at least until humanity thinks of something different. And what of all that “digital” money, the disembodied credit that floats through our modern cities like a soul or a ghost animating our desires? Will that ephemeral nature make it even more powerful and more cruel?
I think the world needs iconoclastic art such as this to call out the conflict between morality and the system we have built to sustain our society. What do you think?