Saturday, March 29, 2014


Persons are processes, burning flames, unfolding growth, accruing, expanding, transforming, collaborating.

So are families, communities, cultures, organizations.

And so are the sun and the planet on which we live -- swirling and blazing and withdrawing.

All is change.

Institutions try to push all that into a box, label it, hoard it, sell it, manage it, maybe crush it.

Slightly more than half of young Americans say they belong to no religious institution.  But most of them would probably say though they are secular, they are spiritual.  Secular to them means no institutions, and yet they go on wanting ceremonies of coming-of-age, of marriage, of death, of birth.  When they do those things, they want to do them “properly.”  Or sometimes they think such transitions should be an ecstasy of abandonment and drunkenness. They get their ideas from the movies, a mish-mash.  But they want transcendent experiences, so much that they will take risky drugs.

Part of their resistance to “institutional religion” and most other institutions, comes from their belief that they are individuals.  They feel their happiness lies in controlling their own future and thinking independently.  They are together in groups in guarded, conditional ways.  Dear Abby tells them that if things are not working out, best to move on.  Hook up culture meaning connecting bodies, but not emotions or thoughts.  What is the relationship between spirituality and institutions?

This photo is of women in the Trashi Yangtse district of Bhutan, one of the last relatively untouched places on the planet.  They probably don’t think of themselves in terms of whether they are members of a church -- their lives are seamless between inside and outside.  Their religion is likely Buddhist and they probably know few people who are different. Their place is “The Thunder Dragon Kingdom.”   The headquarters look like a square fort.

In 2006, based on a global survey, Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world.  In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and held its first general election.  It barely thinks of itself as a country, partly because it extends from the highest mountains to tropical lowlands, an “ecotone.”  And now in part what holds it together is throwing out all the ethnic Nepalese who have migrated into the country over the years.  These women stand on the cusp of natural organic spirituality and institutional, defining, and confining religion that justifies exclusion.  The women themselves are vivid, so obviously the same and yet so individual.  

I just now ran across the category of Archaic Greek sculptures called “kouros” if they are male and “korés” if they are female.  They are individual life-sized figures, different but the same.  The men are always nude and their heads are a little bit crude -- flat on the back, careless on the face.  The women are always clothed in what seems to be stiff clothing, with very elaborate and curly long hair that hangs down in a way that helps them form a column.  The women are painted bright colors.

Somehow, these figures seem to refer to gods: the men to Apollo or the Egyptian Horus and the women to Persephone.  Female figures like these were sometimes lined up as pillars to support buildings.  Then they are called caryatids.  There is much written about the symbolism of women who support roofs.  They suggest institutions. 

This woman stands between the two figures: strong, nude, female.

The style of the carving, especially in the treatment of the face -- but also in the nude men's bodies -- the muscle locations and definitions are treated in slightly different ways and in some periods certain muscles are omitted.  Archeo-anatomists note things like “there is a tension observable in this ground between the solid, architectonic quality of early styles and the expressive possibilities of a vigorous, fluid naturalism. . . The ear is carved in more than one plane.  A roundness of the eye is indicated henceforth.  Lips curve upwards and meet more or less at corners, the upper lip protrudes over lower.”

One comes to a concept called “the archaic smile.”  It’s almost a smirk that recurs again and again on the faces of these early sculptures.  Is it a convention or an attitude?  Or both?  A kind of ironic amusement at having to stand there, clothed or unclothed, weight-bearing or independent?  Ogas and Gaddam, authors of “A Billion Wicked Thoughts”, discuss at length the expression on the face of the Mona Lisa, which is very close to the “archaic smile.”  They feel it is fascinating because it combines a strict geometric shape with a blurred human expression, leaving the viewer caught between irresolvably seeing it one way or the other.

But this is the dilemma of being human.  On the one hand we are replications of a universal plan for a creature.  On the other hand we are negotiably in league with others and responsive to circumstances.  Institutions try to control that.  We are either in compliance with basics of anatomy or crippled; functional or struggling to compensate; mindfully in control or lost.  Archaic Greeks are the ones who developed the story of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his Koré so that it came to life.  

There is no ancient mythic story about a sculptor who fell in love with a living woman and made her into a statue.  But there is one about a wife who was turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for looking back.  It’s an institutional story: conform to the rules.  There’s also the story of Midas, so greedy for wealth that he turned his daughter into a golden statue.  He was the King.  But he turned out to be human when he missed his human daughter.  There is one about a boy, a puppet who wanted to be human.  Is all this about love -- attachment to other humans in an intimate way?

This film is about a modern version of the Koré -- clothing mannequins, nude as a Kouros but smooth, hairless, colorless, identical.  The modern expression is not the archaic smile but detached scorn, the runway model stalking along with a voluptuous mouth and blank eyes. “Fuck me -- I don’t care.”   No one makes clothing mannequins for size 44 women, grinning flirtatiously.  But paleo-sculptors made fat women to be fertile -- they weren’t sexy.  “Feed me -- I’m making babies.”

I watch Australian films where many old pot-bellied men are seen nude, almost always from the back and satirically.  They are not quite Buddhas, not happy and always fleeing.  Is this a sort of anti-kouros?  On their way to being satyrs, not-human?  Is it more human to show people in all their variousness or is it better to resolve them into an ideal, though even intended similarity seems to slip in small distinctions, if only the treatment of the earlobe?  Should we force conformity for their own good?  Send them to gymnasiums to shape up? 

Is this in Australia?

Even a painting can do a better job than sculpture of capturing the flaming process of the human being of constituent cells, united by the brain’s idea of who they are and what they are doing.  Rodin had a theory about movement, that he could make a statue seem to move by letting the different sides imply the change as the viewer moved around the figure.  In his lifetime he went from making a kouros that was ideal (“The Age of Bronze”)

to one that was moving (“John the Baptist”)

 to one that was a pillar (“Balzac”).  

Likewise, he portrayed one woman, Rose Beuret, throughout her life but never as a standing figure, an individual.  Always entwined, folded.  Would she rather have been a koré?  Is a koré just a human box?  A human with a "box"?

Eifman Ballet – Rodin – St. Petersburg

Aad de Gids, Netherlands poet and philosopher has this response:
The kore seems even more "natural" than the "kouros" whose musculature seemed so strangely overproportioned but in that, even weird, almost like feminin musculature on a man: wide hips, not a clear male posture. i find it interesting. then the indeed "smirk" on the faces,seemed to me to be a remnant (often overseen) of africanism in greek statuatory art. 
Then the strangest thing happened: the film you inserted didn't "clicked" so i watched it by micro-inching away with my cursor right to the "progressionedge". so it jumped parts of millimetres. i saw the strangest scenes, frozen cinematography. there were several things that struck me. to me it seemed a company in the making of mannequins.  
The boss looked to have walked straight out of napolis quarter "scampia", marseille du nord or palermos "Z.E.N." (Zona Espansione Nord) . yet greatest revelation was that all involved males (designers) seemed to have become sexless, effeminite in their faces (the darkskinned man), the white man kind of a morph  as if, in handling the human form had robbed them from their own characteristic or distinctive features. then,i assume bc it was such strange viewing, it more and more resembled in watching a snuff movie, in particular where one of the designers was watching a coffee table book with, indeed, newtonnesque, bourdinnesque, photos of women, lying, with heady red accents, lipstick, blood? it gave your text even more profundity bc you were writing about exactly the same matters. where does the human figure begin, has it ever begun, where does the puppetry end? plus the mystique of the mona lisa her perhaps, darker indistinguishability a forebodening of what would come later. 
And now,the "hordes" of similes,mannequins with the fuck-me look, shoes, titdress, yet totally numb ,empty, available for cocaine, commodification, profitism, exploitation, blaxploitation. rodin was a scorpio, sculpting is a scorpionic art. what is hidden in the stone, in the deep...... 
i enjoyed this "vernissage" very much. we seem to have studied in time muchly the same topics. where does the one end and the other begin. the force of institutionalization, societal pressure, conventionalism and of course anticonventionalism. pot-bellied men (embouchure) and the stone age venus.

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