2.16.2015

attention art directors, part 2

Someone I met recently happened to show me a Super 8 movie he made with a few friends in 6th grade, about 1977. Based loosely on Baretta, the cop show with Robert Blake, his film had fight scenes, chase sequences, and even a panning shot as characters ran down the street. (It did not however, have a cockatoo.) It was kid-acted, -shot and -directed with surprising skill, with adult input on editing and driving the getaway car. In winning grade school fashion the production was called Barfetta and Eric hand lettered his title cards in puffy, balloon type. I'm not sure why I was so smitten with this little opus but I'm sure it has something to do with the iconic low-tech image quality and the 1970s color. (It made me think of this old post about footage of cars driving away from Woodstock.) I could see each of these frames as a Gerhard Richter painting.

12.09.2014

Packing

Random finds during packing. Above, business card from a family trip.
Below, health votive from Greece.
Small 1920 notebook with maps, 26th Street Flea Market

matchbooks, 26th Street Flea Market
photo, Maine.
UPDATED: I am moving. This means everything comes off the walls and out of drawers and off the shelves—it's taken me a while to absorb the enormity of that. There is just so much stuff. I stop and think—well everything came in the door so everything can make it out. But much of this accumulation was just that-- a steady accrual, creeping in quietly, piece by piece. I've looked at this move as an opportunity to deaccession some things from The Collection: shells, old bottles, ceramics, mudlarking detritus, some wooden what-nots, a large cow head sign... But each shedding is a trial, almost every one produces a twinge of regret along with a brief little remembrance of where and when I acquired the item. The goal was to get rid of 1/4 of my flea market cache. It has been more like 1/10. Perhaps I will do further editing on unpacking.//
The passion for accumulation is upon us. We make “collections,” we fill our rooms, our walls, our tables, our desks, with things, things, things.

Many people never pass out of this phase. They never see a flower without wanting to pick it and put it in a vase, they never enjoy a book without wanting to own it, nor a picture without wanting to hang it on their walls. ... Their houses are filled with an undigested mass of things, like the terminal moraine where a glacier dumps at length everything it has picked up during its progress through the lands.

But to some of us a day comes when we begin to grow weary of things. We realize that we do not possess them; they possess us. Our books are a burden to us, our pictures have destroyed every restful wall-space, our china is a care, our photographs drive us mad ...We feel stifled with the sense of things, and our problem becomes, not how much we can accumulate, but how much we can do without. ... Such things as we cannot give away, and have not the courage to destroy, we stack in the garret, where they lie huddled in dim and dusty heaps, removed from our sight, to be sure, yet still faintly importunate...

—The Tyranny of Things, Elisabeth Morris (1917)
A friend noted:
Things. Recognized as once beloved. Now mostly just reminders of the excitement of their own discovery. Usually many layered time travel... to the time I found it, and further back, to the era the thing came from as well. So a perfect card of "Victory Hair Pins" takes me to both 1940 and 1987.
Recalling two eras was a wonderful observation. 

I still feel delighted by the specialness of the objects I have, but that delight is yoked to a sort of leaden duration of time in my possession. I feel I've "spent" the excitement of the piece by having it around so long. It needs to be discovered again. I have been putting things out in front of my house to be taken (in true Park Slope fashion) and have sold a couple things online. In a sense, by giving objects away or selling them I am reenergizing them— giving these finds a chance to delight anew.


11.25.2014

Hysterically Entertaining

Hysterical yawning
Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière by Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot.
Salpetriere was a major psychiatric hospital in Paris, a former dumping ground for women diagnosed as "hysterical"
Polaire, one of the most famous of the "epileptic" performers.
image from Polaire 1900
Cafe Concert performer Paulus is credited with bringing a frenetic, grimacing gesticulation to the stage in 1871.
He imitated "invalids and limping women." Another singer recalled, "The excited stamping of epileptic choreography" caught on.
In 1905, 21 American patients' seizures were filmed—called ”epilepsy biographs”— by the
American Mutoscope and Biograph company
documentary images, Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière
by Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot
Edgar Degas, At the Cafe Concert: The Song of the Dog, 1875-77
Thérésa, a popular 19th century gommeuse
"idiot" comic Dranem, 1905

The maniacal British acrobatic troupe the Hanlon-Lees, c. 1878. Bibliotheque Nationale
 It is certain that today, primarily in cities, hysteria is the illness in vogue. It is everywhere."
— Dr. Paul-Max Simon, 1881


Progress and fashion have just given us a new way to go nuts. It replaces snobbery, the races and the occult... It’s neurasthenia. All the world has it my friends.—
the song “Neurasthenia,” 1906


A good half of the hit songs of [today] belong to the jiggling pit of Charcot...
they have gesticulatory hysteria—critic Georges Montorgeuil, 1896*


Polaire! The agitating and agitated Polaire! ...What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-grinder and what a belly-dancer!  ...Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly,
mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls... trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows,
faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud.
—Jean Lorrain Decadent novelist and critic

When I first researched and posted about the early 20th century cabaret performer Polaire, I came across the description gommeuse epileptique. Lazily, I relied on Google translate to elucidate. It spit forth "gummy epileptic" which didnt help much, so I was amused and left it at that. It wasnt until a recent commenter tipped me off to a wonderful book that explained that peculiar phrase and revealed that "epilectic singers" were an entire genre of entertainment in late 19th and early 20th century France. Why the French Love Jerry Lewis: From Cabaret to Early Cinemaby Rae Beth Gordon is not so much about Jerry Lewis as it is a fascinating interdisciplinary study of the intersection of early French mass entertainment and psychiatric pathology. I especially love 'rogue' scholarship which brings together unlikely academic bedfellows and Gordon doe not disappoint. She juggles mesmerism, somnabulism, music hall entertainment, high brow/low brow divide in culture, Darwin, Nordau's theory of degeneration, "savages", Georges Melies’ films, and mental illness. All this before she even gets to Jerry Lewis.

The book discusses a particular kind of performance which first appeared in the music halls of France in the 1870s and 80s. It was a comedic style characterized by frenetic movements, tics, facial grimaces, and other bizarre behavior that, Gordon asserts, mimicked various nervous disorders such as hysteria, epilepsy, and Tourette's Syndrome beginning to get coverage in the popular press. It was just at this time that modern psychiatry and neurological study were emerging. Hysteria and later neurasthenia were the focus of professional and public attention alike. Jean-Martin Charcot, dubbed the Napoleon of Neuroses, was instrumental in the popularization (or “vulgarization”) of hysteria. The foremost French neurologist of his day and a professor of anatomical pathology, Charcot used photography for the classification and diagnosis of hysteria and published the widely circulated Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière (1876-80) and the New Iconography of the Salpetriere (1888—1918). Referring to the Salpetriere, a hospital
in the middle of Paris which confined 4000 women as incurable or insane, Charcot stated he was "in possession of a kind of museum of living pathology whose holdings were virtually inexhaustible.” He opened the doors of that museum to Paris and put on demonstrations, allowing the spectacle of illness to seep into into the public psyche and vernacular. (It is also of interest that a noted experimental psychologist, Alfred Binet, wrote for the Grand Guignol Theater—which deserves a post of its own.)

The French public was fascinated and entertained by watching
pathology as spectacle in both the (medical) amphitheater and at the theater. (After all, it was only a step removed from the earlier, well-established bourgeois pass time of touring insane asylums.) For the high brow—Flaubert, Maupassant, the Goncourt brothers, Huysmans, and Jarry all published works relating to hysteria or neurasthenia— to the lowest common thrill-seeker these nervous diseases and the shocks of psychiatric treatment became short hand for the notion of “modernity,” a motif later picked up by Dada and the Surrealists.//

It seems to me that in America anything similar to this style would be black entertainment—ragtime, cakewalks, jazz—and the dance crazes of the teens—the Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot. Although Gordon doesnt discuss her, the book explains why the French would go wild for Josephine Baker.



*Songs such as “Too Nervous,” “Tata's Tic,” “La Parisienne Epileptique,” and “I’m a Neurasthenic.”

11.20.2014

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

 
photo by keridiana chez 
2 photos above by keridiana chez
A few friends and I made a trip up to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery near White Plains. The first cemetery of its kind in the US, Hartsdale, also called The Peaceable Kingdom, was established in 1896 by a New York City veterinarian. Its five acres are home to 80,000 pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and a lion cub among the vast numbers of cats and dogs) and quite a few humans as well. The rambling, hilly terrain is packed with so many tiny stories: laconic grave markers, floridly effusive epitaphs, bronze and granite bombast, the kitschy pathos of makeshift memorials, the discomfit of shared graves—owner and beloved friends. What really impressed itself upon me was how fervent and true the sentiments were. Unlike human cemeteries, where the epitaphs are often stilted and tradition-bound, laced with religious boilerplate, Hartsdale was filled with colorful outpourings of love, of yearning and grief, of disbelief and the hope that “gone” was not forever.
The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks, 1826

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