Tuesday, December 29, 2009

approaching the New Year December 29th, 2009

December 29, 2009

Issues of form and content are haunting me right now. Robert Creeley’s "form is never more than an extension of content," or Louis Sullivan’s earlier dictum: “form ever follows function”—seem accurate, but then the fine tuning of it or the poly-prismatic of an extended form, a form that might reveal the turning of thought, a digressive functioning, or ‘active theory’ [to quote myself] seem challenging and appealing. Allora—we look for an art that might encompass the (w)hole of things, their veritable partials, a four-dimensional fractal that could haunt time, a non-holy perforated segment of glorious and non-glorious moments.

All this as I aim to complete RIDING THE TIGER: Letters from Capitalist China. I have moved from a singular voiceover into a polyphony of voices, each reading [imaginary] letters from the filmmaker, questioning, reporting, theorizing on the events and disruptions/dislocations of life in China today. So many things to consider: tone, pronunciation, comprehensibility, lowering and raising of the voice, where the voice changes, emphasis, establishing the ‘person’, timing. The story, apocryphal or not, that it took 72 ‘takes’ to get de Niro’s monologue for Taxi Driver consoles me. Of course Thelma S. had a recording booth located (likely?) outside her editing station and helpers to transfer (digitize today) into her edit tracks. Still and all, it is pretty fast here and now. I talk tonight to Yael B. in Paris to get her version downloaded by the New Year and try to complete. Yael is coming end of the month January to help perfect, refine, get it mixed —meanwhile I will re-submit the newer more polished version to various fests.

Still searching for that 5th projector for my installation in April 2010. Anyone in Europe who knows where I could get one for free (!~?) would be very welcome. I am having my interns carry back my two big ones (despite increased airport security?!) and one will show up voluntarily…somehow. Nancy here had offered so I am still hopeful on that end.

Have not yet begun the filming of same but it will happen. Want to get Letters done, then script organized for shooting for Shelley film in spring with perhaps a Diodati Frankenstein creation in the winter one afternoon at Villa Aurelia across the way. [I will include a picture of same so you see the grandeur of the place/palace]…and may need a lumbering homo-like-monster as well when the trees are still bare of leaves.

The photos to left are xmas day: the first the vatican through the roman aqueduct in dora pamphili park next door. The second the doors pebbled mosaics of the villa dora pamphili. the last with fountain the grounds on xmas day—you see the sun!

So, then—this time with rain and clouds is good for planning, cleaning up and fine cutting and fine-tuning and thinking of poetics, the ‘how’ of the praxis. Have been asked for a paper for new magazine and a possible April lecture at City College---have to decide when and if I can return to NY. Abby you know you want to!

Leaving it there.

Friends if you read this, please send on emails but also snail mail….so delightful to receive even if sooooo slow. Particularly welcome are dvds with films, third and fourth seasons of Mad Men say....I figure it takes 21 days for a NY packet to reach us here and sometimes longer. I suspect they are sitting on things in the Rome post. But just went shopping with D and bought juice and fruit and veg and yogurt and cheese and pasta-fresh and dried—and pimentos and olives and am very happy. Even in December, Rome is filled with green the ivy still lush and the cypresses and the sun is absolutely if milkily returning. I slept till 11am today (and not particularly late staying up the night before) sleeping and dreaming delightfully through pouring heavy rain, in the hibernation of healing winter—warmer, better weather is round the corner.

Will keep you posted.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dec 24, 09 Xmas in Rome Italy

December 24th

Happy Holidays!
It is 59 degrees here, and yesterday 60F. and sunny! So yes there is Xmas in Rome but it is spring. The leaves gone from many branches, palms and cypresses holding on, very green; sky mild, air fragrant, Monday night mysterious and romantic, clear with stars.

Last of my shopping done today—many delightfuls for families and friends: fabulous prints from Pompei (1810) that capture all the romance and strange visioning of life 2000 years ago— plus stripey socks and rosebud key chains and miniature pens for Writers among us. Very fun and we had delicious fish lunch today with wine after I climbed back from town with 3 bottles of prosecco and food specialties for cooking tomorrow and cocktails tonight. Does it ever stop?!
Nein, non, no.

Meanwhile— in last 2 or 3 nights, I have been involved in completing decorating our gingerbread model of the Academy building. Here it is in all its photogenic glory. A cheer to Jon, Kyle and Anna—our architects and designers.

I have been working intermittently if anyone is interested—finished digitizing and almost completed cutting in new voices for my feature documentary: RIDING THE TIGER: Letters from Communist China. Looking good and soon to submit. Wish me luck of the year here.

As well, folks caroled last night but I will close with a secular solstice auguri and skip all religious imagery.

per mi amici,
auguri per nuovo un anno prosperoso e creativo


Monday, December 21, 2009

December 21st

We welcome the solstice today—the shortest light of the year; sun turning round, to come back and spin our days. My plants in New York visibly respond to the change and I eagerly await here in Roma. My room has had the light move from in front of the bed round 180 degrees above my head and beyond. After today it will begin the return trip. The Italian word for room—camera—makes immediate sense. Like the “shoebox cameras” we make for students—a pinhole at either the long end (telephoto) or short side (wide-angle)—the room functions as “a box for the sun”.

Yesterday was haunting— we visited Etruscan tombs, the tumuli (from which our word “tomb” comes). An hour out of the city, bordering on Tuscany, marvelous blue sky, chilly and we are walking in and out of large, sometimes 50/60 feet diameter hummocks. They are built of tufa, volcanic rock (like one’s bath pumice stone), carved with iron and bronze tools, carved smooth, 10-20 feet high, sometimes 40-50 feet down. One large one has 4 entrances; the interiors: carved arches, modeled beams, decorated beds with stone ‘pillows’ and stone legs. The attempt was to make a house, to carve an imitation of wood and arches. The pumice arches are cantilevered, a far cry from what will come but here—sere, huge, somehow traumatic. And all these hummocks so close, like a growth of mushrooms, outsize, alien and yet very very human. One is polychrome with fading red and black decoration, another a glass wall and inside as it was before being raided in antiquity. We spy helmets above every ‘bed/throne”, rope even, tools, vessels and decorated worlds. In the museum in nearby town we see pottery and perhaps most touching, a double statue of a man sitting up, legs outstretched, his body muscled, holding onto a woman, also sitting up, legs outstretched, tender, happy. The faces are not so finely modeled, but in one of the photographs of the statue, if not of the statue itself, there is molto expression. The town and tombs are in Cerveteri.

We leave and go to the sea—it is 2 or 3 miles away—you see it shining in the distance and we spontaneously dance on the beach, picking up shells---long used beach—not so beautiful as Sperlonga perhaps but the water in the distance such a good prophecy of happiness. When my Dad was alive every holiday we drove to the water; I always think of it as a return to origin—not to my dad perhaps, who was so absent in our lives (working 6 days a week/2 nights) but to the beginning of life. Here waves are slight—we are on the Thyrrenian sea—mild except in storms.

Then we (Giovanna and I) drive on up to Ceri a medieval ‘borgo’, a tiny village settled on a tufaceous spur of volcanic origin. You drive up and up alongside embattled walls to look down on this natural defensive spot— walls pouring dropping 100 feet steeply. It is a tiny square and we talk to a bed and breakfast owner who invites us to see his splendid garden looking out into the distance over the decline (somewhat…. a canyon moat) onto further hills topped with well tended grape vines, scaffolding for the grapes bare now, neat rows, golden, harvest— sea beyond. Built into his tufa, since the owner is originally an architect , is an apt for rent. Americans he says are coming for new year. Very romantic.

We have stopped for food at a country inn, where one family is celebrating a birthday and the owner is dark, covered in gold—miming the Etruscans who were here before her. We eat a fixe prix meal—too much meat for me, but tasty, local, fresh.

It is an emotional journey because the tombs haunt and because it is the first anniversary of Emma Bee Bernstein’s death. I have thought of her recently in many aspects. One of my interns whom I found courtesy of the Keats-Shelley museum is lovely, small, with curly dark hair and grayish eyes and is to take the Guggenheim museum job in Venice in April. She had heard of the “brilliant American artist” who preceded her. These conjunctions these hauntings. In Barcelona last March I saw an Emma at 12, young holding tight to her mother—the same open look, same dusting of freckles writing innocence across her face. Emma perhaps not so innocent? I remember Emma sometime round that age at Fetterman’s apt in the low French housing of NYU mews in an impossibly short bright pink skirt and I internally smiling at youth and my own memory of impossibly short dresses from the 60s. Nothing is lost. If we remember.

Skipping —last Tuesday I went with my architect-studying intern to Andrea Pozzo’s baroque room near the Chiesa de Jesu—a tromp l'oeil 60x20 feet rectangle with irregular end, which the filmmaker Jon Jost urged me to see. Yes the cgi guys in California need eat their hearts out. There is a stretched 2 foot face on the left side that pulls back into ‘reality’ (?) as you move away— amazing and the "capitals" range from a foot to two feet as they move from you. At dinner that night, two Fellows (one prior/one current) were brilliant about it (not having seen yet) asking if it were completed after Galileo [yes 1580; Galileo 1532 approx] and the resultant sense of de-prioritizing a single point of view. There is an eye/planet in the floor inlaid from which the room looks ‘normal’; when you leave the spot however, the room reveals itself as a series of distortions. the work so extreme, self-aware, comic, indulgent, a tour de force— that it is /must be underlining the irony/error of the single point of view that it espouses (officially). Lovely philosophical discussion here at our dinner table. Reasserting (as if it needs this?) that art has at its seed a kind of perceptive ethic/ science-philosophy-cum vision embodiment. At its best at best (at least?)

Thursday —the Christmas play for children of fellows and staff, and I had been asked to do two short videos: a preview of my film on Shelley with a new voiceover text: “in a world without love, one man stands alone: charming, seductive, ruthless…”etc. Read by the inimitable Jonathan C., it was very funny. But perhaps the hit was a short video playing with airplane safety instructions, combining an architect’s comic drawing of the inside of a plane with one of the Fellow’s dressed as stewardess. I had thunder so I shook the drawing as I filmed it, opening the fstop overexposing to make lightening and editing a couple of ‘takes’ together, adding nutcracker suite overture to begin and sugarplum dance throughout. Big hit!

Ahhh I got more positive feedback for this populist trick than for my fabulous art. We live in a world of philistines or just gonna have fun folk I guess. It was an endearing play in any case and Chiara—our Italian fellow is indeed a sparkle-plenty princess!. She was actually malelfo—the bad elf. She has lovely energy, big blue eyes, bleached blonde hair and a darling boyfriend a few inches taller than her. The kids loved the production complete with set design, media (yes), props and gifts at end (certo).

Saturday I went to a party with Giovanna, parties bookending my visit to the dead I guess---food for the soul? Saturday’s was to a Count’s house—filled with l6th century paintings (often bad) and chandeliers (fabulous over the top). Quite a beautiful space, redone with white walls—full of light—bad hor d'oeuvres, great desserts, wealthy Romans. Last night’s (Sunday’s) parties more art-centered: one with delicious food and another at the apt. of the assistant to the Maxxi (the fantastic new museum of XXI century art designed by the Iranian architect Zaha Hadid). Nice people at both places. Some good contacts---and an invite to another dinner party on the 27th.

Giovanna works for the state as an art guide, had attended my show here at the Academy and loved the work—‘got it”— knew right away it was contemporary art. She is writing about it for her master’s thesis—which hopefully will be published. We have bonded on energy and interests. She has two children, separated from her husband, three sisters, a mother, and great intelligence.

Tonight we help decorate the gingerbread house that the architects here have designed—have we become Santa’s workshop?! Thursday D. comes to celebrate Xmas and New Year’s with me. I so look forward to the energy and love and friendship he will bring. Wishing you all a blessed solstice and creative New Year!

Un abbraccio

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dec 13th Roma

The weather changed—cloudy and 48 degrees—what is called "winter" in Rome. Up till yesterday there was still sun and blue sky and staccato light creeping through the blinds.

Went on a motorino last night through Trastevere and the old city—glorious light strips shakey snakes, festive. Xmas has its excitement, though my friend Lauren says this is new—less than a decade old. Xmas was quieter in the recent past. So—the excitement of consumerism?! The lights still ‘get’ me, as the daily dark is longer---these festivities of light give one a smile.

Speaking of which thanks to lobbying (actually an email) by yours truly we will get latkes on the last day of Hannukah. I hope the nouvelle latkes but actually any kind with our bio applesauce will do fine. I could go on about food here—roast lamb with browned sage leaves, a homemade ice cream with bergamot garnished with mandarin orange granita—all at the academy; and a great artichoke a la giuda (the Jewish way) with grilled fish in the ghetto. The artichoke is sauted/fried so that it is almost a chip—divine: roasted taste and salt!

Backwards, earlier in the week we went to EUR, a planned area south of the old city that Mussolini built in the 30s and 40s (unfinished in war) to be the city of the future. Haunting in many ways: they leveled the land, built modernistic severe buildings, paralleled and white (to reflect the sun) with large flattened stairs, a symmetric church sterile to my eyes and straight streets in repeating shapes of crosses. A museum with the Trajan column stretched out at eye level —plaster casts of the layers. A statue of Fascism in which “facism” has been taken out and become a statue of “sport”—marble boxing gloves added! Our local historians point out that Italian Fascism was not anti-jewish until late in the 30s. The effect of this place had an aftertaste—both modern and artificial, flattening and gorgeous. A strange time in art and architecture.

Earlier last week (Thursday dec 4th) we visited the Scelsi house behind the Palatine. Lovely town house of the famous composer. The guide talked too much (our seats hurt) but then played clips of singing recorded by Giacinto Scelsi himself——rough and radical. There was a recording by a German singer of “ho” (which means “I have” in Italian) that was quite wonderful: light funny extremely futuristic. The house itself was filled with contemporary art—of Cocteau and di Chirico, plates and photos. Scelsi himself was rich and unpublished in his lifetime and curiously grew up near Leirici where Shelley died. Eveything seems to cross-fertilize on this trip—

Friday last the Academy hosted a music concert with a marvelous recital by Anna Caterina Antonacci, soprano and Donald Sulzen, piano. She picked the program which included exclusively romantic songs—the slow ones (one by Toscanini) and another accompanying poems by Ada Negri were best as they gave room for Antonacci to act. Some of the poems were remarkable: Verlaine especially: “Let us soak well our love”
And “To the breeze, rocking and soft,/Which comes to your feet to wrinkle/The waves of auburn lawns.” Such irony and desire. Missed most of the conference that followed, though interested in Martha Feldman’s work on the castrati.

Instead— I had a great massage. The young woman Elena we met on the train back from Sperlonga back in October has proved talented. She has now come three times and each time is better than before. Delightful for these rounded computer-used shoulders.

That evening Fiona Templeton came from London, in time for the masked ball which was a terrific success. Everyone’s masks were inventive: there was a Bach, an Amanda Fox, homemade Pygmalion and everything in between. We danced to Corey’s djing and light show. The crowd was large with many outside (smoking). Fun fun. I will include pix of this too….

Sunday we went to the flea market for last of holiday presents and bought some fine prints and littles, then up the hill for lunch at isole di sicilia---very splendid lamb chops and though our fish never came, we were happy since we were full! Walked the top of the hill till dusk, then showed Fiona rushes from THE PURSUIT (in progress) and talked about what would “mess up” the romantic beauty of the images. Sound, and Frankenstein—the under-topic. We researched via web and found Lady Frankenstein with a terrific sound track in the public domain by Alessandro Alessandroni who did the whistling on Morricone tracks for Sergio Leone. So —more coincidence—what could be better in italy? I will also use images from Frankenstein or perhaps dress up one of the fellows in gauze (!) and have him lumber about….

Monday we went to St. Cecilia to see the frescos which were beautiful and only open between 11 and 12 and then walked onto the Arch of Janus since Fiona has had threshold problems, losing her keys three times and jamming her thumb badly. We paid our respects, watched a wedding, had lunch in the Jewish section—yummy carciofi a la giuda (artichokes the jewish way). Amazing.

Then on to the Quirinale…walking all of the way— for the Roman portrait show. Magnificent wall paintings with delicate figures against red or black. From Pompei and from a house near the Tiber here. Painted walls for entrys and bedrooms and salons. With myths above and plants and animals inside the lines. The black and red were particularly beautiful to me (what’s called stage 1 or 2—3 became more literal). And then at last portraits from Egypt, a Roman colony (remember Cleopatra), at the oasi del Fayyum. Beautiful rendered death portraits of Romans in society—very semitic arab looking painted in encaustic wax on wood. One of a young man has not the typical rough surface but is smooth as oil with pale cheeks, many colors in the cheeks the nose finely molded eyebrows eyes—a person there and you won’t see the like till Goya, 1500 years later! The dark ages were dark indeed.
More to come.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dec 3rd Roma, italia

Wed December 3rd.

There is snow on the mountains ringing Rome. It is glorious, a bite in the air, the first one in a fall that has been unusually dry and mild. Giovanna comes in to try her hand (mixed body metaphors here) at reading for my voice over text for my film RIDING THE TIGER: Letters from Capitalist China. She comes to the line wherein the Chinese value dirt, its smell. She smiles and says, “yes, it’s alive.” She invites me to go to the mountains for the weekend.
—why I dearly love Italy and Italians.

The Borghese pond footage is in hand and looks gorgeous —it is early fall then there and when Eileen and Nick talk and listen, they occupy what I imagine is the life of Percy and Mary. The more research I do the closer I feel to these writers—their sorrows and intentions, their work aholism, their rationalities and craziness, their passion.

It’s been a rodeo week in that last Monday—way back—the US ambassador came for cocktails. He made a fairly political speech which many thought unusual in diplomatic-land. I was underwhelmed. Then Wednesday I gave my 'shop talk', worked hard on 10-minute introductory text, then showed THE FUTURE IS BEHIND YOU and MIRROR WORLD [for those of you who don’t know these works, MIRROR WORLD is on Penn sound, a website; only clips from THE FUTURE is at my web site: www.abigailchild.com]. Then I answered questions and showed pieces from the new piece. Predictably people ‘loved’ the new film that i have shot here—it was all about them. Slowly responses are trickling in about the talk and the completed films. Many did not know what to expect (they are in the main academics or self-proclaimed conservative writers/musicians) and were perplexed, even angry (!)----ah even my late work is a revolution! Thank the ‘goddess’ I guess though it is never so comfortable. One wants to be loved —

Thursday Thanksgiving with Alice Waters—delicious and traditional though the pumpkin pie was squash pie. The chestnuts we had all peeled a day earlier resulting in many scratched and cut and bleeding hands, made into fabulous stuffing. A friend Rosie came as my guest and afterwards, stuffed as we were (not only the bird!) we walked through Pamphili Park into the dusk.

Saturday morning we went to the amazing San Clemente with its three churches on top of each other: the 1200 one with magnificent mosaics that rival Ravenna; below an 800 ad church its columns interspersed with the butresses for the church above, frescos fading on the walls; and then below that a 100Ad roman house made into a mithrean temple—amazing patterned brick work and strange pagan light with a stream that fed right into the house—its interior well for 2000 years running bubbling pouring out! beautiful and the newest church has a delicate powerful fresco of St. Catherine by Masolino (1428).

From there with architect Fellow we went to the colosseum, crawling with tourists and yet it conquers that. the brick the brick the work the patterning the stones built without nails, using gravity, immense and thank the goddess (again) for no church in the middle which might have happened, was proposed but did not. truly a power symbol. rome's glory seems large--as large as ny's in many ways. this was bigger than madison square garden, and much more beautiful. it had at one point a covering of cloth with an occulus at center and the bricks that held the posts at the top are still there. naval battles were played out as well as gladiators. the place flooded. animals lifting from below. truly a movie palace of the real.

that night with Rosie and expat women friends for dinner across town. I remember at 20 in Mexico doing ethnography, thinking I could never live abroad forever and here again ---I felt that strongly. Flawed America it is, but I am inside its energy and structure. Interesting to feel that, particularly here where so many fall in love and stay— it is one of the glory places on earth for sure.

and in that regard, with new film, one artist here said it [the film] captured the light that he will remember Rome by. yes!

then sunday to cap a week of food, we did the cheese tasting. the interns in the kitchen had pulled out 7 cheese for us to try....cheesed out though learned alot and must visit this amazing cheese shop near the vatican. what is local: sheep, goat, aged, dried, peppered....

This week marked by some filming, gathering full sound for Pucinella Theater which I had missed before, very wild complete with tango music and the 80 year old using his fingers to make the puppet bend and sway—missing the visit to the Trajan Column that got canceled by the rain [anyway]. Tomorrow headed out to the composer Scelsi’s house and then a dinner and exhibit with a local photographer that I met at Cy Twombly’s relative’s house….ahh the varied ways of connections. I look forward to be off the hill whenever I may.

Last night a full moon, tried to film but it had risen by the time I was ready for it. So now again trying and failing. Trying and succeeding. Persisting —moving forward into the air the continuum against anxieties and afghan troops and false promises and silences, movements. This sadness of killing, this gladiator mentality, this defense and playing to fear in the stern creep of concern and lament. We are looking to repair—but not all and not enough. In Europe, in the breach, among minaret controversy and strikes and guns, we play, and think of spirits that move us, kindle the earth. The dirt, that life.