salvador, bahia, brazil

Images: © Predrag Pajdic, 2014

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what is the soul?

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

This poetry, I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

Images: © Predrag Pajdic, 2013 with Marc & Anthony Thévenoux, shot in Normandy, France, November 2013
Text: Who Says Words With My Mouth? from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks [1995]

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the fashion world of jean paul gaultier – brooklyn museum

A well-worn teddy bear (Nana, circa 1957) with a drawn-on face and pasted on cone-shaped breasts that the five-year old Gaultier constructed out of newsprint greets the visitor in one of the first displays in the new Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum. A wardrobe with vintage women’s undergarments, a 1950s black and white television, and a childhood photograph of the designer nestled against his grandmother provide a cinematic mise-en-scene. Text has Gaultier telling a story about watching a program about the Folies-Bergere on his grandmother’s TV set. The next day at school, he sketched the dancers complete with frilly dresses and fishnet stockings, resulting in a rapping on the knuckles from his favorite teacher. But, just as quickly, it transformed him from the sissy who preferred drawing to football into a hero with his peers.

It is a fitting beginning, coming as it does just after a room filled with highlights from Gaultier collections, designs that challenge boundaries of culture, class, gender and sexuality, all the while maintaining a childlike sense of play. Four beautiful gowns from 2008’s “Mermaid” collection feature latex bodysuits accented with fins shaped by sequin embroideries, the bras and corsets made of shimmering cowrie shells. 2007’s “Virgins” collection, inspired by medieval Christian iconography, includes “Immaculata” a stunning crocheted gown with linen appliqués of printed cherubs, and “Apparitions,” which features a bustier of cherubs and flora printed against a sky blue field, an ivory silk overskirt, and a halo-style headdress complete with the Virgin Mother. There are “Pin-Up Boys” (collection, 1996), “Boy-Toys” (collection, 1984), and androgynous sailor-style attire from “Ze Parisienne” (collection, 2002).

Throughout the exhibition, which features 140 ensembles from both his haute couture and pret-á-porter work as well as fashion photographs, video displays of runway shows and television advertisements, and preparatory sketches, Gaultier buoyantly courts controversy and turns convention on its head. At almost every turn, he credits his grandmother for nurturing these impulses. Interviewed by exhibition curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on the evening of the opening in Brooklyn, Gaultier recounted a story of finding corsets in his grandmother’s wardrobe and asking her what they were. “She was very open with me,” he said with wry irony, telling the young boy how women sometimes drank vinegar to induce stomach spasms in order to fit into them. Gaultier’s contribution was to transform this morsel into an insight about the erotic nature of corsets, bras, and bustiers— how to deploy them not as mechanisms of female bodily imprisonment but as symbols of raw feminine sexual emancipation and power.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the whiff of celebrity surrounds Gaultier. There are gowns worn by pop stars Beyoncé and Kylie Minogue and supermodels Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, high art fashion photographs by the likes of Cindy Sherman and Alix Malka, and even clips from the 1990s of Gaultier hosting the English TV series “Eurotrash.” Madonna’s iconic cone-breasted corsets and armor-like bodices worn on her “Blond Ambition” tour (1989-90), are complemented by Gaultier’s sketchbook designs and a series of Polaroids from the original fittings.

But though Gaultier may enjoy all the attention, he seems hardly bothered by celebrity imprimatur. “Nonconformist designer seeks unusual models,” reads an advert he placed in a French newspaper. “The conventionally pretty need not apply.” He consciously chooses runway models of different ages, races, genders and shapes. His designs embrace clothing that is beyond gender, hypersexualized, sensitive to the creativity of the street. Several collections inspired by the punk movement (displayed in front of spray-painted graffiti) embrace anti-materialism, incorporating recycled elements and fabrics that are enriched and transformed under Gaultier’s creative eye. Gaultier longs to expand our notions of what is beautiful, using the “second skin” of clothing as the sketchbook through which we unmask our inner selves. “Our body, the way we present ourselves— it’s a form of communication,” he exalts. If this retrospective in Brooklyn is a measure of Gaultier’s message, fashion should celebrate our individuality and diversity, embodying the kinetic energy of our global melting pot. Most of all, Gaultier goads us to mimic Cyndi Lauper: he encourages all of us to just want to have fun.

“The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” runs at the Brooklyn Museum (www.brooklynmuseum.org) until 23 February 2014. Admission is $15. The museum is open Wednesday and Friday thru Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm, Thursdays 11 am – 10 pm.

Text: © John Major, 2013

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shape redrawn

There’s something about
Your mouth as it widens
A smile showing your teeth
and arms stretching out
As you speak to me
Skin showing
I remember
The length of you
Enfolding me
Those unexpected moments
Where it was easier to stay
and one night, it tore at me
so very difficult to go

I have been wondering
Whether I dreamt you
Conjured you from wishes
Stolen from magical fishes
On riversides or sandy beaches
Late at night when wolves hunted
The dead gathered their skirts
To dance, so many times
Now distracted. So surreal this
Place I now inhabit

I swear some of you
Has lodged itself inside me
Your cells grafted onto mine
In the tussle and tumble
That our games comprised.
Labyrinthian puzzles,
Tufts of your hair have begun
To grow from my skin
The fingerprints
Upon my shoulders
May have faded

But the shape of you
Remains under my skin

Images: © Pato Rivero, 2013, courtesy of the artist
Text: © JL Nash, 2013

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masculine / masculine

‘Masculine/Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day’ is a current exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris which at its opening, naturally stimulated plenty of conversation in both press and society. Why? Because it is actually one of the first exhibitions to focus completely on the male nude form.

The artwork is divided into sections: ranging from the classical ideal, heroic nudes, the naked truth, poses in studio and out in nature, nudes in pain and as an object of desire. It doesn’t take much to recognise the themes as they unfold from artists such as Freud, Mapplethorpe, Bacon, and Wiley to name just a few. Whether tortured or tender, they are all indeed a festivity of male form.

Some of the work is breathtaking and interestingly situated as often the same theme or subject matter will be exhibited side by side; a photo beside an 18th Century Painting serves to offer striking contrast in both taste and media.

The sculptures which punctuate the rooms range in scale but all share the same level of passion in anatomical precision. From Muek’s hyperrealistic “Dead Dad” to the sculpture of David (c. 1872) by Antonin Mercié one feels as if one is in a lecture tour offering an historical record as opposed to any particular insight.

Does it need to be accentuated that the majority of the artwork about men is by men in this exhibition? Certainly the man as an object of desire is largely demonstrated through an underpinning of homosexual erotic imagery but this needn’t detract from the incredible range of works such as Jean Jules Antoine Lecompte de Nouy’s agonizing “Mort pour la Patrie” (1892), Jacques Louis David’s “Academie D’homme dites Patrocle” (1780), Karl Sterrer’s rippling “Atlas” (1910), and Paul Cadmus’s exceptionally intimate “Le Bain” (1951).

However, the list could go and this is a bit like the exhibition; painting, drawing, photograph and sculpture in a list as if the curator hasn’t had quite enough time to present the work. One might be inclined to think that less is more but this is not an option. The strength and beauty of Pierre et Gilles’ ”Mercury” (image above) is sadly lost by the end of the exhibition as one reaches a point of overkill as there are definitely more works of art by Pierre et Gilles than any other single artist featured. It may be glorious to celebrate the multiracial existence of society in Vive La France but all you end up with is an admiration of beautifully formed genitalia which is suddenly out of place with the sublime lines of other pieces of art on show.

Francis Bacon’s raw “Three People in a Room”, (1964) is one of the few that doesn’t outline shape and form in the same way that most of the other work does and yet, it screams pain and within it offers some depth of emotion which until that point, was distinctly lacking through the layout of the exhibition.

Someone wrote in the comments book about the theme of homosexuality running through the exhibition and I challenge such a thought. The male form, is indeed both beautiful and ridiculous in the same way as the female form. It is delightful to savour the works on show for the variety they bring not only in the content of theme but also the physical shape of man. It may feel like an overzealous attempt at creating an exhibition which is in many ways, breaking boundaries but put this enthusiasm aside and enjoy the art from Burne-Jones to Rodin, from Warhol to Henri Camille Danger and indeed from Pierre et Gilles to Jean Baptiste Federick Desmarais no matter how camp they may appear when viewed side by side.

There is one particular painting which stood out as intentionally homoerotic. “Shower, After The Battle” (1944) by Alexandre Alexandrovitch Deineka, is as it is described. There is an air of power amongst these young men but at the same time, their youth and vulnerability is palpable. Did Putin really hesitate before lending this work of art? One hopes so, in order that the current international debate over gay rights remains in the forefront of conversation. After all the exhibition’s timing certainly keeps this in mind. But, at the end of the day, as gay rights arguments should be part of a human rights issue agenda, so should these works of art be seen as a general compendium of male form. Informative, a little light on analysis and depth but exceptionally beautiful never the less, there is probably something for everyone in this is exhibition so it’s a must on the to do list.

‘Masculine/Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day’ is at the Musée d’Orsay until 2 January 2014.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images:
Pierre et Gilles, Mercure [Mercury], 2001 © Pierre et Gilles. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris.
Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais, The Shepherd Paris, 1787 Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Photo © NGC
Adolphe William Bouguereau, Equality before Death (1848) © Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Patrice Schmidt
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), Patroclus, 1780. Oil on canvas, 122 x 170 cm. Cherbourg-Octeville, © Musée d’art Thomas-Henry

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filth – review

If you weren’t a fan of James McAvoy’s already impressive credentials it’s most definitely time you let yourself be moved from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other by his performance as Bruce Robertson, a detective sergeant in Jon S. Baird’s feature film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Filth. McAvoy has been working in movies and television since 1995, more recently being known Trance, Punch, Arthur Christmas, X-Men: First Class, The Conspirator, Gnomeo and Juliet, The last Station, Wanted, Atonement, The Last King of Scotland just to name a few. His vast experience is most definitely on show.

The opening scenes reminded me of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The game is set, the lines are drawn and you are watching Machiavellian thought processes. Except this is one pretender who never gets the crown. It’s a performance like no other where the protagonist Bruce is a hallucinatory, bi-polar, corrupt, drug taking, adulterous, hedonistic detective crashing into a breakdown through a murder inquiry which becomes the subplot to Bruce’s machinations to discredit and unnerve his contenders for a promotion, as well as juggle the strains of a marital crisis and hide his deviant sexual tastes, addictions and mania.

As a viewer you see him move from pathos to psychotic insight which may be thoroughly uncomfortable for many to watch. But Baird’s fast paced plot will swiftly take you into humour so black, laughing out loud is not only spontaneous but compulsory.

When James McAvoy smiles there’s something of the smiling german shepherd about him. The draw back of his lips, teeth bared, you are never quite sure what will flash from his mind but it’s brilliant, it’s not James, it’s one hundred percent pure Bruce Robertson and you quickly realize that this smile might suddenly implode as McAvoy accurately displays symptoms of mania including flight of ideas, grandiosity, elation, poor judgment, aggressiveness, and exceptional hostility. Whether or not he is taking his lithium, what we are watching is a high speed train wreck.

In a fraction of a second we watch the protagonist Bruce change from evil destruction to vulnerable compassion; he is the edge of the darkest of nightmares. Even the detail of bitten down nails ties in with the feeling of desperation as he pulls his hands over his face in a moment of effort trying to plug himself back into reality wherein he slips deeper and deeper into the lair of the tapeworm of his own mania. This is indeed a worthy adaptation of Welsh’s novel.

An unexpected line of honesty and vulnerability comes as Bruce fails to perform sexually for one of his extra marital interests and he simply admits to her ‘I’m not well’. This gentle moment teases one to think that somewhere, Jung’s hero’s journey might just be coming into play, but thankfully, that is the realm of Hollywood and certainly not independent films such as Filth, where the stark reality of life continues to smash its way through making you weep one minute with laughter and recoil the next in disgust.

Supporting performances by the hauntingly beautiful Imogen Poots, Iain De Casetecer, Joanne Froggat, Jamie Bell and Jim Broadbent to name but a few of this talented cast are all perfectly placed with special mention to go to Eddie Marsan as the gullible Bladesy and Shirley Henderson as the fantastically cheeky Bunty, the object of Bruce’s prank obscene phone calls.

It’s a fabulous story and although somewhat less than the novel, this hard core film maintains the pace and angst, the comedy and the humour of the book as the script is deliciously accurate to the intrinsic value of each character we see. What’s also very interesting is that at no point do you hate the protagonist. How can you hate such a character who is clearly losing the game? How can you empathise with psychosis because it really is a singular sensation? But don’t be deceived, in amongst the filth, the mire the outrageously non-pc attitudes, it is still a tale with a moral, where unexpectedly, love and light still has a place. I loved it so much I watched it three times and each time, I left sated. Now that’s got to say something.

Filth, 2013 UK 97 minutes 18 rating
Director Jon S. Baird
Text: © JL Nash, 2013

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shunga: sex and pleasure in japanese art – review

An intensely rich feast for both eye and mind is currently showing at the British Museum where 170 works ranging from paintings, sets of prints and illustrated books from UK, Japan, Europe and USA feature ‘Spring Pictures’, the erotic art of Japan from 1600-1900 or in other words, Shunga.

These works of art were developed largely under the auspices of the ukiyo-e school (pictures of the floating world) and saw themselves as a natural progression from the day to day ideals of sex and humour already prevalent in paintings. Shunga, however, were the property of the rich and rulers and although continued through strict conformist times and even banned from 1722, in private, Shunga continued to explore the openness of sexuality in every day lives as well as the sex-industry, often known as ‘pleasure quarters’.  It is not unexpected to see illustrations of married couples making love, even, in some contexts, homosexual intimacy.

Shunga wasn’t just titillation for men, however, as the exhibition explains, women often received Shunga as part of their marriage trousseau and particular collections were almost certainly created more for women than men. From a society of such repression and rules, it is refreshing to see that behind closed doors, sexual pleasure was accepted and indulged by both genders.

The exhibition houses work by such greats as Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694), supreme in his signals of erotic suppressed emotion and blossoming sexuality, Kitagawa Utamaro (ca. 1753 – October 31, 1806) whose studies of light and shade made him exceptionally appealing to European impressionists and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) not only famous for his ‘Mount Fuji Seen below a Wave at Kanagawa’ but of course, physical embraces between couples so tender that it might make one feel like a peeping tom.

The history of Shunga is fascinating and this exhibition not only informs but also leads to question Shunga’s place today. In a time where erotica is often photographic, is there a place for the line drawing, the hint and not so hidden positioning of genitalia? Of course there is. Shunga’s magic lies both in the simplicity of line of the body, each curve or dimple moving into view with the gentle rhythm of human intimacy and the intense patterning of the clothing, the robes, the backgrounds which capture so effectively every sensual second you are sharing in full view.

Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese Art is being exhibited at The British Museum, London from 3 October 2013 – 5 January 2014. Room 90-91, Admission charge.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: Courtesy of The British Museum, London
No1: Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), Detail from Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), c. 1785. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
No2: Kitagawa Utamaro (d. 1806), Lovers in the upstairs room of a teahouse, from Utamakura (Poem of the Pillow), c. 1788. Sheet from a colour-woodblock printed album. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
No3: Sugimura Jihei (fl. 1681–1703), Lovers under a quilt with phoenix design, untitled erotic picture, mid-1680s. Private collection, USA.

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blue jasmine review

I never want to see Blue Jasmine again. But if you love Woody Allen’s movies, you must see it and if you hate Woody Allen’s movies, you should see it. He’s not in it which is the first indication it’s not a comedy but his acerbic observation of the frailties of all of us run deep and hit hard in his most recent offering to the silver screen. You might not think you would relate to the main character played by Cate Blanchett whose life has crashed after the arrest and subsequent suicide of her high profile conman husband. But don’t be fooled into thinking this plot point is a spoiler for the film, because every relationship she has and every combination of relationships within the movie show the audience a little bit of the human condition covering most classes, socio-economic groups and gender. It calls into question not only family relationships but also the way we define ourselves in old and new friendships.

Cate Blanchett’s character, Jasmine, is scarily vulnerable and damaged throughout the film from start to finish and in a sense there is no resolution at the end for the audience to cling to or to feel a sense of safety. This actress delves deep into the shallowest of human waters and successfully brings home, denial, greed, anger, and betrayal leaving us with a clear sense of vulnerable instability. There is a clear development from the high life she has enjoyed, a life of blind snobbery through to needing the charity of a sister she has hitherto ignored and largely been ashamed of. We see her character trying to make something of herself, and redemption for her denial, her ignorance, her previous choices seems in grasp. Then, at a point where she is offered a new start, it becomes painfully clear that despite the typically Allen use of a chorus of characters, echoing the central themes in the style of a perfect Greek Tragedy, where they continuously remind her of her past throughout the film, she is still in denial and largely in her own version of reality. Her expectations of a new beginning crash and her opportunities for a fulfilling and rewarding relationship evaporate.

Woody Allen allows Jasmine the freedom of talking to herself in monologues which offers not only exposition in plot but also serves to display her depth of despair and ultimately mental illness. There is no happy ending for her character other than she is forced to face the realities of her own actions, the consequences of her own decisions and in that, the film acts as a modern morality tale.

In Blue Jasmine there’s a touch of the Steinbeck about the characters, from a variety of his stories but perhaps it’s simply an incredibly accurate mirror of humanity which never changes no matter what era from which the story is crafted. As I said, I never want to see Blue Jasmine again, but not because there is anything wrong with the film. Far from it. This kind of masterpiece chronicling the mundane through to the exotic, the full to the empty has taken my heart and mind, placed it in the wringer and left me in such a state of deep reflection, I’m almost afraid of what I might see next time. It’s brilliant and the only person it won’t move is someone who is in complete denial about their own life but then as the movie shows us, perhaps that’s more of us than we might think exist.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: Film stills from Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmin, 2013

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monday morning

I awoke and you were between my lips
Until I stretched out the fantasy of night’s longings
I rose and lamented the absence of your scent in my nostrils
I showered and saw the water on your skin
Grafted onto me piece by piece from some
Clandestine nocturnal operation

I drank coffee and saw my reflection
Some beautiful monster I had become
Of your making in dreams late and early
And in the pattern of such formation
There was a taste of the finite and
I called it lust and
It tasted good

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: © Predrag Pajdic with Yohan Campistron, Paris, 2013

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artificial intelligence by francesco romoli

Images: © Francesco Romoli, courtesy of the artist.

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