These photos are from an excellent photo essay my mother sent me months ago. It’s too good to have been sitting in my unpublished posts que for too long. This project touches so many of my interests these days, street performance, building forts, sailing, traveling the world, river pirates. It’s magic!
Wired featured the same photos with more information on the main artist, who calls herself Swoon. It’s worth a look.
Tod Seelie, a friend of Swoon’s, has been on all the trips so far as a crew member and brought his camera to document the creativity and chaos.
“I can only really speak for me,” Seelie says, “And really it’s a combination of things, but I’d say the main point [of the trips] is inspiration. It’s the inspiration we feel and the inspiration other people feel when they come across us.”
They built this ships out of New York City trash and in 2009 sailed them, uninvited, from Slovenia to Venice for the Venice Biennale. Really, my timing is just right. By the time you read this I’ll be sailing down from Slovenia on the A4 autostrada, blasting past Venice to Florence for another seven months of school at Helikos.
Bannack turned four last Sunday, and I’ve been missing him extra hard lately. Here are some photos from a roll of film I took in Montana this summer. These photos are from two trips, a camping trip to Bannack, Mont. with Becca and Ben and a multi-family trip to Revenue Flats, near Norris Hot Springs.
My summer in Montana is wrapping up. It has been beautiful. A summer punctuated by hot, pine-scented mornings hiking the loop behind my parent’s house, and big-sky nights that occasionally wink with the streak of a meteor or erupt into thunder, hail and lightning.
Heat and thunder also emanate from the stream of news from around the world: sexual/political scandals, secret government spying programs and summertime violence across the globe. I’ve been trying to keep up with news of the protests in Brazil and Egypt. These protests show the fragility of the veil that separates the acceptable play of order and chaos in human society from the unbearably cruel and destructive influence of the same forces. Look how quickly the intention to show up and speak your piece can turn to deadly and brutal conflict.
Yesterday, an American photographer in Cairo posted a gallery of his very recent photos to Reddit.
I started taking pictures as soon as I arrived, being the only white guy I got a few strange looks, and some pretty angry faces. A few threatening protestors told me I couldn’t take pictures and to leave immediately. A group of 15 or so protestors started to gather around me and a bunch of angry Arabic flew back and forth. So ya… maybe not the best idea?
Finally someone started speaking English to me! After explaining to the crowd I was there to record and tell they’re story, they welcomed me into their family. They brought me a translator, water, anything I needed.
The photos in the gallery he posted are raw and unnerving, so watch out. They show a much more vivid side of the conflict than I’ve seen elsewhere on the news. The expression of anguish in this particular photograph stood out to me immediately. I recognized his twisted, pained expression from two Rodin sculptures on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Here’s a post about my visit there in 2011.)
He was asked a question about the smells he encountered while taking these photographs by Reddit user mineown2020:
Absolutely serious question: What does it smell like in these photos?
Burning. Tear gas and burning rubber. The hospital didn’t smell to bad, they brought a guy in with a headshot wound, and after a few hours I would get a really eery terrible whiff of decay whenever I went by him. I don’t know if it was in my mind or real.
Worst than the smell was walking around in the mosque (have to take shoes off) with blood sticking to your feet. After a few hours when the floor got bad, everyone was like fuck it we puttin dem shoes on!
Thirteen of us students from Helikos performed a selection pieces created in the past years at school for two nights of performances in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It was a wide ranging show full of masks, clowns, and eccentric characters, showing off a few of the many theatrical territories we touch on at school. All knitted together with in-character transitions and set up, Muppet Show style. The audience response was gratifyingly positive, making the whole adventure entirely satisfying and worthwile.
A huge and gracious thanks to Ana and her partners at Pripovedovalski Variete for inviting us and hosting so many performers in such high style. These photos were taken by Katarina Juvancic at the Glej theater.
Whoa! Look at all these clowns. We all worked hard over the weekend to get ready for our public show next week. So far it’s impressively stupid in parts, in other parts head-slappingly ludicrous, and in still other parts it’s full hearted and funny. If you happen to be in or around Florence this Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, you’ll have to stop in and see us.
If you still can’t get enough, check out this interview from the New Victory Theater, with some clowns I met last summer in NYC at the Brick International Clown Theatre Festival. Enjoy reading what Billy and Summer say about this world of working clowns.
We’re wrapping up this year in school by diving headfirst into clown. It’s an ancient theatrical territory, subtle and personal, and when it’s working it crackles with joy and life.
Probably you’ve heard someone tell you they are scared of clowns. The rainbow wig, a terrible red grimace, smeared greasy face paint, cackling out a laugh with every breath. Clowns we all know seem to shout: everyone should be having fun all the time! I agree, that is pretty scary.
Most of our shared experience of clowns comes from pop culture. Krusty from the Simsons, Stephen King’s IT or the most evil of them all, Ronald McDonald. These guys are miles away from the clown work we do at school. They are devices that use the image of a clown to hide sinister motives barely hidden under that painted on smile.
All the clowns I look up to have less of the trappings of a clown. Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball or Mr. Bean don’t have wigs or face paint. But it’s fun to watch them fail so honestly and completely because they are ridiculously full hearted and imperfect characters. They may be full of themselves and short sighted but they are marvelously curious and completely affected by the world around them.
The director of my school says that an audience will treat clowns in one of three ways, they laugh, walk away or kill the clown. (Kill the clown? Sure! Think of the court jester who mocks the king a little too sharply, or more recently that weeble-wobbling BOZO punching bag that wont fall down.) Well, my latest clown is called Campbell Vann Damme. He’s a mind reader, a snake charmer and a complete idiot. As I’ve worked on him these past few weeks I’ve alternated between wanting to ignore him, wanting to kill him and falling down laughing playing him in improvisations with other clowns from my class.
In a way this clown is what is left after everything I use as a performer to connect to an audience is taken away. All that is left for poor Campbell is my instance on being out in front of an audience. Everything is gone except the plastic red-nose and me. “I deserve to be out here,” he says and I say at the same time.
Last week we dug in, got our hands dirty and started to make our own half masks. It was a rewarding process, but it isn’t done yet. We’ll show our first performances with them tomorrow. Matteo mentioned that making these masks has an element of alchemy. The shape you form in the clay transfers from material to material, from plaster to paper, then it transforms the actor’s body and if it’s good, it will finally arrive to the audience. Even if you think it’s a really good one, you don’t know if your proposal in clay will sustain a performance until you play it.
Making a plaster cast of your face helps keep your proportions accurate.
Comedy or tragedy? I don’t know, but I think he’s a republican.
Now we’re midway though the second term at school. These weeks are all about performing in half face mask. How do you play this technically demanding form of theater while bringing intuitive ease that makes the performance interesting to see? Finding the body and voice of the mask, improvising from that place and building up a piece that is true. If you’re prepared and lucky it can generate very funny and touching work.
Jenine describes the work very well on her website:
Dramatic depth can be found in the action of simple every day things. And it is in the action that the sentiment is revealed. The action is seen through very strict action and reaction with your co-players. A delicate dance of technique and sentiment – without one you don’t have the other. Although more often than not we’ll forgive lack of technique over sentiment. As Matteo says without sentiment your mask is nothing more than paper mache and elastic.
While I was still in New York I had the pleasure of running through the American Natural History Museum looking at some of the beautiful masks tucked away in their collections. It’s an old fashioned museum in a lot of ways, and masks of the are displayed with almost no context, like butterflies on a pin-board. In one particularly bad display of Pacific Island masks one card read, “New Ireland.” Well, I thought, there is a New Ireland.
Today the low pile carpet and oak and glass cabinets make the Hall of the Northwest Coast Indians pretty shabby and unwelcoming but in his book The Way of the Masks, Claude Levi-Strauss described his experience of the hall with the first stanza of Charles Baudelaire’s poem Correspondences:
Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.
Taken as objects behind glass the masks can seem meaningless, crude and lifeless. Their cards are unhelpful to the point of silliness. They all seem to read along the lines of: wooden mask, shaman’s mask, a mask is a pretend face etc. But with a little imagination and curiosity they start to come alive. Piercing stares, flapping, lolling tongues. Some even have mechanisms–hinges and pulleys–that can tear apart one face to reveal a face underneath. Not to mention the human bodies that must have played these masks, breathing through them and embodying every distorted and extreme detail. Whoo!