Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Plastic Flora - Fortunato Depero's Scenes and Costumes for Le Chant du Rossignol, 1916-17.

On 16 November 1916, a fortnight before signing a contract with Balla for "Fireworks" (dated 2 December 1916), Diaghilev commissioned Depero to design the décor and costumes for the ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol", with music drawn from Stravinsky’s early opera, "Le Rossignol", staged in Paris in 1914. The plot had been adapted from a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and had two animal characters, a "real" nightingale and a mechanical nightingale. It was when visiting Depero°s studio and seeing a cardboard model of some enormous flowers that Diaghilev suggested to the artist that he construct the whole scenery as a kinetic sculpture, in line with the “artiticial landscape" theorised about in the manifesto "Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe". Depero worked on the décor and costumes for several months. The bizarre geometric shapes bristled with spiky and jutting elements and clearly developed further some of the ideas contained in the earlier "Mimismagia", but failed to attain the revolutionary quality of the “Plastic Complexes”: the costumes were not equipped with switches and were not noisy or transformable.
The whole artistic milieu in Paris was looking forward to the event, but in the end, and despite the fact that he had written enthusiastically to Stravinsky about this stage set, Diaghilev did not accept Depero’s work and did not present the ballet. There has been much speculation about the reasons for Diaghilev’s refusal. Some critics think that the costumes would have caused excessive obstacles to the movements of the dancer; others refer to Depero’s delay in finishing the work on time. Another reason may have been that the Russian impresario attached much importance to the organic harmony between the different arts involved in a ballet and that he noticed a glaring contradiction between the revolutionary quality of Depero’s plastic décor and Stravinsky’s music, which was of a conventional, "descriptive" kind.

1. Model for the set of "Le Chant du Rossignol", complete view.

2. Model for the set of "Le Chant du Rossignol", detail of the central part.

3. Sheet with five sketches for mandarins and court women and with the mobile-floral complex of the emperor, that remind the structure of the plastic flora.

4. Mandarin, costume for the ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol", marquetry of colored cloths (1919).

5. Sheet with twelve sketches for mandarins and court women.

6. Dancer, costume for the ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol", collage of colored papers.

7. Drawing project for "Le Chant du Rossignol", details of the "plastic flora".

8. Drawing project for "Le Chant du Rossignol", support for the the great plastic flora bush.

9. Two views of the studio-workshop of Depero in Rome with the large elements of the "plastic flora" made of wood, cardboard and linoleum.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pollen Boy on the Sun (Navajo Sandpaintings)

1. Pollen Boy on the Sun
This sandpainting is often erroneously referred to as Eagle on the Sun, which is a complete misnomer since there is no such sandpainting. Pollen Boy, called Trahdah-de'en-eshki, on the Sun or Jo-honah-eh appears in the Blessingway and may be used for two main purposes. If done with the four sacred plants (note that in this instance there appears to be two tobacco plants shown in two different colors rather than tobacco and beans) it is meant for a boy. If done for a man or a hunter, the plants would not be used. The feathers are colored for each direction, with nine feathers each and each feather representing a song from the ceremony.

2. Frogs and the Four Sacred Plants
This sandpainting theme is a fundamental one that appears in a number of other sandpaintings, in whole or in part. The four sacred plants, beginning at the top right and going clockwise are: bean — nah-othle, corn — nah-tah, corn again appears in the third position where tobacco — nah-toh should be (it would look much like the bean plant but without the dots — see the Rainbow People image), and squash — nah-yezzi. The plants may be shown in plant or human form, but either way they are recognized as being the same and have the same name. With the frogs included, this sandpainting would be used for treating a person who was crippled or suffering some form of paralysis, even arthritis. These types of illnesses are believed to be caused by the Water People.

3. The Wind People
These four figures, each a different color to represent the four directions, are the Nil—tsi yei, or wind people. In one hand they hold cloud symbols and in the other they hold the feather that is used to create the winds. The Wind People are very important in Navajo legend for it was they who relayed the ceremonial knowledge given by the Holy People to the Navajo.

4. Rainbow People
These are the Rainbow People or Na'a-tse—elit yei as they appear in the Mountain Way, with the elaborate weasel headdresses. The Rainbow People usually appear in pairs much as one often sees double rainbows in nature. They hold double rattles that are characteristic of the Mountain Way. The four sacred plants are present because of their association with water and the two guardians are medicine pouches. Adjacent to the Emergence center and the holy water (the black circle outlined in white with rainbow bars to increase its holiness and strength) are four cloud symbols, each colored for the four different directions. On each of the cloud symbols are dragonflys, who are the messengers of the sun. Here, expressed symbolically, you have the origin, both in legend and in fact, of the rainbow with the cloud symbols and the dragonflys representing the combination of moisture and light that brings about the rainbow.

5. Coyote Stealing Fire
Taken from an incident in the Creation Story, this sandpainting shows Etsay-Hashkeh, Coyote, stealing fire from the sleeping Hashjesh-jin or Fire God, who is shown holding a medicine bag in his left hand and a feather in his right where he should be holding a ring. The zig-zag lines running across his arms and shoulders represent the Milkway Way. The symbol beneath the medincine pouch is the fire. The crosses represent various stars and constellations, with the red line indicating the trailing embers left by Coyote (also known to the Navajo as Mah-ih or He—who-wanders-about). It passes through the home of the Sun with its eagle guardian in the lower right corner and through the home of the Moon in the upper right to the upper left which is the home of First Man (Etsay-hasteen) and First Woman (Etsay-Assun). The large circles in the upper and lower left represent hogans.

I am the frivilous coyote-
I wander about.
I have seen Hasjesh—jin’s fire-
I wander about.
I stole his fire from him—
I wander about.
I have it! I have it!

from the Creation Chant

6. Home of the Bear and Snake
This sandpainting theme occurs in both the Beauty Way and the Mountain Way, but it has its origins in yet another — the Blessing Way. Big Snake Man and Bear Man, disguised as very old men compete successfully in a battle against the Pueblo people and in successive archery contests against Monster Slayer and his companions for the possession of two beautiful maidens who are here illustrated as the two square-headed female figures at the right and left. Though the two old men win every contest Monster Slayer can think of, they are still denied their prizes. That night, while the others attended a social dance, Big Snake Man and Bear Man transformed themselves into handsome rich young men. Using a sweet-smelling magic tobacco, they lure the girls to them. Upon awakening in the morning the maidens find that the young men have changed into the old men they had spurned the day before. Frightened, they flee. Big Snake’s Man’s pursuit of one of the maidens continues in the Beauty Way, while Bear Man’s chase is a part of the Mountain Way. The butterflies symbolize the beauty of the maidens and the bear tracks the following of their pursuers. The snakes are shown in their hogans and the bears near their mountain homes. The two figures at the top and bottom are both Hastye-alt-yei or Talking God.

7. Home of the Bears
This story begins in the Blessing Way and continues in the Mountain Way. Bear Man is in pursuit of the maiden who fled from him. The tracks show his travels thus far and the bear paw with the rainbow bar indicates he is tracking her. The bar in front of each bear represents the pipe used to smoke the special tobacco which helped Bear Man eventually find her. In the center are the sun and the moon and at the top are two bat guardians. Four hastye-alt-yei are shown holding a medicine bag in one hand and a bull-roarer in the other. He is usually referred to as Grandfather of the Gods or Talking God, though a more appropriate translation would be Speechless Talking One, for he is one of a small group who no longer speak as they once did in times long past. He also appears in the Nightway and had control over the dawn, corn and certain game animals. Of all the gods, he is regarded as being the most compassionate.

I, I am Talking God — now I wander about.
From under the East I wander about — now I wander about
The dawn lies toward me, I wander about — now I wander about
The white corn lies toward me — now I wander about..
Before me, it is beautiful — it shows my way.
Behind me, it is beautiful — it shows my way.

8. The Buffalo People
This sandpainting is often referred to by the name "The Buffalo Who Never Die". This title came from a story of a man who married the daughter of the chief of the Ah-yah-neh or Buffalo People. When the Buffalo People left to return to their home on the Plains of the East, he was told not to follow them. He did follow them and when discovered, the Buffalo People decided to kill him. Prepared for this he armed himself with special magic given him by the gods and killed all the Buffalo People instead. He eventually revived them in exchange for certain ceremonial knowledge which they had. The red lines on the Buffalo People in this sandpainting should be red and blue rainbows instead, which symbolize the fact that they have been brought back to life. Also the white hands on the buffalo do not appear in traditional representations of the Buffalo People. The tipis in the sandpainting represent the home of the Buffalo People. The white lines represent their trails to the water.

9. Monster Slayer
Known as Nayenezgani, he is shown here standing against the sun, as he appears in the Female Shootingway. He is armed with crooked lightning, given to him by his father the Sun. Nayenezgani's brother, Born-of-Water (Tobaschischin) was given straight lightning. The serrated edges of his body indicate that he is wearing flint armor, also given to him by the Sun. Around him are four eagles, each astride a rainbow bar which protects them, giving them greater power and strength. The sandpainting is protected by the bow guardians and a garland of arrows. The two brothers, usually referred to as the Twin War Gods, are the focus of much of Navajo legend. They destroyed most of the terrible monsters or Yei-tso who inhabited the earth in its early days. (The great lava flow near Grants, New Mexico is believed to be the dried blood of one of these fearsome Yei-tso.) Among the few Yei-tso to survie were poverty, sickness and death.

10. Male and Female Yeis
The Yeis are supernatural beings from Navajo religion, with the word ‘yei’ being usually translated as ‘god’. The masked dancers who portray the Yei in certain ceremonies are referred to as Yei-bih-chai dancers, after the Yei-bih-chai ceremony in which they appear. Although there are exceptions to the rule, a round head indicates a male Yei and a square or slightly rectangular head indicates a female Yei. The male Yei in this sandpainting should not have the two feathers on the side of his head. He is holding a rattle and crooked lightning while she is holding a rattle and evergreen. Hanging from their wrists and elbows are ribbons. Both should be holding rattles in their right hands and evergreen in their left. The skirt or kilt and the bag to the left of each Yei are the only two areas in traditional sandpainting where the sandpainter is permitted to vary the design. Errors or variations not accepted in traditional sandpaintings appear in this type of sandpainting, almost regularly, especially in the larger ones. Knowledgeable Navajo sandpainters will often deliberately put in an “error" to prevent the sandpainting from exactly copying a ceremonial sandpainting. Still others will vary an element to make it visually more pleasing to the artist himself.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Inuit Prints

1. Ananaisee Alikatuktuk/Thomasee Alikatuktuk - Taleelayu and Family, 1976.
Stencil, 38.5 x 58.5 cm. Pangnirtung print catalogue 1976, No. 13.
Taleelayu, also called Sedna, was a powerful figure in the Eskimo pantheon, being considered the provider of food and the protector of animals. Her origins were human. The myth has several versions but, basically, her rejection of all suitors led her angry father to marry her to one of his dogs. Their children became the ancestors of the Indians and Europeans. Subsequently, she was tricked into marrying a fulmar. When her father rescued her in his boat, the bird caused a great storm, and her father, in fright, threw her overboard. When she clung to the boat, he chopped off her fingers, which became the seals and the whales, and she sank to the bottom of the sea, where she rules. Ananaisee`s imaginative interpretation of the myth gives Taleelayu a sea family. He explains the lack of scales on four of the creatures as due to their being male.

2. Niviaksiak - Polar Bear and Cub in Ice, 1959.
Stencil, 23.8 x 48.5 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue 1959, No. SS-12.
The open channel in the ice where the bear and her cub are swimming resembles the graceful form of this animal's undulating motion in the water.

3. Victoria Mumngshoaluk/Ruby Arngna'naaq - Keeveeok’s Journey, 1969.
Stencil, 25.0 x 57.7 cm. Baker Lake print catalogue, 1970, No. 1.
The fabulous adventures of Keeveeok form a lengthy Inuit legend. Ruby Arngna'naaq, having admired the shaded edge created by a coffee stain on print paper, used suffused colour to imitate the effect in developing this stencil print from a delicate line-drawing.

4. Kenojuak/Lukta - The Arrival of the Sun, 1962.
Stonecut, 47.0 x 59.5 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue 1962, No. 69.
Daylight hours are few on southern Baffin Island in midwinter. The return of longer, sunny days heralds the arrival ot spring. Kenojuak was one of the first women to begin making drawings for the print programme. She repeated the drawing for this print several times during the filming of Kenojuak in 1961. (Terrence Ryan, data sheet, Mar. 1977). The film also features the cutting and printing of this work, and gives a vivid impression of the life style of the period, when most of the people lived out on the land.

5. Myra Kukiiyaut/Irene Taviniq - Dancing Birds, 1976.
Stencil, 40.3 x 52.5 cm. Baker Lake print catalogue, 1976, No. 13.
The stencil technique is especially suitable for Kukiiyaut's delicate floating forms.

6. Luke Anguhadluq/William Noah - Hunting Caribou from Kayaks, 1976.
Stonecut and stencil, 95.5 x 59.0 cm. Baker Lake print catalogue 1976, No. 23.
In the autumn, the Inuit camped near the usual crossing places of the migrating caribou herds, hunting the animals from kayaks as they swam across the rivers. Anguhadluq shows from three distinct viewpoints the conical tents at the water’s edge, the hunters setting out in kayaks, and the caribou. Composed of four stonecuts and several stencils, both splattered and brushed, the print is of such technical complexity that an edition of only nineteen was pulled.

7. Kavavoa/Eliyah - Two Men Discussing Coming Hunt, 1961.
Stencil, 34.2 x 48.5 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue 1961, No. 44.
This humorous depiction of men engaged in animated conversation apparently gives a graphic description of their thoughts. The print was taken from one of Kavavoa’s very few drawings.

8. Lucy/Ottochie - Spirit Boat, 1972.
Stonecut, 29.5 x 41.0 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue 1972, No. 2.
This is an especially humorous example of Lucy's comical birds. Note the bird image on the flag.

9. Agnes Nanogak/Harry Egutak - Dream’s Song, 1968.
Stonecut, 40.5 x 50.5 cm. Holman print catalogue, 1968, No. 27.
The inscribed text states, "A woman dreaming of birds and a skin drum. A woman’s dream." Note the western Arctic use of the Roman alphabet rather than Inuktitut syllabics, as in the central and eastern areas.

10. Pudlo/Eegyvudluk Pootoogook - Winter Angel, 1969.
Stonecut, 41 x 57.7 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue, 1969, No. 54.

11. Pudlo/Eegyvudluk Pootoogook - Man Carrying Reluctant Wife, 1961.
Stencil, 42.5 x 35.8 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue, 1961, No. 16.
James A. Houston (1967) and Diamond Jenness (1923) both report that it was considered good manners for a girl to show some reluctance in leaving her family to be married.

12. Pudlo/Lukta - Spirit with Symbols, 1961.
Stonecut, 43.0 x 37.2 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue 1961, No. 49.
Pudlo has used the form of a woman wearing the traditional amauti (woman’s parka) to create a strange image resembling a keyhole plate. The objects in her hands are subject to varying interpretations, and could represent a key and door handle.

13. Ikayukta/Kavavoa - Angakuk’s Tent, 1975.
Stonecut, 48.5 x 18.8 cm. Cape Dorset print catalogue, 1975, No. 6.
The angakuk, or shaman, believed to have supernatural powers, was a powerful figure in Inuit life. The sealskin tents are identified as extraordinary dwellings by the bird-spirit heads emerging from top and front.