Art

The next renaissance

The movie fight club has a few thought provoking quotes – “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place, no great wars, no great depression”. I don’t second the thought completely, our generation might also have a purpose may be a latent one, may be the purpose is hidden in layers like a pomegranate hides the berries in layers. Taking the middle path is the norm, the path that is safe, one that might bear the fruits of success – a success that is moderate but not the one that will make you immortal. Fight club comes to rescue one more time by stating “It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything”.

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The cities that have marked themselves in golden letters in pages of history were unforgiving to the people who called them home. There wasn’t a plan B, if you succeed then you will share the glory and your place in pages of history with the greats from all walks of life but if you fail then you might starve to death and you subject your upcoming generations, if any, to similar fate. But that didn’t deter them to take risks. They always shot for something that can be considered the ultimate manifestation of human spirit.

What is it that we will risk everything for? Pope Julius II gave the commission to Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. But the philosophy to take risk on the unlikely heroes was not uncommon. Identify a talented person and bestow responsibility of a herculean task; sit back and look at the results.

But what we do nowadays is quite tangential to that approach. We enlist the people for jobs once we determine that they are the perfect fit and then we assign the tasks to those who demonstrated the ability to execute those tasks in the past. Entirely risk averse. No risk or reduced risk is what the aim is. The space and time required for the ideas to flourish are not provided and then we wonder why aren’t we living in another renaissance?

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Colors – The Paragone within

Voice by KHMRS is being played in the background while I write this. When I was a kid and before I had any comprehension of Physics and optics, I always wondered that if light can divide itself into rainbow colors then if I will mix the VIBGYOR then may be I will get white or something made of light but every single time I got some blackish muddled color like my thoughts and also warnings from my mother on wasting colors. After many years, in one of the books I borrowed from Dr. B C Roy’s children’s library in New Delhi I read about the additive and subtractive mixing of colors giving rise to white light and the blackish color of my mix. In short, when you mix RGB lights in 1:1:1 then you get white light. While when we mix the colors the concept that is used is called the subtractive mixing e.g. a shirt appears blue when white light shines on it because it absorbs all colors but reflects only blue back. The same shirt might appear of different color when looked in different light. The color of an object does not reside in the object itself. The color is in the light that shines upon the object and that ultimately is reflected or transmitted to our eyes. 

Mixing of colors wasn’t a welcome activity before renaissance, many purists didn’t like the idea of mixing color and their argument that there is nothing a color can add to the black and white world. If a painting is great then it is great, an addition of color can’t have an effect on it’s intrinsic value. White and black were considered the natural colors and rest were just derivations.

The competition, rivalry, tussles were the hallmarks of the renaissance period and one of the fiercest debate or paragone as it was called during that time between colore(color) and designo(design and drawings). Design was with Florence and Color with Venice and Venetian colore has always been characterized as sensual e.g. Titian’s Venus and the Lute player – the painting that hangs in the MET. While the guiding principle of disegno is manifested in lines, contours, and forms. While disegno was considered more intellectual and rational form of art, colore was seemed as vulgar but with the advent of renaissance, both the ideas got an uplift and world became vivid with colors.

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Venus and the Lute Player

An ode to café

What better way to write an ode to coffeehouses than being in one and drinking the most popular drug of all the times.

How coffee works?

Our brain has adenosine and adenosine receptors, when both of them come in contact then drowsiness or sleep is induced. Caffeine when taken in binds itself to the adenosine receptors and thus blocking opportunity for adenosine to bind. The nerve cells speed up in this process and pituitary gland thinks of it as an emergency and thus releases loads of adrenaline hormone which is the fight or flight hormone.

 

Other things about Coffee and coffeehouses!

Cities such as Seattle, Vienna, Reykjavik, London rank consistently higher in number of coffeehouses that call home to these cities. In 2011, UNESCO put cafes in Vienna as part of the intangible heritage of the city and it is true indeed. But the first cafe in the world, Kiva Han, was opened in Constantinople(modern day Istanbul) in the year 1475 and soon they mushroomed all over the world and are thronged by all. There are the famous ones such as café central in Vienna that served as the incubator for the likes of Freud, Trotsky, and Lenin.

 

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Café Jax – Upper East Side Manhattan

I am one of the loyal ones with an allegiance to this dark drink but more than that I prefer to sit, read, and observe in these establishments. I have had moments of flow there that is curated by the moderate level of noise that can send one in the mode of diffused focus, one of the state that helps in creative thinking and launches one in the space where inner and outer imagination meet and create something that can’t have taken flight on terra firma.

Alfred Polgar in 1927 in his essay “Theory of café central“said that the place is for those people whose hatred of their fellow human beings is as fierce as their longing for people, who want to be alone but need companionship for it. This is the exact feeling I get in New York City, you can be alone but can be with millions of people. The coffee houses are like the archipelago of people who are alone yet close, may be that’s the reason I do like the archipelago cities – NYC and Stockholm as examples.

These sanctified places provide refuge to the ideas, the lonely ones and to the gregarious alike. Here you can concoct an ephemeral world within the tangents of humdrum and mundane world.

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Café Central – Vienna

 

Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.

The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.

It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.

 

Color me saffron

A few days ago when I was sitting in Scheltema in Amsterdam, I found a book named The Secret Lives of Color on the shelf. It was an interesting find. I quickly read the quoted stories on few of my favorite colors and was delighted to see the aspect of history associated with them. While I was about to return the book, I thought of another color – Saffron that forms a part of the tricolor flag of India.

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and at one time saffron color was one of the most expensive ones. In 1444 a man was burnt alive in Nuremberg for he used to adulterate saffron with marigold and used to stretch profit margins. The spice is so fragrant that Cleopatra used to bathe in milk and saffron.

In Indian context, the color represents strength and courage in the nation and in terms of Hinduism it represents the holiest color among all colors. It is the color of burning flame that can purify, it represents the sacrifice. The priests, the monks, the learned ones wear the color indicating renunciation of worldly wealth. S Radhakrishnan said the color in the flag should symbolize renunciation and disinterestedness. Indifference to the material gain should be the fundamental rule followed by leaders but we have seen umpteen times how the country has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Scheltema – The Secret Lives of Color

Scheltema – a book store on Rokin st. near Dam Square in Amsterdam is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the oldest in Netherlands serving the bibliophiles since 1853.IMG_20180311_122700

When I walked in, some children’s activity was going on and a few volunteers were arranging things. I was scouring for the Tulipmania by Mike Dash for I was interested in how tulips came to a level at one time that single bulb of tulip costed more than cost of a house. It mirrors today’s economy when we think of bitcoin’s surge in past few months.

I finally found it on 4th floor of the store in the history section and sat down on a cosy chair to flip through the pages. There was a lot of moving space around and the place carries the attitude of a young and confident speaker, telling stories coherently in a cogent fashion but I won’t compare it with the capitalism that Barnes and Noble brought to the world.

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Apart from the American Book Center on Spui 12, Scheltema is another place where one can find quality English literature in Amsterdam area.

It’s here I realized how wonderful oil pastel art can be and thus I picked a random book from the shelf named The Secret Lives of Colors. It is so interesting to see the possibility of a book on colors. Soren Kierkegaard said “Is anything more sparkling, more dizzying than the possible?”  The book provided history on many colors, how they were found, what’s the significance, which artists use them, how do they align with the values of various countries, what is/was the economic significance of certain colors. It would lead you to the paths of history where you can find yourself in the multitude of kaleidoscope of  hues and pigments. It is a compendium of answers that will establish the connections such as bard, green, and envy. I wonder what Moilere might be thinking here?

The Shakespeare of Vienna

It is humanly impossible to have all the experiences of the world (at least that’s my belief at this point of time) but the paper friends come in handy there. Books are the portals to  unknown adventures, we can live a thousand lives and experience myriad emotions at the same time. In the era of kindles and nooks there is something about the independent bookstores that allures a tumbleweed. The unkempt bookshelves with piles of books packed tightly in close quarters such that various characters and the plots can talk to each other from various stories.  Akin to vast empty space where you can drift forever or stumble upon something which will be your moment of truth, they epitomize the brain of a someone who wants to know it all but is busy scouring the pieces that are yet to be uncovered.

A week ago during a cold and wet winter evening in Vienna, I stumbled upon this bookstore – Shakespeare and Company booksellers, and was I delighted. I was roaming around the old part of the city and it started raining heavily, I took refuge under a window sill to open my bag and get umbrella out and that’s when I saw this bookstore from a distance and I knew immediately that I have to go in.

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The charm of old bookstores is never fading, there is a sense of comfort in the ramshackle appearance and the disorganization. They are like human beings growing old over a period of time and accepting one’s flaws and being humble about it but not apologetic.

The bookstore is located on Stergasse and near Rupert’s church and Stephansplatz. The readers and writers have to go in for a time travel while walking in the labyrinth of this place on creaking wooden floors to get their dose of stimulant.

Stalker

 

Sifting through a myriad number of films that have been produced till now can be a herculean task and if I were to leave it on chance to find films that I would enjoy then I would be getting to see the gems once in blue moon only. Today only I was discussing this with a friend of mine that there are millions of things that have to be done, millions of books to be read, places to be visited, songs to listen to, movies to watch, emotions to express and experience, will one lifetime be enough for that?

I knew about Filmstruck for a long time and decided to have the trial version of the same for the 14 days before I would start my work-related travel again. I watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s  Trois Couleurs Bleu, A French classic – Une affaire de femmes, a couple of Swedish ones namely Together and the famous – I am curious Yellow. I had kept Stalker – the 1979 soviet sci-fi in my watch list and was I delighted to watch it?

When I started writing this post I thought I would write a review for this masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky but in between I have changed my mind and my propensity is towards the instruments and film theory Tarkovsky resorted to while he directed this one. There is not an iota of question that the film is a strange one, not easily digestible, set in a post-apocalyptic world, talks in ciphers and cryptic language. The medium is terse and esoteric, talks philosophy, and focuses on single frames for a long time, at times as long as 4 to 5 minutes. Such lengths make people uncomfortable. Why? May be it makes them bored. Boredom is quite magical, it makes you do things that you wouldn’t have done otherwise even if it means jumping from one task to the other aimlessly. But the question is – Is this movie meant for everyone? May be not. Soviet state committee pointed out that the film isn’t immersive but alienating the audience and is slow. Tarkovsky replied it is the way it should be.

The arrogance and obstinacy is what is attractive here. Tarkovsky was assiduous, arduous, and audacious in one of his final attempt. So was Bertolt Brecht, the man who coined the concept of Verfremdungseffekt, popularly known as alienating the audience. Most of the movies that we see these days rely on CGI for the grandeur or the emotional manipulation of the audience. In layman terms, you identify with the main character of the film and go on an emotional roller coaster with that character. You laugh and cry in unison, one such example is Roman Holiday in which people can start relating themselves to princess Audrey Hepburn and l’ordinaire journalist Gregory Peck. To Brecht, emotional manipulation meant vile and scrupulous like a lie that steals your right of knowing the truth. This concept cuts chords with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

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At this point, Brecht decided to alienate audience than immersing them in the film watching experience. They would be looking at the characters, film, the plot, the props as an outsider. The audience won’t become part of the emotional experience but will be a self appointed critique. The end goal was to distance the viewers so they can take a rational decision on the plot, events, and the actions of the characters. Tarkovsky used this method well to create a radical, surprising, and a critical product – Stalker. The art practice no longer remains a bourgeois and lofty one but can assimilate with the audience without manipulating them emotionally. Another film that follows the similar path is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. I was thoroughly bored when I watched it for the first time and anticipated ‘something’ will happen but after 3 hours 45 minutes, the film just ended and I felt deceived. I was naive. After watching Stalker that belongs to the similar genre, I felt challenged. The film challenged me to remain bored, to maintain the static nature and then observe my surroundings. It challenges us to try and take a step away from the buffet of dissipation and profligacy and visit the mysteries of the zone. It is inline with Brecht statement that sometimes it is important to be human than to have good taste.

PS: Today I had a mathematical model’s delivery at work and while wrapping up the presentation I asked my clients to be devil’s advocate while checking the model or if we talk in film theory, I would like to alienate my audience so they can take a rational decision on the final product. We all had a hearty laugh.

Home Sapiens and The Walls

Recently I was flipping through the pages of The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond and then later discussed the same with a colleague of mine about the fact that we share the 98.6% DNA with Chimps and the possibility that at least someone somewhere might be working in the world on trying to align the DNA of humans and chimps and then inserting the part of chimp’s DNA that carries the raw strength and inserting it human’s and thereby making a powerful human or may be the other way round to get a super intelligent Chimp if fallen in wrong hands can be weapon against mankind. Well, this process isn’t as simple as they show in the fantasy series but entirely possible. Apart from decoding the massive dataset of DNA, mutating any organism’s to make it behave in a certain fashion is not a cakewalk. Body should be able to receive that new DNA just as the new software should work with the old hardware.

It lead me to think about the human capacity, how far we have come from Homo habilis to erectus to neanderthal to homo sapiens. From the wheel to paper to combustion engines to medicines to light bulb to internet and now the mobile phones that can do almost everything. Between these inventions many great wars were fought, millions died, civilizations were razed and ravaged, vacillating tempers were disturbed and egos were hurt, egotists and dictators came and went away, ideas were brought in, suppressed, sometimes adopted, and eventually faded away with time only to leave a mark in the pages of history.

Walls and borders have been built and have been torn down. The standing and destroyed pieces reminisce us of what human beings are capable of. I don’t think this one need any explanation, one of the inhumane experiments conducted to annihilate nation’s integrity and pride into parts.

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But there can be others that integrate and bring people together. One example is Le mur des je t’aime in the Jehan Rictus square, Place des Abbesses in Montmartre area of Paris. Popularly known as the love wall, it has I Love You written in 311 languages over a 1000 times.

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The wall was created by two artists – Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito, who knocked on doors of the neighbors and people and collected this sentiment of love from them and later transferred them to the tiles. The red color burst represents the broken pieces of a heart but the wall keeps them at one place and united. Walls generally divide and segregate but this one is uniting and brining people together and spreading the message for the same.

Hotel Salvation

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An appointment in Samarra is the old Mesopotamian tale in which a man encounters death in Baghdad and to avoid it he runs away to the old city of Samarra thinking death won’t catch him there. It is later revealed that death was surprised to see him in Baghdad as that man had an appointment in Samarra that late night. There is no escape as it turns out to be the case. In the city of Varanasi, death comes at its own will like anywhere else but the quest for salvation and ultimate liberation draws devout Hindus to the city. In the film, Mukti Bhawan, one fine day Devendra realizes that his end is near and he
has to be in Varanasi to meet his end. Thus he embarks on a journey with his son who is reluctant to join the journey. A journey not only from life to death but also the one
towards self realization, towards the moments that are unprofitable though should be cherished.
The film is about coming to terms with certain concepts and truths of life. There are many characters in the film and it won’t be hyperbolic to say that even the city of Varanasi was portrayed as a character that has transformed the relation between the father and son, the smaller joys and woes of life into a chronicled intro and retrospection. The city serves as a medium for the poignant realizations and truths of life not only of this world but also the other world. The word death doesn’t seem so dreadful anymore between father and the son and when asked what he would like to be in his next life, the father says – a kangaroo so that he will have a personal pouch. There are certain moments of joy that are portrayed through the humane compassion between the granddaughter and grandfather.

I wonder what is the central theme of the film, is it the eventual journey one has to undertake, is it coming to terms with certain aspects of human life, is it gaining perspective through a journey to a city that is allegory for taking time off and observing the world as an outsider and what is your role in the wide gamut of things. Ich warum nicht!