Monthly Archives: February 2009

Bruno Schulz’s coerced murals

There’s a good article and slideshow in the NY Times today concerning Bruno Schulz, the Polish Jew best known for his dreamlike, Kafkaesque short stories. He was also an accomplished draughtsman, who created eerie (and oftentimes somewhat grotesque) tableaux. His artistic talent forestalled (but ultimately did not prevent) his death at the hands on the Nazis when they occupied Poland. A Nazi officer, Felix Landau, initially kept him from being shot or forced into hard labor, so that Schulz could paint murals in a riding school and in a nursery for his children. But another Nazi officer, upset that Landau had had his Jewish dentist shot, killed Schulz in a perverse tit-for-tat, reportedly telling Landau: “You killed my Jew. Now I’ve killed yours.”

The article details the exhibition of what remains of Schulz’s murals, excised from their walls, and now preserved in a state of arrested decay. There are several small details of subversion in the paintings, tiny acts of mental freedom executed under duress.

I’ve admired Schulz’s drawings and prints for some time, and especially cherish his short stories, published in the US in the two collections “Street of Crocodiles” and “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.” They are incredibly dense, poetic works which take you deep into the subjective realities of a sensitive, observant mind. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

“Street of Crocodiles” was used as a jumping-off point for the great stop-motion animated short of the same name, created by the brothers Quay. I showed it last year in my animation class. There’s more on Schulz and the Quays here.

New Yorker Films: Significant releases in the States

New Yorker Films first released Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972). The German director Werner Herzog (He directed the “documentary” Grizzly Man, of recent fame.) was unknown to me.
I have shown this film several times over the years in both Special Themes In Film and Video Art and Survey of Film and Video Art, 1960 until Now.
The first time I watched this film-well- I did so unaware of what I was getting into.
A friend took me to the Red Vic in San Francisco for a screening. I was bewildered and immediately wanted more of that kind of cinematic space.
This film is of immense value as a work of art, and in recent cinematic history it stands as a masterpiece of strangeness and grandeur on a small budget, as well as immense irritation. It is the kind of irritation that can’t quite be scratched away while watching it.

New Yorker Films distributed many films holding equal value.

I did book one film distributed by New Yorker Films by Werner Herzog: The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1984-5?). The Dog Sled Team screened it on the mountain campus in Croom Theatre several years ago.


New Yorker Films: No more

Click on image to read the article in today’s New York Times about New Yorker Films ending.
My thought: Is this an indicator of the slide of celluloid towards much less use than it has had? I wonder because of other film distributors finding themselves at risk. This may seem alarmist, but I was surprised a few years ago to see the likes of Agfa stop producing photographic supplies, as well as other still film stalwarts like Polaroid. Hm.



The first student-organized art show is currently hanging in the third floor hallway of Prim Library. It’s called “flexible,” and you should swing by and check it out. It’s a very diverse mix of modes and materials. Below are several pics of the work, many of them taken completely out of context. To get the full context, you’ll just have to travel to the show.

There’s more info on the show, and the student gallery club, over on Becca’s blog.

Oscars (and ETEK)

I was too busy tonight to start up the popcorn machine and settle in for the Oscars — but I did catch that Mike Elizalde, who the ETEK class visited last semester (see the blog post from the day we dropped in on his studio Spectral Motion here), was up for an Oscar for Best Makeup, for his work on Hellboy II. He didn’t get the award — but if I can humbly offer a sentiment of congratulations for being nominated, a nomination in itself is not too shabby. Mike was incredibly open and welcoming to our class, and it’s great to see someone who’s both very talented and very gracious get some props.

And later on in the evening, Richard King won the Oscar for Sound Editing, for his work on the Dark Knight. I didn’t do a sufficient write-up, but the ETEK class saw Richard King — along with composer Hans Zimmer and music editor Alex Gibson — at the Egyptian Theater, giving a highly entertaining behind-the-scenes presentation on their sound work for the Batman film. One of the memorable pieces of that evening was a video clip showing King and crew destroying a multiply-miked car with the jaws of life, with obvious glee, to gather the raw material for the various acts of metallic destruction in the movie.

The only bummer — M.I.A. didn’t show up for the best song bit (I was holding out for a hospital bed video feed…)

Darwin’s Drawings

This post is a day late, since yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday, but I thought I’d post a few of Darwin’s drawings. As my own art, for the past few years, has included investigations into the subject of Natural History, I’ve become more and more fascinated by the visual culture of science — and the way in which functional scientific drawings also have an aesthetic dimension. Darwin, as it turns out, was not a draughtsman on the order of an Audubon or a Gallileo (Galileo’s drawings of the phases of the moon are quite lovely) — his drawings are chiefly an act of investigation. Of course, much of good drawing, even in the purely aesthetic sphere, is also an act of investigation.

Below is an example of Darwin being investigative, and an example of Darwin being more pictorial (click on them to see larger versions):

Both are from the website “The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online” — to see more of his drawings, go to the Manuscripts section of the site, and do a page-search for the word “drawing.”

Drawing — like writing — is not merely an act of recording, it’s also an act of thinking. Darwin’s most consequential drawing is probably a drawing he made of an idea, rather than of a thing. Made in a private notebook, it looks like a drawing or a twig or a tree. But it’s really the drawing of a notion that would go on the revolutionize the way we look at the world:

Dave Lane: Out in Space

I haven’t had time to give it a proper write-up, but a couple weeks ago I saw a spectacular show at the Nelson Gallery at UC Davis. It’s running through March 8. I’m hoping to take a carload of students before it closes out. Dave Lane, the artist, has assembled a real universe in the Nelson. Enormous sculptures made of rusted mechanical parts rear up to the gallery’s ceiling, some of them large-scale crypto-portraits, all of them suggesting cosmological systems that telescope from the macro to the micro via the interlocking teeth of gears. Some of them exude antiquated lightbulbs that distend from the frames like illuminating tears. These titans share the space with small dioramas in glassed-in Cornell boxes, where miniature figures act out dialogues (written out underneath) that mix scientific inquiry with colloquial banter. The show is too much too absorb at one sitting — all the more motive to make it back back to Davis before its run wraps up.

Now Playing in Town: Coraline

I took the animation class on a field-trip to see “Coraline” in 3D. I thought it was an extraordinary film — exquisitely detailed & designed, and perverse and strange enough that it seemed miraculous it had actually been greenlit. If you’ve been considering seeing it, I’d strongly urge you to catch it on a big screen, in 3D — the 3D didn’t seem like a gimmick, it actually opened up the space of the film in a way that felt very appropriate to the visual style. Each set was like the back side of a doll house — rooms with the walls opened up, so we can inhabit them, even if we don’t really physically fit into the furniture. The story’s very smart, too. There aren’t enough examples to call it a general trend, but “Coraline” joins “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Science of Sleep” as a recent movie that takes the atypical position that the imagination isn’t just a place of freedom and escape: it’s a place that has its dangers.

The above image is taken from an LA Times blog post — there are more set photos to be found there.

Lecture coming up this month in S.F.

Julio César Morales
Spheres of Interest: Experiments in Thinking & Action Lecture
“Cover Versions”
Friday, 20 February 2009, 5:00pm
Lecture Hall
800 Chestnut Street (San Francisco, CA 94133)
Free and open to the public

Julio César Morales is an artist, educator, and curator. Using photography, video, print, and digital media, he devises conceptual projects that address the productive friction occurring within transcultural territories like Tijuana and San Francisco as well as within inherently impure media like popular music and graphic design. Morales teaches and creates art in a variety of settings: juvenile halls and probation offices; museums; academia; and alternative nonprofit institutions. His work explores issues of labor, memory, surveillance technologies, and identity strategies and has been exhibited at such venues as the 2007 Istanbul Biennial, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the 2006 Singapore Biennial, Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt (Germany), Peres Projects in Los Angeles, the 2004 San Juan Triennial (Puerto Rico), Fototeca de Havana (Cuba), and the Hammer Museum at UCLA. Morales is adjunct curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and teaches in SFAI’s New Genres department.