The Not-So-Comic Art Of Chris Ware

A Master of the Graphic Novel visits Bloomington ◆ by Ivan Kreilkamp

[Graphic novelist Chris Ware gave a public lecture November 12, 2013, at the IU Cinema. His visit was co-sponsored by the College Arts and Humanities Institute, the Ruth N. Halls Fund, and IU’s Themester 2013: Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World.]

Canons are made to be argued about, but the work of Chris Ware would be included in virtually anyone’s list of the most essential modern graphic novels or long-form works of comic art. Ever since Art Spiegelman’s Maus: a Survivor’s Tale won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, graphic novels have been gradually working their way into broad recognition and respectability, increasingly accepted as potentially as aesthetically complex, emotionally resonant, and culturally significant as novels or films. But the number of true crossover texts in this genre – prize-winning, non-super-hero books of comic art that have been widely reviewed, taught, and read by followers of contemporary literature who don’t identify themselves as comics fans – remains small.  Among the most obvious candidates for such a canon would be Maus and Maus II, Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World (1997), Alan Moore’s From Hell (1999), Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003), Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home (2006)—and at least two of Chris Ware’s books, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) and last year’s Building Stories (2012).  Indeed, one could easily make the case that with the one exception of Art Spiegelman himself, who virtually invented the genre and shepherded it into existence, no contemporary comics artist or graphic novelist has achieved greater national and international acclaim than Ware.

Ware in 2009

Chris Ware

At a time when graphic novels were still often ignored by the mainstream press, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth became Maus’s first genuine successor in terms of wide acclaim and broad success. It was given “book of the year” distinctions by TIME, The Village Voice Literary Supplement, and Entertainment Weekly, and was also awarded a 2001 Guardian First Book Award and an American Book Award, “distinctions previously awarded,” as Ware puts it in a characteristically ironic author bio, “only to authors who could not draw.”  Comics critic and historian Doug Wolk has described the book as “a history of a family’s pathetic fantasies and painful realities, rendered in a style whose maniacally precise, composed, geometrical frostiness counterbalanced the story’s emotional brutality.” Jimmy Corrigan comes across as some kind of improbable cross between Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons and a work of contemporary fiction of the most austere variety: say, a Thomas Bernhard or Peter Handke novel. If one model for graphic novel cross-over success has been that of gripping memoir or personal history – Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home all fall into this category, stories of personal-cultural trauma or crisis and breakthrough – Jimmy Corrigan is a much less emotionally accessible narrative.  It tells a complexly interwoven story of two different father-son relationships, each marked by abandonment and regret: in present day Chicago, Jimmy Corrigan, a Charlie Brown (or Bartleby)-ish middle-aged office drudge, and the father he barely knows; and 80 years previously, Jimmy’s grandfather James, and his own father.  Ware describes Jimmy Corrigan in the book’s afterward as his attempt to grapple with his relationship with his own absent father.  After rereading the text for a final edit, he explains, “it occurred to me… that the four or five hours it took to read is almost exactly the total time I ever spent with my father, either in person or on the telephone.”  He also observes that the book itself turned out to be about the same size as the urn in which his father’s ashes were interred.

So Jimmy Corrigan is, in effect, a tombstone for Ware’s own father. Yet for all its bleakness, the book somehow also manages to be altogether pleasurable to read and a delight to look at, in part because Ware is such an exquisitely skillful and dedicated visual artist and craftsman whose work cites a dizzying array of 20th century graphic conventions from magazine and comic book advertisements, children’s books, and any number of additional forms of paper and print ephemera.  Following the success of Jimmy Corrigan, Ware’s work was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial of American Art, and he is deeply respected by comic geeks for his skills in the lettering, coloring, and fanatically-obsessive production of his books.

Last year Ware topped his own success with Building Stories, a still-more original creation that was named by Time, Newsday, and the New York Times as one of its ten best books of the year. Building Stories is in some ways less a book than a slightly mad assemblage that can simultaneously bring to mind artist Joseph Cornell’s famous surrealist boxes, and a container for treasures stored under the bed of a pack-rat 11-year-old boy.  Building Stories comes in (and also is) a sturdy, approximately 16” by 12” box that is itself elaborately inscribed, and which contains fourteen distinct mini-books and other items: a fold-out newspaper, a thick cardboard game board, several comic books of various sizes, a mock children’s “Little Golden Book,” several posters and broadsides, etc., each designed and constructed with unbelievable care.  These 14 items, which can be read in any order, don’t narrate a single coherent story, although they do, in aggregate, offer a multifaceted examination of the lives led by a number of inhabitants of a single apartment building in Chicago (including one lascivious bee), with a particular focus on an unnamed young female protagonist.  This woman, a former art student with a prosthetic leg whom we see pass through a lonely early adulthood and young motherhood, is this book’s version of Jimmy Corrigan, a partial proxy for the artist himself.

Building Stories has qualities that invite comparison to contemporary post-modern, hyper-textual fictions.  It is non-linear, fragmented, a collection more than a narrative.  Yet is other ways, it is thoroughly and even perversely old-fashioned and backward-looking: it weighs a ton, would almost need to be its own carry-on item for a plane trip, and is unimaginable as an e-book (or even as a paperback). It clarifies Chris Ware’s status as one of the most original and compelling contemporary artists and authors in any genre.

Ivan Kreilkamp is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Indiana University.

 The Ryder ◆ November 2013

Nosferatu

An original rock score by the Bloomington band M enlivens F.W. Murnau’s silent vampire thriller ◆ by Stephen Simms
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[Stephen Simms is a founding member of the legendary, mid-90s Bloomington band, M. In a rare comeback appearance, they will perform their original score to F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Nosferatu at the IU Cinema on Sunday, October 27th at 6:30 pm. The film and performance are a co-presentation of the Cinema and The Ryder.]

My father is a very patient man and when I was 13, he agreed to take me and some of my geeky friends to the first science fiction convention held in Indianapolis in 1981. As part of the convention, science fiction films were shown on the televisions in every room. It was around midnight, hopped up on Coca-cola that I first saw F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Even though it was on a tiny Trinatron and I was a maturing lad, it pretty well scared the hell out of me. I loved the shadows and the exaggerated facial expressions. Nosferatu was very different than the vampires I had seen on television. He wasn’t sexy and well dressed like Lugosi or Christopher Lee. He was an alternate dark portrait of uncontrolled id – base, ugly, and frightening.

While the special effects are nothing by today’s ridiculously CGI heavy standards, they still give me shivers. From a crazed coach ride to the Count’s castle to the ghostly Nosferatu materializing to a sickly sailor who later walks through a wall carrying his coffin, I was and still am mesmerized. Max Schreck played the towering, hook-nosed, vampire. It wasn’t until later I learned that the word schreck meant fright – very appropriate.

From "Nosferatu"

Fast forward to 1988. I was studying electronic composition at Roosevelt University and living in the Herman Crown Center, a downtown dormitory shared by Columbia College, Roosevelt University, and the School for the Art Institute of Chicago. The basement of the 17-story building contained a snack bar and a practice space that you could reserve for a few hours at a time. One night while out for a soda I saw a light on in the practice space (a rarity) and peering through the window I saw a young guy in a comb-over mohawk tearing into a massive set of drums with a level of energy that I had never seen. The fusion of quartz clock timing with wild polyrhythmic drum fills made my composer-self quite excited.

I stared through the window in amazement as I heard him play along with Neil Peart, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, and others. I had no idea then that we would be periodically making music together for the next 24 years. We became fast friends, eventually sharing space together in a tiny closet that the administration called a room. We challenged one another musically, often waking up in the morning to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Noonward Race” or “Crisis” by Jaco Pastorius. At this time I was a serviceable rhythm guitar player, a mediocre pianist, and a terrible trumpet player who longed to play the bass.

I had music and musical ideas in my head, but I was frustrated that I didn’t have a fluid musical voice the way that Bennett did. During the summer of 1989, I moved briefly to Bloomington to take some additional music classes and almost fail a French reading course. I met some of the members of the unique and amazing Bloomington band, The Belgian Waffles. I loved those guys right away because the musical ideas were as important if not more important than the notes (something that I had been trying to learn in Chicago). The Waffles did it all: harnessing sounds from a shortwave radio, playing plumbing diagrams, writing a song about the Star Trek episode in which Kirk fights the Gorn. They relied in many cases only on their ears and minds to spontaneously guide the size and shape of their musical improvisations.

Later I graduated from Roosevelt with a Master’s in Composition and moved to Bloomington to study music theory, hoping to better my compositions through an exploration of the ideas behind music.

I bought a bass and reconnected with the Waffles who were getting musicians of all sorts together to improvise and drink bourbon on Thursday nights in Tony Woolard’s large basement. The group ended up being known as the Torture Chamber Ensemble. It was a fitting name because the one rule these long jam sessions had was that nobody could play their primary instrument. These sessions were all about listening to one another and trying to make something musical from what you had been dealt. I played saxophone for the first time in Tony’s basement. I still have fond memories crashing and playing in the 4th of July parade, proudly sliding a trombone up Walnut street using a small cymbal as a wah-wah occasionally slapping it against the bell for emphasis.

It was during these experiences that I met a thoughtful religious studies major, with incredible ears and a masterful melodic sensibility which he executed with what seemed like ease on his Paul Reed Smith guitar. His name was Jason Bivins. Occasionally between basement sessions, Jason and I would revert back to our primary instruments and improvise. He was crazy talented and had a lot of experience playing in bands, blending hard rock and avant-jazz. I had only played the bass in public two or three times at this point and was flattered that he wanted to make music with me. Someone remarked that the melodic parts of our improvisations reminded them of Baroque music. Even now, I am not entirely sure what to make of that remark, but when Jason sent me email in the Spring of 1995, asking if I wanted to hang out and play, I was excited and keen to see where it would go. We met a couple of times playing quietly and fleshing out melodic bits we thought were interesting. It was agreed that it would be much more interesting if we could find a drummer. The quiet dynamic we had established was to change radically.

As luck would have it, Bennett was working as an X-ray tech in Colorado and having a miserable time his then-girlfriend. I told him that I was living in a 5-bedroom place with only 2 roommates and that he should come to Bloomington, move in with us, and start a band. A few days later Bennett arrived and I realized that I was going to need a more powerful amplifier.

On June 14th, 1995 Bennett, Jason, and I played together for the first time and we liked it. Sitting on the porch, we knew we had a band. I managed to convince them that we should just call the band M, a name that was innocuous and open for interpretation: the wonderful Fritz Lang film, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Mozart, Motorhead, Mental Masturbation, Mute, Music. Perhaps the tipping point was when we noted that in Star Trek all habitable planets were of class M. We decided that when people asked what the M stood for, we would give a different response each time. That sounded like fun, so everyone was on board.

With the support and assistance of the Waffles and local therapist, poet, and musician, Eric Rensberger, we had our first gig at the what is now known as the Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center and were off to the races. A young composer friend said that our music was what happens when math rock and free improvisation have a baby. We played regularly at Second Story, the Bluebird, and a wonderful record store in Louisville called Ground Zero.

Late in the Summer of 1995, I started working on a shot-by-shot examination of Nosferatu using techniques I had learned from music theorist David Neumeyer. I mostly focused on what characters were in the shot and what the action was like that connected shots together.

David had also introduced me to Erno Lendvai, a music theorist who studied Bela Bartok’s music extensively. He had some interesting ideas about the golden mean and its presence in Bartok’s music, particularly in his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. If you have an evening to waste sometime, ask me about this (a personal hobby horse of mine). Lendvai’s other contribution to Bartok scholarship was the articulation of what’s called a tonal axis system. Lendvai divides the octave in half mathematically claiming that Bartok used a tonal system based on that division. For example, Lendvai says that in the key of A, both the chord A and Eb could serve a tonic function and that a secondary tonal axis (perpendicularly crossing the line between A and Eb on a diagram of the circle of 5ths) exists connecting the keys of C and F#. Our happy-go-lucky protagonist, Hutter, got the key of A while the evil Nosferatu received the other side of the axis, Eb. The key of C is equidistant from A and Eb, a minor third apart from each, so I assigned that to Ellen, married to Hutter but seemingly drawn to the repulsive Nosferatu. So, we had keys assigned to characters, more or less, and needed melodic ideas to tie things together.

Earlier that summer, I found a Bruno Ventura guitar strung with nylon strings sitting on the curb waiting for the trash. It had a hole in it where the back had become detached and was covered in white latex paint. I was raised not to take anything from someone else’s trash bin without asking. Hilariously, the owner of the house decided that he wanted to sell the guitar. He asked for $5.00 and I wouldn’t offer more than $4.50 wanting to feel like I got a deal of sorts. Jason and I wrote the melodies for our score by passing that acoustic guitar back and forth while watching the film over and over again.

Once we had a tonal framework with melodies, Jason and I brought Bennett onboard to fill in the gaps and to give some rhythmic character to what we had done. Bennett’s bowed cymbal in conjunction with Jason’s delay pedal made for some eerie listening and was just what I had hoped for. We spent hours in my big kitchen rehearsing, our eyes transfixed to the tiny TV atop my rolling kitchen island.

We needed a film, a projector, and a venue. I rented a 16mm print of Nosferatu from a fellow in NYC and rented the Monroe County Public Library’s auditorium. All we needed to do then was to keep practicing, promote, and hope that someone showed up.

My friend Chuck offered to be our projectionist and helped us get things set up the day of the performance. Once all the gear was in place we were ready for a practice run-through. The film started to roll. We played for about a minute and realized that the print we received was running at a much higher rate of speed than the one we had been rehearsing to. We were nothing short of freaked out and were going to have to speed things up somehow. At this point we had an hour or so to play with the print and were able to make a game plan – cut impulses to repeat things and watch one another with a higher than our already high degree of attention. We made it through somehow and the audience seemed to really like what we had done. We actually made some money much to our amazement.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this again, but not have to worry about renting the film or the hall? Enter Peter LoPilato and The Ryder film series. I was an adoring fan of The Ryder even before I moved to Bloomington. While attending Wabash College in Crawfordsville, I would occasionally drive to Bloomington to check out something wonderful – Swimming to Cambodia with Spalding Gray or Home of the Brave by Laurie Anderson (neither of which are on DVD – a terrible shame). Peter offered us a chance to play several dates in late October as part of the film series… for four wonderful years. Our last show and the last time I played publically as a member of M was for The Ryder in early November of 1999.
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Jason moved away to North Carolina where he has become a tenured professor of religious studies. Bennett is now a high school science teacher that drums professionally on evenings and weekends. I gave up music theory for a career in IT, working on the high performance storage system that backs the Big Red II supercomputer.

Over the years Peter would suggest that “the lads get back together.” It was a tempting idea, but reuniting would prove difficult. Years became a decade and then some. But as I’ve said, my father taught me to be patient. And then the IU Cinema opened. Jon Vickers, director of the Cinema, has done so much in his role to provide members of the Bloomington community with truly amazing cinematic experiences. I had no idea that we would have a chance to play at the IU Cinema, but I sent mail to Peter and slipped Jon a DVD document of one of our 1999 performances. I was both surprised and elated to hear that Jon and Peter were interested in scheduling us for this fall. This was an offer that our geographically challenged band could not refuse. So I hope you’ll come to see us perform our score for Nosferatu on October 27th at the IU Cinema. We’re not sexy and well-dressed like other bands but we’ve got big ears and know how to rock.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

FILM: Sirius Matters

◆ by Jeff Becker

[The Ryder Film Series will screen Sirius on October 18, 19 & 20. Jeff Becker will introduce the film and  answer questions after the screenings.]

Work on our documentary, Sirius, was well underway when an unthinkable tragedy happened: a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple killing six people. Among them was Satwant Singh Kaleka, director  Amardeep Kaleka’s father. Kaleka went to Wisconsin to be with his family and friends. He appeared on national news shows on all of the major networks. He said that the FBI told him his father attacked the shooter in the lobby, resulting in a “blood struggle.” He fought to the very end and suffered gunshot wounds while trying to take down the gunman. “It’s an amazing act of heroism, but it’s also exactly who he was,” Amardeep Kaleka told a CNN reporter. “There was no way in God’s green Earth that he would allow somebody to come in and do that without trying his best to stop it.” Work on Sirius could easily have ended with this tragedy, but after a short break to help organize relief efforts for the other temple victims, Kaleka returned to finish the film.

"Sirius" Poster

I flew out to visit my friend Marta (not her real name). A mutual friend had introduced us almosta year ago because she had questions about night vision equipment and he had seen my night vision videos. I found out that Marta was having ongoing up close and personal experiences with extraterrestrial (ET) beings. She is an artist and has drawn pictures of the various ET beings she has seen and made a sculpture of one who has visited more regularly.

Marta and I watched several of my night vision videos, then Marta left the room for a moment. When she returned, she mentioned that she had just heard on odd noise whizzing by her ear, a noise that she associated with ET communications. It wasn’t long after that we heard the “thump thump thump” of a low-flying helicopter. We rushed outside to see a dark green helicopter moving away from a position directly over her house. Marta said helicopters often showed up after her encounters, and that they weren’t supposed to be flying low over residential areas.

Since she lived next to multiple military bases, one could chalk this up to coincidence. If I hadn’t had similar experiences myself, and heard of many others, I would be skeptical. The fact is, the US military and intelligence services have a serious interest in the extraterrestrial presence, one that is thoroughly documented yet vigorously denied. This cover-up and the reasons for it are among the many subjects related to UFOs touched on in Sirius. I was in Los Angeles for the world premiere held on April 22nd.

Although I’ve been interested in space travel and the possibility of other intelligent life “out there” most of my life, it wasn’t until 2007, the year my wife and I moved to Bloomington from the Denver area, that my interest in UFOs, extraterrestrial intelligence, and all that implies, became almost an obsession.

In the fall of 2008, I decided to check out a project called CSETI (Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence), founded by Dr. Steven Greer, that claimed to teach people how to contact ETs and become “Ambassadors to the Universe.” His contact techniques work! Most of the odd and interesting images and video clips in Sirius are from CSETI expeditions.

Greer

Stephen Greer

I was so inspired by my experiences with CSETI that in the spring of 2009 I met up with some other people in Bloomington with CSETI experience and organized a contact group. The group has been meeting regularly ever since. I’ve had many mind blowing experiences that have changed the way I think about the universe. I’ve documented these experiences and the experiences of my contact group as one chapter of my book Paths to Contact: True Stories from the Contact Underground.

Amardeep Kaleka decided to make Sirius after a meeting with Dr. Greer and learning about the information he had collected over the last 30 years. There is a culture of ridicule around this subject, and being labeled a “UFO nut” is not the best way to advance one’s career. From statements he made just before the Sirius premiere, it was clear that Kaleka’s belief in the importance of this subject outweighed any such risk. As the Emmy award-winning director documented in Sirius, the science and technology behind how UFOs work have the potential to change everything, making all existing energy sources obsolete, revolutionizing transportation, and changing how we view our place in the universe. Vested interests have a lot to lose.

Because of the subject matter of the documentary, it was decided early on that conventional ways of funding and distributing Sirius would not work. A crowdfunding approach was used, and Kickstarter was used as the primary means of attracting donations. Credits in the movie were among the incentives offered for donations. I have a “Producer” credit by virtue of my financial support for the project; I was not directly involved in production of the movie. Sirius attained its goal of over $250,000 in donations, making it the top crowdfunded documentary film to date, according to Sirius producer J.D. Seraphine.

While there is some presentation of evidence that UFOs exist, that’s not really the goal of this movie so much as its starting point. As Professor Ted Loder says, it’s time for scientists to accept this reality, get over it, and start investigating the obvious questions: Given that UFOs exist and are visiting the earth, how are they getting here? What does that mean as far as our understanding of physics? How can they possibly move the way they do, intangibly. What are they using for energy sources? Why the cover up?

Some of the answers are not easy to take. This movie pulls no punches. You will hear from military men, and government officials who have seen recorded evidence of UFOs and experienced the cover up in action. You will learn about secret projects that are beyond government control, operating above the law. You will learn about people who have been “silenced” for getting too close to the truth, and about new energy technologies that have been suppressed for undermining vested interests. On the positive side, you will see inventors demonstrate a magnetic device that reduces the force of gravity, something the current laws of physics don’t predict. You will learn about the results of DNA analysis of an odd little creature that leave scientists still pondering just what it is. And lots more.

If you want to know more, watch Sirius. Then look up at the sky and ask our friends from the stars to send you a greeting. Maybe you will see something you’ve never seen before.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Swanberg Takes The Stares

A Sampling Of The Microbudget Maven’s Work ◆ by Craig J. Clark

[Joe Swanberg will introduce his new film, Drinking Buddies, on October 24 at the IU Cinema.]

No matter what anyone thinks of his work, the last thing Joe Swanberg could be accused of is laziness. The auteur behind the new comedy/drama Drinking Buddies, Swanberg has spent the past decade turning out films at a pace unheard of since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s heyday. In the past three years alone he has written and directed ten features, many of which he also photographed, edited and acted in. In between he contributed a short to the horror anthology V/H/S and has acted in at least ten other films, including Adam Wingard’s home-invasion horror film You’re Next (which, like Drinking Buddies, will be screening at the IU Cinema in October). When he was just starting out, though, Swanberg kept to the much saner schedule of one film per year, the earliest of which dates back to 2005. That was when he co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed and edited Kissing on the Mouth, in which he also played one of the four leads. That’s a lot of hats for a first-timer to wear, but if there’s any filmmaker who embodies the D.I.Y. spirit, it’s Swanberg.

Swanberg

Joe Swanberg

Not yet 24 at the time of his debut, Swanberg cast himself as the roommate of rudderless college graduate Kate Winterich, who drifts into a physical relationship with her photographer ex-boyfriend (Kevin Pittman) but has no plans to get back into a relationship-relationship with him. This we know because she confides in her best friend (Kris Williams, soon to become Mrs. Swanberg), who lets slip that they’ve been seeing a lot of each other. As a matter of fact, we get to see quite a lot of everybody in the cast since Swanberg has something of a no-nonsense approach when it comes to shooting sex scenes. The result is a film that feels incredibly voyeuristic and even borderline pornographic at times, but that’s one way for a low-budget independent to stand out in a crowd.

From "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson In “Drinking Buddies”

For his follow-up, Joe Swanberg co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed, edited and starred in LOL (2006), a film about the myriad ways modern technology can sabotage a relationship. Among its case studies are Kevin Bewersdorf, a musician who books a nonexistent tour of the Midwest so he can attempt to hook up with a girl he’s only talked to online, his friend Swanberg, who finds it next to impossible to end a conversation on the phone or online, and his friend C. Mason Wells, who’s visiting from out of town and fields a number of calls from his absent girlfriend. The women in their lives (who in most cases would be justified in wringing their necks) are Brigid Reagan, who is becoming disenchanted with Swanberg because he pays more attention to his computer than he does to her (he doesn’t even notice when she undresses right in front of him), Wells’s off-screen girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who is only heard over the phone and seen in grainy camera phone pictures, and Tipper Newton, a girl who meets Bewersdorf at a party and unwittingly facilitates his Internet hook-up. I expect it goes without saying that few love connections result from these interactions.

After playing a marginal role in LOL, Greta Gerwig vaulted into the lead with Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007), which the two of them co-wrote with Kent Osborne. In it, she stars as a recent college graduate and aspiring playwright who’s marking time by interning at a Chicago-based production company. At the start of the film she’s seeing an aimless slacker and frustrated musician (Mark Duplass, a director in his own right), but it isn’t long before they’re broken up and she’s on the rebound. Rather unwisely, she rebounds with one of the company’s in-house writers (Andrew Bujalski, also a director), whose potential book deal for his personal blog is distracting him from the television pilot he’s supposed to be writing with Osborne. Then the chronically dissatisfied Gerwig drops Bujalski and takes up with Osborne, which is where the film leaves her, but there’s no guarantee that their relationship is going to be any more lasting.

From "Hannah Takes the Stairs"

Greta Gerwig With Mark Duplass In “Hannah Takes The Stairs”

Next up for Swanberg and Gerwig was Nights and Weekends (2008), which is pretty much the definition of a two-hander since they not only co-wrote and directed it, but save for a handful of scenes, they’re just about the only actors who appear onscreen. To some, that might seem like the height of narcissism, but they don’t exactly show themselves off in the most flattering light. A couple in a long-distance relationship, they’re floundering because they don’t get to spend enough time together and when they are in the same time zone there’s tremendous pressure on them to make what little time they have count. Minor disagreements blow up into major arguments and moments of intimacy are reminders of how much really separates them. Anybody who’s been in that situation should be able to see the writing on the wall long before they do.

While Gerwig moved on to supporting roles in Ti West’s The House of the Devil and Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, Swanberg stayed in his groove, writing, directing, photographing and editing Alexander the Last (2009), his fifth feature in five years and one that was actually produced by Baumbach. It’s about a married actress (Teeth’s Jess Weixler) who’s cast in a provocative play opposite a hunky actor from Tennessee (Barlow Jacobs) who makes her think about straying from her musician husband (Justin Rice) while he’s away on a tour. She sets Jacobs up with her photographer sister (Amy Seimetz), possibly in the hopes that it will make him unavailable, but their director (Jane Adams) and playwright (Josh Hamilton) seem intent on making rehearsals as uncomfortable as possible for all of them.

Uncharacteristically, 2010 came and went without a new film from Swanberg, but he made up for it in a big way by releasing six in 2011 (some of which are easier to track down than others). The first one out of the gate was Uncle Kent, which he wrote and produced by Kent Osborne, who essentially stars as himself. An unattached animator (his actual credits include such shows as Adventure Time and Spongebob SquarePants) who’s just turned 40 and has trouble maintaining relationships, a typical day for Osborne is spent hanging around with his musician friend Kevin Bewersdorf, playing with his cat, smoking pot, and talking to strangers on Chatroulette. He breaks his routine, though, when he plays host to a visiting journalist half his age that he met online.

Ostensibly in town for a meeting, which she has extended to an entire weekend hanging out with Osborne, visitor Jennifer Prediger has no illusions about their chances of hitting it off as a couple since she already has a boyfriend back in New York, but that doesn’t prevent her from doing things with him that could be construed as leading him on. Starting with a kiss, which they only do for the benefit of an anonymous guy playing with himself on Chatroulette, they soon progress to comparing their masturbation techniques and responding to a Craiglist ad posted by a woman looking for a three-way (Josephine Decker). It’s when he tries to get some two-way action going that Osborne gets shut out, much to his frustration.

2011 also saw the completion of Swanberg’s long-gestating Silver Bullets, which was an unusually protracted production for him. Shooting began in late 2008, and he didn’t complete the film until just before it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. Furthermore, he essentially shot and edited two different versions of the film before settling on a story that satisfied him, a sure sign of artistic growth. Instead of being the straightforward werewolf film that its title suggests, though, it revolves around a young actress who gets cast in one.

Kate Lyn Sheil stars as the actress in question, who’s thrilled to be playing the younger version of Jane Adams, an insecure actress who shares the prologue – and her worries about putting on weight – with Larry Fessenden (who later auditions for a role in the werewolf film). For her part, Sheil’s relationship with her boyfriend (Swanberg, playing a frustrated filmmaker) deteriorates after he casts her best friend (Amy Seimetz, also the film’s producer) as his girlfriend in the low-budget drama he’s shooting concurrently with her film. Meanwhile, Sheil’s director (Ti West, essentially playing himself) clumsily puts the moves on her, which she’s slow to rebuff. Even if they go no further than a little kissing on the mouth, the damage has been done.

If Silver Bullets is relatively chaste by Swanberg’s standards, he went in the complete opposite direction with Autoerotic (2011), which may very well go down as his most sex-obsessed film yet. Co-directed with Adam Wingard, the film is broken up into four parts, which Wingard, Swanberg and their co-writer Simon Barrett populate with couples with all kinds of emotional baggage and sexual hang-ups. In the first, Lane Hughes plays a guy who’s so fixated on the size of his penis – which, for the record, is fine by girlfriend Amy Seimetz – that he sends away for enlargement pills and is so happy with the results that he abruptly breaks things off with her so he can play the field. Next up, Swanberg plays a guy who has very specific ideas about how sex with his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) should go, which may or may not have anything to do with her subsequent overwhelming urge to masturbate constantly. When she confides in a friend (Chris Hilleke), she recommends autoerotic asphyxiation, which doesn’t seem like the safest solution, but at that point Sheil is game for anything.

Being game is also at the heart of the third segment, in which a very pregnant Kris Swanberg finds she can no longer achieve orgasm, which makes her husband (Frank V. Ross) feel inadequate. When a girlfriend (Josephine Decker) offers to help out, Ross thinks he’s in for a three-way, but the girls have other plans. Then, in the final segment, Wingard plays a sleaze who masturbates furiously to the sex tapes he made with his ex-girlfriend (Rosemary Plain), who calls him up out of the blue so she can pick up the last of her stuff, but what she really wants is for him to delete “those movies” since she’s getting married. Wingard isn’t inclined to do anything so selfless, though.

The anthology format carries over to the found-footage horror fest V/H/S (2012), which exposed Swanberg to an entirely new audience (his roles in Ti West’s Cabin Fever sequel and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die notwithstanding). It helps that he contributes to two of the segments, first as an actor in West’s “Second Honeymoon,” in which he and his wife (Sophia Takal) videotape themselves on a tour of the West and have some scary nocturnal encounters with a masked stalker. He then takes the reins of “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which is presented as a series of Skype video chats between a young woman (Helen Rogers) who worries that her apartment is haunted and her boyfriend (Daniel Kaufman), who worries when she starts acting erratically and tries to keep her calm until he can come visit. Apart from its unnecessary twist ending, “The Sick Thing” is one of the best parts of V/H/S, leading one to imagine what Swanberg could produce if he tried his hand at a full-on horror feature. It’s certainly something he should ponder the next time he’s out drinking with his buddies.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Lucy & Cricket


Service Dogs Give Young People with Disabilities a New “Leash” on Life ◆ by Adria Nassim

I remember the day very well. The sun beat down on the paved road that snaked through my parents’ expansive southern Indiana subdivision. It was midday Easter weekend of 2010 and I carried a thick text of famous plays in my hand. I was home from college for break and thought I’d go do some assigned reading by the lake since the weather was so nice, but I soon forgot about this. I realized I was lost. Lost in my own neighborhood at age 24, with no idea how to get back home.

I stood there a while trying to think of the best thing to do but the more I thought, the more anxious I became so finally I resigned myself to simply standing there in hopes of someone finding me. After waiting for about twenty minutes a jogger came by.

“Hey,” he said. “I’ve seen you standing there. What are you doing? Waiting on a friend or something? Going to babysit somewhere?”

“That’s a pretty big book for a little kid like you,” he said changing the subject. “Do you go to Highland Hills?” he asked, referring to the local middle school.

“No sir, I’m home from college for break actually.”

“Oh.” long silence. So, you going somewhere then?”

I decided it was best not to skate around the issue any longer. As I opened my mouth, I threw up a silent prayer: “Please don’t judge me.”

I took a deep breath… “Sir, how much do you know about autism and learning disabilities?”

That night, my parents and I would sit down to have the discussion that would change my future. “Adria,” my mother said, “I think it’s time we get you a dog.”

Enter Lucy, now a three-year old yellow Lab privately trained by John Senac of Bloomington’s Canine Companions, to assist with disorientation due to severe nonverbal learning disability and  anxiety disorder. She finds the house when given a verbal cue as well as assists in fostering social connections and acting as a social bridge in the community due to difficulties posed by mild autism.

Before I had Lucy I, like many people with autism had very few friends and had difficulty carrying on conversations with others. Now, I have so many friends I can’t even count them all. For the first time in my life, I’m faced with having to choose one social outing over the other because my calendar is so full.

Senac said the best part of training a service dog is “always seeing the gratification the owner has in the final results.”  Normally, a service dog will come pre-trained to his or her partner through either a national service dog agency or a service dog school. But in Lucy’s case, Senac said, “I got to see both you and Lucy develop together. The hardest part has been the small setbacks of the handler doing the training. When I train a dog every day, I know each little miss and mistake that needs more work or improvement, but I only had weekly meetings with you to both teach you technique and new tasks and also try to tackle mistakes. We have come a long way from the puppy who chewed on something in my car to the dog that can have a field trip of kids bombard her and not even flinch.”

There are several different types of service dogs. Common breeds trained for service work include: German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and even Standard Poodles and Dobermans. Senac said, “there are a lot of breeds that can be service dogs, but it all comes down to can they do the work and do they have the drive to do it. Most dogs are evaluated on health and temperament as they are young and training. Plain and simple, the dog has to be healthy enough to be in public and perform the task at hand. From a temperament perspective you can’t have aggression, timidity, anxieties, fears, etc. and from a drive perspective, a dog has to want to do or enjoy certain things. For example, if a dog has no drive at all to retrieve, he may not be the best helper dog for picking things up and returning them to his owner.” Most service dogs are fully trained between the ages of 24 and 36 months depending on how highly involved their task requirements are.

In order to qualify for a service dog, the disability does not have to be visible to the naked eye. It simply must be documented by a medical professional and significantly interfere with the individual’s ability to function on a daily basis and lead an independent life. The first guide dog school in America, The Seeing Eye, opened in 1929 followed by Canine Companions for Independence in 1975, which is still active today in several parts of the country and provides hearing alert and mobility service dogs to children and adults with disabilities.

In 1990, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act granted full public access to individuals accompanied by service animals, recognizing that these dogs undergo rigorous training and are not pet dogs. They are trained on specific work or tasks that assist their handlers to better cope with a disability or medical condition.  Dogs can also be trained to anticipate an oncoming seizures detect low blood sugar due to diabetes, assist with flashbacks and nightmares caused by post traumatic stress disorder, or, in the case of former IU student Michelle Lazar, provide balance and stability while walking due to a brain injury. All of these diagnoses are invisible, and yet every day, dogs are being trained to better the lives of the people who live with them.

Lazar/Lucy

Michelle Lazar & Cricket

Michelle was in her sophomore year at IU in the fall of 2011 studying neurological rehabilitation when she suddenly collapsed at her internship at Bloomington Hospital. Doctors discovered an arteriovenus malformation, (AVM) or a tangle of blood vessels within the brain that diverts blood supply from the brain tissue directly to the veins. Michelle suffered a stoke and missed the spring semester. “I was in the hospital for six months,” she said, “and I had to have my mom do everything for me, which was really annoying. I knew I wanted to get back to IU and we didn’t even know if that was going to be possible, but I knew I had to try. I knew I had to push myself, so, my doctors recommended getting a service dog.”

Michelle’s next-door neighbor’s cousins train service dogs for people with mobility issues. Lazar applied to My Angel With Paws and later flew to Deland, Florida to meet Cricket, a golden retriever specifically trained for walking assistance and to provide stability for Michelle on stairs. She and Cricket were matched in May of 2012 and went through a two-week training camp together at the facility and then went back to IU in August.

“My experience at IU was really great. Cricket made it easier for me to be social because people would see her and then automatically start talking to me.”

Michelle’s, who, before she was initially matched with Cricket was using a cane to get around said, “I didn’t have that many friends at IU from the summer and there would be fire alarms in the middle of the night at Smallwood and I would have to get myself out and down those stairs all by myself.” But she says once Cricket came into her life things became “so much easier. She gave me back my independence by helping me to get back to Indiana. Cricket never leaves my side. She makes me feel safe. I know I’m not alone anymore.”

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Your Guide To Lotus Fest 2013

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All the World’s on Stage ◆ by Paul Sturm & LuAnne Holladay

The 20th Lotus World Music and Arts Festival will fill the venues and streets of Bloomington from September 25-29. Lotus at 20 means brilliant musical performances, inspiring and engaging visuals, a Saturday night parade, family-friendly arts in the park, and an exuberant street scene.  The Festival includes ticketed showcase performances on Friday and Saturday nights, plus free events including a concert at IU, the annual Arts Village on 6th Street, and the popular Lotus in the Park concerts and workshops on Saturday afternoon at 3rd Street Park. Admission to Sunday’s annual World Spirit Concert is the $5 Lotus Pin for 2013, based on art from the first Festival in 1994. (Purchases of the collectible pin support Lotus’s free programming.) Artist Karen Combs designed both the original 1994 Lotus art and this year’s signature design.

This anniversary shindig wouldn’t be complete without special hoopla apropos to 20 years. Lotus at 20 is obliging with three concert events leading into the weekend fête. It begins with an African Showcase concert on Wednesday, 9/25 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (BCT), featuring Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, and Noura Mint Seymali. Two concerts are scheduled for Thursday, 9/26: the traditional opening concert at the BCT, this year featuring Monkey Puzzle and Frigg; and a free-admission Lotus+IU Campus Concert at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union, featuring Pan-Basso, Funkadesi, and Nomadic Massive.

Part of the Lotus at 20 celebration is the Power of Pattern arts outreach project, which created a new backdrop for the BCT stage. Designs for the backdrop were selected from more than 400 submissions from across the community. Members of the public will be able to see the backdrop up close at a free pre-concert reception on Wednesday at the BCT. And the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Galleries once again devote exhibit space to a Lotus-related exhibition: World Blues: Shades of Indigo on view September 6-28, free and open to the public.

Venues involved in Lotus at 20 include:

See the online venue map and official events schedule.

The Lotus at 20 roster of performing artists tops 30. The list includes a handful of returning favorites, a strong Nordic contingent, some fine West African musicians, adventurous folk fusion from Central and Eastern Asia, hip-hop from Montreal, bhangra brass from Brooklyn, exquisite vocal music, magnificent Indian classical music, and some great Bloomington-based bands.

Artist Profiles & Performances

Amjad Ali Khan with Amaan Ali Khan & Ayaan Ali Khan India

Amjad Ali Khan is a master of the sarod, a lutelike instrument important in Indian classical music traditions. A sixth-generation sarod player (his sons are the seventh generation of Khans to play), Amjad Ali Khan is part of a long line of makers and players. He says, “You could say it’s my family instrument; whoever is playing the sarod today learned directly or indirectly from my forefathers.” Although he has collaborated with musicians from other artistic and cultural traditions — most notably for Lotus audiences, singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer — Khan focuses on classical Indian music, which includes ragas.  To best appreciate the Khans’ performance, sit and stay awhile, and get lost in the artistry.

  • One show only: Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, BCT

Arga Bileg Mongolia

The seven-piece group Arga Bileg introduces jazz improvisation into Mongolian folk music traditions.  The ensemble includes polished musicians, composers, and choreographers; their sound is elegant and compelling.  Traditional Mongolian music is strongly influenced by nature, nomadism, shamanism.  Arga Bileg combines these influences with contemporary Western jazz techniques, creating a unique combination of East and West, and keeping their native musical tradition lively and inventive.

  • Friday, September 27, 7-8:15pm, BCT
  • Saturday, September 28, 12:15-1pm; free, 3rd Street Park
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:15pm, BCT

Barbara Furtuna Corsica

This brilliant vocal quartet — one of the most-requested Lotus artists — makes its second Lotus appearance at the 20th Festival. Steeped in the ancient vocal practice of Corsican polyphony, Barbara Furtuna perform a repertoire of classic songs from sacred tradition as well as those of their own making. Their soulful, intricate interweaving of harmonies is a soaring vocal experience not to be missed.

  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, FUMC
  • Sunday, 9/29, 4-5pm, BCT

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba Mali

Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate is a master of the traditional West African spiked lute, or ngoni. His eight-piece ensemble, Ngoni Ba, combines the energy of a rock band with the soulful call-and-response dynamism of a gospel group. “A virtuoso picker and musical visionary whose work blurs the lines between West African and American roots music, Bassekou has jammed with Bonnie Raitt and Bono, and won praise from Eric Clapton…” (Subpop). He recorded his recent album, Jama Ko (translated: “big gathering of people”), during a military coup in Bamako. Like many other Malian musicians in the recent past, his music is a call for peace and unity for the people of his country.

  • Wednesday, September 25, 7-9pm, BCT
  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, ION Tent

Christine Salem France: Réunion Island

Christine Salem sings maloya (traditionally sung by men), the African-influenced music of the Creole descendants of slaves who once worked the sugar plantation of Réunion Island, in the Indian Ocean.  With powerful percussion — which Salem also plays — and call-and-response singing, maloya was used in ceremonies that brought participants into trancelike states in which they hoped to speak to ancestors. Although Salem doesn’t perform the same trance music on stage, she draws strongly on its forms.  Maloya was long banned by French secular and religious authorities on the island; the ban was only lifted in 1981. “They thought trance music was the devil’s song,” Salem says “but it’s great music.”

  • Friday, September 27, 7-8:15pm, ION Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45pm-10pm, ION Tent

DakhaBrakha Ukraine

DakhaBrakha comes from Kyiv, Ukraine, and the quartet’s name means “give/take” in the old Ukrainian language. Their sound is anything but old, however. Reworking their native folk music and song with Indian, Arabic, Russian, Australian, and African instruments, the band’s music is built on a foundation of distinctive, powerful vocals. They began at Dakh Theatre for Contemporary Arts in Kyiv, and they have always taken an avant-garde approach to tradition, experimenting with the structures and order of folk music, and introducing experimentation and improvisation. “This is a phenomenal Ukrainian outfit, mixing genuine, ethnically specific material with minimalist jazz and the precision of techno-beats; they’re making the natural folk music of the future” (fRoots). DakhaBrakha’s compelling music will linger long in memory; it’s a must-see premiere for Lotus at 20.

  • Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, ION Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:3o-11:45pm, ION Tent

David Wax Museum USA: Boston

The David Wax Museum’s eclectic sound has roots in Mexican and American cultures. David Wax has immersed himself in Mexico’s rich traditional music, learning son styles from the form’s living masters.  Suz Slezak was reared on American roots music in Virginia — old time, Irish, classical, and folk. The two met in 2007 and began blending their unique musical perspectives — Mexican folk and American roots — with indie rock. As a gringo spin on real-deal Mex-rock like Café Tacuba or Zoé, David Wax Museum is pretty fly for dos estadounidenses. Their sonic mestizo is perfect for the Lotus cultural gumbo.

  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, FPC
  • Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, ION Tent

De Temps Antan Canada: Quebec

De Temps Antan — the trio of Éric Beaudry (vocals, guitar, mandolin, bouzouki), André Brunet (vocals, fiddle), and Pierre-Luc Dupuis (vocals, accordions) — has been exploring and performing traditional Quebecois songs and instrumental music for more than a decade, and they’ve each played the music for most of their lives. Their wicked good playing and joyous harmonies embody the energy and joie de vivre of Quebec’s “kitchen music” tradition. After a crowd-pleasing performance at the 2009 summer Lotus concert, De Temps Antan returns for Lotus at 20.

  • Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, FPC
  • Saturday, September 28, 2:30-3:15pm, free, 3rd Street park
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:15pm, The Bluebird (21 and older)

Debo Band Ethiopia & USA: Boston

The 11-member Debo Band is led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen, and fronted by vocalist Bruck Tesfaye. Since their inception in 2006, Debo Band has won raves for their groundbreaking take on Ethiopian pop music, which incorporates traditional Ethiopian scales and vocal styles, American soul and funk rhythms, and instrumentation reminiscent of Eastern European brass bands. National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered reviewers frothed, “They play [Ethiopian pop] without any sort of… precious reverence… they play it like it’s NOW, as music of right now, and they play it with incredible energy and passion and excellence; and it just totally rocks; it’s amazing.” Another barnstorming global party band to keep our Lotus at 20 tent peeps mad-dancing.

  • Friday September 27, 7-8:15pm, Soma Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, Soma Tent

Edmar Castaneda & Andrea Tierra Colombia

Bogota-born Edmar Castaneda is a master of the arpa llanera, or Colombian folk harp. Castaneda’s skill and talent on his instrument is truly virtuosic. He plays with vigor, precision, and the improvisational flair of a jazz master. Castaneda is joined onstage by his wife, jazz vocalist and poet, Andrea Tierra; together, they deliver thrilling and memorable sets. “Producing cross-rhythms like a drummer; smashing chordal flourishes like a flamenco guitarist; collating bebop and Columbian music; he’s almost a world unto himself” (NY Times). Castaneda’s performances are like nothing else in contemporary folk music.

  • Two Shows, One Night Only: Saturday, September 28, 7:30-8:15pm & 10:30-11:15pm, FCC

Frigg Finland

Frigg is at the forefront of a new generation of musicians using the deep folk traditions of Norway and Finland as a launching pad for new, fresh string music. With a bank of four fiddles, upright bass, guitar, and mandolin, Frigg plays some of the most exciting music you’ll ever hear: a lyrical, often break-neck style they call “Nordgrass” (blending Nordic fiddle styles and American bluegrass). When they first came to Lotus in 2004, they were relatively new on the Nordic string scene. Nearly 10 years later, they tour the world all the time, and they’ve made lots of friends and fans in Bloomington. Traditional music on acoustic instruments — but supercharged; the Frigg sound is powerful, exhilarating, and perfect for our Lotus at 20 celebration.

  • Thursday, September 26, 7-9pm, BCT
  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, BCT

Funkadesi USA: Chicago

The funky and irresistible sonic mix of Funkadesi comes from the diverse cultural and musical backgrounds of its members, who first came together almost 20 years ago to work Indian improvisations over reggae and funk grooves. They’ve won six Chicago Music Awards since then. A Funkadesi set is a non-stop musical excursion traveling from reggae, to bhangra and Bollywood, to Latin American rhythms and rump-bumping grooves, to territories beyond (and bodacious). The musicianship is tight and dense, with loads of percussion, bass, guitar, sitar, keyboards, flute, sax, and vibes. The vocals are exhilarating. Funkadesi takes great pride in being a Lotus mainstay — they’re the second-most frequently-booked Lotus band, and this year marks their seventh appearance at the Festival.  Lotus at 20 gives up the funk with our second city soul brothers: Funkadesi time is always par-tay time.

  • Thursday, September 27, 8-10:30pm, free, Alumni Hall
  • Friday, September 28, 10:30-11:45pm, Soma Tent

Janusz Prusinowski Trio Poland

Making their Lotus debut, the Janusz Prusinowski Trio (actually larger than a trio) plays traditional village music from central Poland; but they also work elements of that musical tradition into new treatments. The mazurkas that are the heart of much Polish village music — a musical style that has been sung, played to, danced to, and improvised on since the sixteenth century — take on new life with JPT. “These guys play with high skill and all the fire and rhythmic energy of the village musicians they’ve learned from” (fRoots).

  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, FUMC
  • Saturday, September 28, 4-5pm, free, 3rd Street Park
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:15pm, FUMC

■ Japonize Elephants USA: Bloomington

A Japonize Elephants performance is a magical experience. The Elephants have been experimenting and collaborating for 20 years, beginning as a local B’ton band.  They’re a “wild, Appalachia-by-way-of-the-Middle East hyper-speed gypsy caravan that’s as baffling as it is inspiring and hilarious” (Secretly Canadian). Their adventurous, tremendously appealing music sounds mysterious, rollicking, and vaguely familiar to the casual listener. But for the audiophile, the Elephants’ influences are clear: Frank Zappa, Ralph Stanley, film scores, jazz, Eastern flavors, country, space pop, and more. “Listening to Japonize Elephants is like being at a supersonic hillbilly hoedown that has been mysteriously transplanted into a Transylvanian cartoon” (Denver Post). They started here in B-town, and they’re back for Lotus No. 20.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm; The Bluebird (21 and over)

Jefferson Street Parade Band USA: Bloomington

The Jefferson Street Parade Band is a Bloomington original, part of the renaissance that has given brass and marching bands new life in the last decade. They draw on songs and rhythms from West Africa, New Orleans, Eastern Europe, and Latin America: drums, brass, and even electric bass (thanks to a battery-backpack rig). This summer, they led the Lotus Fest contingent in our 4th of July Parade (and won best musical entry for their efforts). Every day is a parade, every parade is a party, when JSPB leads the way.

  • Two Shows, One Night Only: Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm; Bluebird (21 and over) & 8:15-8:45pm, free, Lotus Parade

Kardemimmit Finland

The four young women of Kardemimmit are all singers, and all play the Finnish national instrument: the kantele. They perform traditional Finnish songs as well as their own modern, original folk music — adding to a long and dynamic musical tradition. If you’re new to the kantele, think zither or dulcimer; the quartet play both the 15-stringed and 38-stringed varieties. The distinctive sound of this plucked acoustic instrument, combined with their assured yet delicate vocal harmonies, makes Kardemimmit a stand-out contemporary Nordic ensemble. With Frigg, they give the 20th Lotus Fest its strongest Finnish flavor ever.

  • Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, FUMC
  • Saturday, September 28, 3:15-4pm, free, 3rd Street Park
  • Saturday, September 28, 6:30-7:15pm, FCC
  • Sunday, September 29, 3-4pm; BCT

Leyla McCalla USA: New Orleans

Leyla McCalla, the daughter of Haitian emigrants, studied cello at NYU, and moved to New Orleans, where she fell in love with Creole music and culture, spent time busking, and eventually played with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. A multi-instrumentalist as well as a singer, McCalla will soon release a CD that reflects her “personal exploration of African-American and Haitian history through song” — songs written to poetry of Langston Hughes, Haitian folk songs, and original work. Lotus at 20 marks McCalla’s debut in B-town.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, FCC

Lily & Madeleine USA: Indianapolis

Teen-aged sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz became a YouTube sensation when their first original song, In the Middle, generated more than a quarter million views (their first CD is set to be released in October). Their sweet, poignant harmonies transform covers into songs seemingly from another time, and their original songs have a timeless feel, too. They’ve been featured on Vogue.com and NPR Music, and they’ve recorded a song with fellow-Hoosier John Mellencamp. Their star is on the rise. Lily is a student at IU, and Madeleine is still in high school, but somehow they find time to tour sold-out shows. Come see what the buzz is about.

  • Two Shows, One Night Only: Saturday, September 28, 6:30-7:15pm & 7:30pm-8:15pm, FPC

Liz Carroll & Jake Charron USA: Chicago

In 1975, when she was only 18, Liz Carroll won the All-Ireland Senior Fiddle Championship. In 2011 she was awarded the Cumadóir TG4, Ireland’s most significant traditional music prize. Carroll is one of few Americans to capture these prizes of Celtic traditional music. She plays old Irish tunes as well as her own compositions, and she has done much to keep Irish fiddle traditions lively and evolving. That work was recognized on this side of the Atlantic with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Carroll is revered as one of Irish America’s premier musicians, a fitting treat for Lotus at 20 audiences. Carroll will be accompanied by Canadian musician, Jake Charron, on guitar and piano.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, FUMC

Lotus Dickey Song Workshop USA: Bloomington

Grey Larsen, Janne Henshaw, and Mark Fedderson — all of whom knew Hoosier musician and songwriter Lotus Dickey (1911-1989) — will lead a workshop where you can learn some of his best songs. The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival was named in part for Lotus Dickey, whose humble, gentle, creative spirit inspired the festival and its mission. The workshop is an occasion to celebrate Dickey’s contribution to the art and life of Indiana, and to enjoy the power of voices united in song.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 1:45-2:30pm, free, 3rd Street Park

Monkey Puzzle USA: Bloomington

Monkey Puzzle was part of Bloomington’s a cappella scene in the 1990s, sporting a repertoire that spanned African folk music to American pop covers. The group dispersed and moved on from B-town, but Lotus hosted two reunion concerts in the early 2000s.  For Lotus at 20, MP members Nils Fredland, Nicole Kousaleos, Jerry McIlvain, Daniel Reed, and Dan Schumacher are reuniting again for an encore performance.

  • One Show Only: Thursday, September 26, 7-9pm, BCT

Mr. Taylor and His Dirty Dixie Band USA: Bloomington

Mr. Taylor and His Dirty Dixie Band is homegrown hipness; all of the members are students in the IU Jacobs School of Music. They play delicious Dixieland jazz, traditional style (think New Orleans, early 1900s); with Benjamin Taylor on trumpet, Justin Knapp on clarinet, Victor Ribadeneyra on trombone, Otis Cantrell on guitar and banjo, Douglas Olenik on tuba, and Bridget Leahy on drums.

  • Two Shows, One Day Only: Saturday, September 27, 1-1:45pm, free, 3rd Street Park & 8:15-8:45pm, free, Lotus Parade

Nomadic Massive Canada: Quebec

The cultural landscape of Nomadic Massive is Argentinian, French, Algerian, Haitian, Chilean, Barbadian, Grenadan — it reflects Canada’s amazing ethnic diversity. These nine independent artists describe themselves as “musical nomads.” They rap socially aware poetry in English, French, Creole, Spanish, and Arabic, and combine live instrumentation with electronic sampling. This Montreal-based collective makes its Lotus debut, bringing dynamic, funky, high-energy “pass the mic” throwdown sounds to our Lotus party tent scene. Bust a global rhyme, word nerds; mosh hard, millennial gypsies!

  • Thursday, September 26, 8-10:30pm, free, Alumni Hall
  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, Soma Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, Soma Tent

Noura Mint Seymali Mauritania

Mauritania’s Noura Mint Seymali performs a blend of Afro-pop and desert blues that draws on deep traditional roots and reflects the fusion of Arab and African cultures inherent in Mauritanian life. Her ensemble has traditional instruments at its core — ardine (harp), tidinit (lute), and t’beul (bowl drum) — with Western bass and drum kit to round out the sound. In her home country, the style is called trade-moderne. In Bloomington, we call her music perfectly Lotastic.

  • One Show Only: Wednesday, September 25, 7-9pm, BCT

Pacific Curls New Zealand

Pacific Curls (Kim Halliday, Ora Barlow, Jessie Hindin) fuse Scottish folk fiddle, traditional Pacific Islands instruments, and songs in Maori and English to create “a delicate balance of shade, weight, propulsion, and introspection” (Womad.org). Pacific Curls performs truly “world” music, swinging from familiar Celtic tunes to more contemporary fusions with island beats and jazz-inflected, multilingual vocals. They’re among the new, exotic voices gracing Lotus at 20.

  • Friday, September 27, 6:30-7:15pm, FPC
  • Friday, September 27, 7:30-8:15pm, FPC
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:45pm, FPC

Pan-Basso USA: Bloomington

Local band Pan-Basso has been tapped to kick-start the IU+Lotus Campus Concert at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union. Their high energy playbook of great tunes will get this free-admission dance-fest moving.

  • One Show Only: Thursday, September 26, 8-10:30pm, free, Alumni Hall

Red Baraat USA: Brooklyn

Brooklyn-based Red Baraat took Lotus by storm when they first played the Festival in 2010, and we’ve been trying to get them back ever since. Founded by dhol-player and band MC, Sunny Jain, this band mixes hard-driving North Indian bhangra beats with jazz, hip-hop, and phat brass funk to bring the party of parties. Red Baraat recordings are amazing; Red Baraat live shows are phenomenal and soul-stirring: a sweat-fest dance frenzy, regardless of your age.  Don’t fight the funk, Lo-people; RB jams monster beats with mad energy. “A fiery blend of raucous Indian bhangra and funky New Orleans brass; the result is completely riotous” (Village Voice).

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:45pm, Soma Tent

Roberto Fonseca Cuba

Havana-born pianist and composer Roberto Fonseca is known throughout the world for his remarkable music. Jazz, R&B, and the Latin and African rhythms of Cuba come together in Fonseca’s performances.  Fonseca’s music is dance-jazz fusion: strong beats supporting melodic ballad lines played with pristine clarity “like a Cuban Keith Jarrett, [diving] into a perpetual-motion ostinato to carry bluesy lines and modern-jazz clusters” (NY Times). He transforms the sounds of Cuban culture into club music for jazzers. Lotus at 20 is thrilled to host Fonseca’s premiere appearance in out town.

  • One Show Only: Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, BCT

Sonia M’Barek Tunisia

Tunisian singer Sonia M’Barek is known worldwide for her exquisite renderings of maluf, Tunisian court music traditionally performed by men. She also dips into her own variations on popular music from Egypt and Lebanon, and other musical genres rooted in the centuries-old traditions of Al-Andalus (that part of the Iberian Peninsula governed by Muslims for more than seven centuries prior to the time of Columbus). “Once you know the grammar and understand the tenets of a musical language, you can open to other traditions like Western classical or jazz,” M’Barek says. “Music becomes a way of speaking to other traditions, not only those in the Arab world, but in the West as well.”

  • One Show Only: Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, FCC

Srinivas Krishnan, Abbos Kosimov, Homayun Sakhi, and Friends India, Afghanistan, & Pakistan

No musician has appeared more at Lotus Festivals than percussionist Srinivas Krishnan, who plays the tabla, ghatam, mridangam, dumbek, and bodhran, and is known for bringing diverse world music ensembles together on Lotus stages. This year, he is joined by Uzbek percussionist Abbos Kosimov on the doyra (a frame drum, with jingles, that is common to Central Asia music) and Afghan musician Homayun Sakhi on the rubab (a double-chambered plucked lute with origins in Afghanistan and Pakistan). With special guests, percussionist Jamey Haddad and violinist Dr. M. Lalitha, “Srini” is always a festival fave and his performances are consistently sublime and memorable.

  • One Show Only: Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, FCC

The Once Canada: Newfoundland

Perfect vocal harmonies and uncomplicated, elegant acoustic melodies are the hallmark of The Once, a band whose name is a Newfoundland phrase that means “imminently.” Tapping into traditional music, they also perform original songs and even do a cover or two (see what they do to Queen’s You’re My Best Friend). By turns melancholy, funny, and soulful, this trio relies on the power of their voices and acoustic instruments. Featuring singer Geraldine Hollett, with Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, bazouki, and vocals, The Once has a gentle, commanding presence on stage and in your heart.

  • Friday, September 27, 6:30-7:15pm, FCC
  • Friday, September 27, 7:30-8:15pm, FCC
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, FPC

Väsen Sweden

Väsen is three Swedish guys — Olov Johansson on nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, and Roger Tallroth on guitar — who play beautiful, muscular, exhilarating string music. While Marin’s viola weaves around Johansson’s nyckelharpa line, Tallroth’s driving guitar adds a solid base to the other strings. Theirs is the sound of a living folk tradition. Bloomington likes Väsen so much that we named a street after them (temporarily). Lotus staffers love Väsen so much they’ve twice created “teams” to underwrite their appearances. It couldn’t be Lotus at 20 without Väsen to complete the party. “The sound may be traditional, but the attitude is completely modern, mixing up the ideas of folk, the virtuosity of prog, and the humor of the insane asylum into a Cuisinart of acoustic bliss; visualize whirled music” (Wired).

  • Friday, September 27, 7-8:15pm, FUMC
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, BCT

Lotus Festival tickets for all admission-based events can be purchased in person at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Box Office and at Bloomingfoods locations, by phone at 812-323-3020, or online.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

We Are The World

Why We Need Lotus Fest More Than Ever This Year ◆ by Paul Sturm

Bloomington’s Lotus World Music and Arts Festival turns 20 this year. Over the course of two decades, Lotus Festival has become one of the most important arts events in Bloomington and the Midwest, now annually attracting 11,000-plus attendees and utilizing more than 500 volunteers. Through the years, Lotus Festival has broadened its scope, adding free concerts, visual art components, and interactive all-ages activities that have become requisite elements in the Lotus gestalt.

This anniversary year — Lotus at 20 — features an amazing roster of remarkable talent: 32 musical performers and ensembles from across the globe. Lotus at 20 also has been expanded to five days (September 25-29) with two additional concert events: an African Showcase and an IU+Lotus Campus Concert.

Twenty years of celebrating the diversity, beauty, and joy of music from cultures around the world: That’s impressive. Twenty years of continuous successful operation is a great accomplishment in any arts discipline, even more so in the esoteric field of world music.

Most remarkably, everything is consistently superb in Lotus land.  Each year’s artist bookings by Lee Williams carefully balance musical styles and cultures and even instrumentation. Each festival schedule strategically mixes extraordinary artistry in performance and opportunities for communal creativity. Each facet of the Lotus Festival microcosm is perfectly attuned to the aesthetic context in play.

I don’t know how they do it and so I admire the Lotus staff and the festival all the more for reliably producing a thoroughly conceived and intricately interwoven creative happening. I love Lotus for its people, its street theater, its gentrified boheem vibe. Most of all, I love Lotus for its truly and wholly global cultural diversity.

I’ve been an avid listener and collector of world music since high school. The exploration of new sounds — harmonies, rhythms, instruments, voices, languages, melodic lines — has been as natural and essential to me as breathing. I’m delighted, intoxicated, rejuvenated when discovering musical sounds so unexpected that my brain seems to spin. I want a world as culturally vibrant and hugely variant as our global artists provide. I find solace in the wonders of an undefinable, unattainable musical horizon. But that’s me.

Not everyone enjoys, or desires, or even tolerates music and arts that are exotic, unfamiliar. Most people don’t, to be candid. And that’s OK; that’s the way we are. If in the past I once was hellbent on changing American aesthetic tastes, that phase has long passed. I’m comfortable with our postmodern You do you and I’ll do me compact.

And Then We Had Our Summer Of Hate

Across our country, the George Zimmerman saga let loose an eruption of hate-speak and reprehensible commentary from individuals as varied in demographic segment as our big bad-ass nation could muster. The topic clogged and consumed traditional media, Internet media, social media, and conversations face-to-face and virtual. The trial and verdict invited a nationwide exhale of angry opinions and ill-informed remarks more accusatory than productive, intentionally hurtful and argumentative.

Coinciding with — perhaps emanating from — the Zimmerman vitriol was a startling tsunami of angry tweets from viewers of the 84th MLB All-Star Game, maligning Marc Anthony’s performance of God Bless America. Most were critical of having a “foreigner” singing this patriotic song: “Marc Anthony singing God Bless America on the MLB Allstar Game…am I the only person that finds that un-American” (all sic) tweeted an MLB fan; “Why is a Mexican singing ‘God Bless America’??” and “Shouldn’t an AMERICAN be singing God Bless America?” wrote others. Anthony is a New Yorker, born and raised — of Puerto Rican descent, not Mexican — and none of that even matters.

A similar flood of hate-tweets were made last June when a San Antonio-born 11-year-old Latino mariachi singer, Sebastien De La Cruz, sang the national anthem during the NBA finals.  “Mexican kid singing the National Anthem now that’s pretty fucked up! #AmericaFirst” tweeted a viewer.

These overt displays of xenophobia extended further than the divisive race-focused commentary we witnessed around the Zimmerman ordeal; these insults were also framed in angry, self-righteous nationalism (and were erroneously nationalistic at that).

I was surprised and appalled by the rampant jingoism as much as — perhaps even more than — the disgraceful racism. I shouldn’t be. I know that, as a national people, we’re not yet “past it” in issues of racial, cultural, sexual, political diversity.

So I found myself reflecting with increasing frequency on Lotus Festival, and everything about the festival that makes it so easy for us to access diverse musical traditions from around the globe. Lotus doesn’t simply represent or exemplify multiculturalism — like an important illustration of some attribute to which we might aspire. Lotus embodies and integrates internationalism at its very core. When we participate in all that Lotus offers, we immerse ourselves in a healing multicultural balm; we step through a wonderful and fleeting gateway to deepened appreciation of our huge world, and our country’s patchwork quilt culture.

I like to think that by understanding different cultures, nations, peoples we strive to be our best selves, our most empathetic selves, our most human selves, and I believe that fostering a welcoming multicultural community is when we are most American, not least. We need Lotus Festival, as we need each other.

If you’ve not yet given yourself the treat of experiencing international music in its vast array of sounds and styles, you need only attend one of the many free Lotus events. For those who revel in all the global goodness that is Lotus Festival, you’ll find Lotus at 20 a delight beyond measure.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Art Interrupted

Modern American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy: Art and politics converge at the IU Art Museum ◆ by Jenny McComas

In December 1949, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs George V. Allen, notified readers of The Department of State Bulletin about a new and increasingly sophisticated weapon in the diplomatic arsenal—propaganda. “Propaganda as a conscious weapon of diplomacy has increased tremendously during recent years,” Allen explained, noting that radio programs such as the Voice of America directly targeted foreign populations, whereas traditionally diplomacy engaged only with government officials. With its more direct approach, and its use of mass media and cultural forums, propaganda was better able to persuade people to support democracy over communism. Although Allen made no mention of the use of the fine arts within cultural propaganda, the State Department itself had organized one of the most highly publicized—and ultimately controversial—propaganda exhibitions just a few years earlier.

With the emergence of the Cold War, art became a powerful tool for cultural diplomacy. Beginning in the mid-1940s, the State Department, and later the CIA, utilized art exhibitions to spread information about democracy, freedom, and American culture to countries deemed susceptible to Communism. The ambitious traveling exhibition Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy, on view at the IU Art Museum from September 14 through December 15, is a reconstruction of Advancing American Art, one of the earliest exhibitions to be conceived as a weapon in the cultural Cold War. Organized by the State Department in 1946, Advancing American Art was divided into two sections, one intended to travel to cities in Eastern Europe and the other to Latin America. To accomplish this goal, the State Department appointed J. Leroy Davidson, a curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to purchase paintings by leading and emerging American artists for the exhibition. With just under $50,000 at his disposal, Davidson purchased 79 oil paintings by artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, and John Marin; styles ranged from social realism to geometric abstraction. A further selection of watercolors was assembled with the intent of sending them to China, although this plan never materialized. Although Davidson selected a relatively wide range of artistic styles and subjects, art critics at the time felt that the exhibition was biased towards more “advanced” styles—“extreme expressionism, fantasy, surrealism, and abstraction” according to the New York Times’ critic Edward Alden Jewell. However, for Davidson and the State Department, the emphasis on “advanced” styles was justified, for the exhibition was intended to persuade international audiences not only that the United States had a sophisticated artistic culture, but that American artists working in modernist styles enjoyed great freedom—in marked contrast to artists in the Soviet Union.

O'Keeffe/Hands

The State Department Purchased Works By Georgie O’Keeffe

In October 1946, Advancing American Art received an inaugural showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The 49 paintings destined for Eastern Europe were then sent to Paris, where they were seen in an exhibition celebrating the creation of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), before finally arriving in Prague in early 1947. The Latin American section of the exhibition, comprised of thirty oil paintings, traveled to Havana, Cuba in late 1946 and was then sent on to galleries in Santiago de Cuba and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The ambitious plans for Advancing American Art called for several additional European and Latin American venues, including Budapest, Hungary, and Caracas, Venezuela. William Benton, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, believed that Advancing American Art “is an exhibition in which I believe the United States may well take pride.” However, the State Department learned that modern art had powerful enemies within the U.S. government, including even President Truman, who characterized the works in Advancing American Art as “merely the vaporings of half-baked lazy people.” The opponents of Advancing American Art had many different reasons to protest the exhibition. Some disagreed with the use of taxpayer dollars to fund cultural programs, while others disliked the modern styles featured in the exhibition. Others had more ideological disputes with the show, for example taking offense at the inclusion of paintings that did not show America in a completely favorable light. Most astonishingly of all, however, were accusations that some works in the exhibition would disseminate communism. Considering that the exhibition was organized to help combat the spread of communism, this accusation seems nothing less than bizarre. However, certain artists included in the show, including Ben Shahn and William Gropper, had in fact been involved in leftist politics during the 1930s. This seems to have provided enough reason for some politicians to condemn modern art as inherently subversive.

The controversy over Advancing American Art eventually led to the cancellation of the exhibition’s tour in May 1947. The works were returned to the United States and auctioned off by the War Assets Administration, with the majority of the paintings finding homes in university collections. The outcry against Advancing American Art merely foreshadowed the vehemence with which modern art would be denounced by some conservative politicians and artists as the Cold War intensified. During the McCarthy era, Abstract Expressionism ensured American art its first serious recognition abroad, yet anti-modernist rhetoric reached a fever pitch in the United States. For example, the Michigan Congressman George Dondero denounced modern art repeatedly in the late 1940s and early 1950s as “communist” and morally depraved. Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, responded with a program of lectures and articles defending modern art. In 1952 he published an article titled “Is Modern Art Communistic?” in the New York Times, in which he reminded readers that abstract and other non-naturalistic forms of modern art were in fact proscribed in the Soviet Union, as they had been in Nazi Germany. Instead of allowing artists the opportunity to paint as they liked, the Soviet authorities required them to conform to the idiom of Socialist Realism—a style of realist painting which idealized life in the Soviet Union.  Barr, like Leroy Davison before him, argued that the diverse styles of art practiced in the United States represented the artistic freedom and cultural tolerance fostered by democracy. Despite the continued attacks on modern art during the 1950s by rightist politicians, organizations such as the Museum of Modern Art and the United States Information Agency (USIA) continued to organize exhibitions featuring modern art for circulation abroad.

The present touring exhibition, Art Interrupted, brings together most of the works from Advancing American Art, providing today’s audiences with the opportunity to consider how the arts have been impacted by politics, censorship, and issues of national identity in the 20th century. Indeed, the presentation of this exhibition in Bloomington illuminates Indiana University’s own connections to the cultural Cold War. The university was drawn into the world of foreign affairs when university president Herman B Wells became cultural affairs advisor to the American military government in occupied Germany in 1947. Likewise, Henry Radford Hope, who founded the IU Art Museum and chaired IU’s fine arts department from 1941 to 1971, was deeply engaged in American cultural initiatives abroad from the late 1940s until the early 1960s. His activities demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting artistic expression from government censorship or political interference, and revealed his belief that artistic freedom was an integral element of a democratic society. Hope’s concerns about artistic freedom were likely based on his experience in 1930s Europe, where he had gained insight into the aims and ideologies of Nazi Germany. For example, while living in Paris as a student at the Sorbonne, he would have seen the Third Reich’s imposing pavilion, designed by architect Albert Speer, at the 1937 World’s Fair. After returning to the United States in 1938, Hope found that the relationship of the American government to arts funding and sponsorship was complex and ambivalent—as indeed it still is. He was obviously disappointed by the censorship imposed on Advancing American Art, signing a petition to President Truman in 1947 in protest of the exhibition’s recall. In 1949 he participated in a symposium on “Government and Art,” organized under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts. The symposium was conceived partly as a response to the virulent anti-modernism expressed by members of Congress in reaction to Advancing American Art, and in recognition of the “country’s growing international role, and our increasing realization that both guns and butter as exports (or gifts) are insufficient international vehicles” of American foreign diplomacy. In the 1950s, Hope deepened his commitment to art as a vehicle for international understanding and cultural diplomacy. From 1951 to 1963, he served as the United States’ delegate on art activities and advisor on cultural affairs to UNESCO, a position that aligned well with Indiana University’s ever broadening activity in the field of international education during the same decade.

Hope’s most direct involvement with cultural diplomacy, however, was in 1959, when he served on the selection committee for the American National Exhibition, which was organized by the USIA for display in Moscow. As an example of cultural exchange, the exhibition was a first in U.S.-Soviet relations, as it exposed Soviet audiences for the first time to a range of western artistic styles, including Abstract Expressionism. Yet, in an apparent repeat of the controversy sparked by Advancing American Art, some members of Congress protested that the abstract art included in the exhibition was itself Communist propaganda. The House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) even scheduled hearings, issuing subpoenas to three of the participating artists—Jack Levine, Ben Shahn, and Philip Evergood—all of whom had previously been featured in Advancing American Art. In 1959, unlike in 1947, however, the exhibition’s organizers refused to be intimidated or to cancel the exhibition. In an open letter to President Eisenhower, Hope and the other jurors wrote that:

Contrary to misleading statements by certain artists and members of Congress, the exhibition is not communistic, negative or un-American. Nor does it consist of pretty idealized pictures of our country, such as artists of totalitarian nations are obliged to paint. It demonstrates the freedom of artistic expression and the variety of individual viewpoints that mark a democratic society. It is unquestionably the broadest and most balanced representation of recent American art ever sent abroad by our Government…. The current attacks on the exhibition are based almost entirely on the alleged personal opinions and backgrounds on some of the artists, in most cases dating back many years. We believe that such considerations are irrelevant. The Government is not exhibiting the artists, but their works…. We believed…that the freedom of artistic expression shown in this exhibition is a living demonstration of the freedom of democracy, and that exclusion of any works would give communist propaganda the weapon it needs.

Although Eisenhower requested that twenty-seven paintings dating from the mid-eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries be added to the American National Exhibition, he refused to censor any of the modern works selected by the exhibition’s jury. Twelve years after Advancing American Art, the American National Exhibition was allowed to remain on view, where it apparently fulfilled the goals of its organizers. Soviet visitors to the exhibition expressed surprise that America had no “official” art and made the desired connection between artistic and political freedom.

Although the use of art within government-sponsored diplomatic initiatives is not as prominent today as it was during the Cold War, government involvement with art and culture continues to be a controversial subject. Exhibitions such as Advancing American Art and the American National Exhibition—and the accusations leveled against them—reveal that art and politics have long been intertwined.

Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy was organized by the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at University of Oklahoma with funding provided by the Henry C. Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.The presentation of the exhibition in Bloomington was made possible by the Class of 1949 Endowment for the Curator of Western Art after 1800 and the Indiana University Art Museum’s Arc Fund. Additional support was provided by a challenge grant generously issued by David Jacobs and matched by the IU Art Museum National Advisory Board.

Art and Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War: A Symposium

The Symposium will run in conjunction with the opening of the IU Art Museum exhibition, Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy. The symposium will examine the role of the visual arts in the Cold War. Friday, September 13, 2013, Hope School of Fine Arts, Room 015, 2:00-5:00 p.m. Information.

Symposium Presentations:

◗ Scrambled Eggs: The Rise, Demise, and Reprise of Advancing American Art

Dennis Harper, Curator of Collections, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University

◗ Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke and American Films on Art in the Post-WWII Era

Natasha Ritsma, Curator of Academic Programs, Gund Gallery, Kenyon College

◗ Art and Politics in Occupied Germany (1945-1949)

Cora Goldstein, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California at Long Beach

◗ ‘A Little Too Strange for the Average Russian:’ Abstract Art and Cold War Diplomacy at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959

Michael Krenn, Professor of History, Appalachian State University

The exhibition opening reception will immediately follow the symposium, 5‒7 pm in the Thomas T. Solley Atrium of the IU Art Museum.

Both the symposium and the opening reception are free and open to the public. No pre-registration for the symposium is required.

In November, the Ryder and the IU Art Museum will co-sponsor the film Hidden Hands: Art and the CIA.

The Ryder ◆ August 2013

Jenny McComas is the Class of 1949 Curator of Western Art at the IU Art Museum.

The Ryder ◆ August 2013

Expanded Cinema

The Film Art of Sandra Gibson, Luis Recoder and Olivia Block at the IU Cinema ◆ by Joan Hawkins

Joan Hawkins is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University Bloomington. She is the author of Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde (2000; University of Minnesota Press) and numerous articles on horror, experimental and independent cinema. She is currently working on a book about the New York Downtown Movement.

In this increasingly digital age, film as a medium seems doomed. But despite the difficulty of obtaining, processing and projecting film stock, a number of artists and filmmakers stubbornly cling to the film medium (celluloid) as an inexhaustible source of beauty and wonder. With their groundbreaking work in the realm of “expanded cinema,” Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder have emerged as two of the most inspired and inventive of these cinema artists. Since their first collaboration in 2000, they have produced numerous installations and performances that make full use of the optical and mechanical qualities of film projection. Employing 16mm and 35mm film projectors, celluloid strips, prisms, deviation lenses, manual interventions and gesture, they create elusive and hypnotic light sculptures, which transform the projection room into a sensual three dimensional space.

Historically, “expanded cinema” meant that celluloid film was just one means among many of producing “cinema.” The term was first used in the 1960s, notably by experimental filmmakers Carolee Schneemann and Stan Vanderbeek to refer to multimedia performance. By the 1970s “expanded cinema” had come to stand for a kind of media melting pot. As Gene Youngblood theorized it in his 1970 book Expanded Cinema, it had three goals. The first was to blend all art forms, including film, into multimedia and live action events. The second was to explore electronic technologies and the coming of cyberspace, as it had been described by Marshall McLuhan. The third was to break down the barriers between artist (or art works) and audience through new forms of participation.

But as new media began increasingly to displace or replace traditional forms (like celluloid) the term “expanded cinema” took on a different—some would say counter-intuitive—meaning. Contemporary expanded work, like Gibson and Recoder’s, restores the materiality of film to the center of cinematic practice. In opposition to the earlier melting pot idea, it draws sharp distinctions between film and other, newer, moving- image technologies. It is still an “expanded” cinema because it preserves the notion of participation and it foregrounds the processes by which film images are created. Filmmakers perform with multiple film projectors, films and film loops, and with light itself. They use gesture and lenses to bend light, to refract it. In so doing, they “expand” cinema from a two (or even three-dimensional) image in front of the viewer, and turn it into a three-dimensional, all-encompassing, wrap-around experience.

Gibson and Recoder began collaborating as Gibson+Recoder shortly after meeting in 2000 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. “You could say that a certain enthusiasm for ‘found-footage’ brought us together,” Sandra Gibson notes, “as each of us were working with ‘archival’ material before hooking up.” Since “hooking up,” however, they operate as a unified entity, using a joint CV (curriculum vitae) to sum up their work,. And they gently resist talking about the shows and exhibits they had as solo artists early in their careers. In writing this article, I was not able to find any information about their pre-collaboration period. And my inquiries about their pre-collaborative careers brought patient reminders that the collaboration is what is important here.

Gibson/Recoder

Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson

In an era saturated with computer generated imagery, Gibson and Recoder are able to achieve an amazing array of effects using only analog technology. Indeed, many of the performances unfold as a kind of illusionism, and indulge visual pleasure in a way that earlier forms of expanded cinema did not. The artists manipulate projectors loaded with abstract, handmade film loops. Simple acts such as slow or subtle changes in focus, slight movement of the projectors, manual interference with the projector beams create a surprising array of visual effects, and audiences frequently ask the artists how they manage to create such stunning imagery with such “old-school” technology.

Gibson calls the process of adjusting to analog special effects “natural projection, because it’s a soft-focused image. When people come in, it takes time for their eyes to adjust. They come in expecting this kind of Technicolor HD image and then they’re challenged to figure things out and have an experience.” “They have to work and kind of explore,” Recoder adds. “It’s almost like giving them a found footage element to work with. Each individual has kind of a viewing apparatus built-in and it adapts differently. Our work addresses the uniqueness of one’s own viewership.”

Gibson+Recoder have won a number of prestigious prizes for their groundbreaking work. In 2001 they won a Helen Bing Fellowship and participated in the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. In 2003 and again in 2006, they won the Museum of Contemporary Cinema Foundation Award in Paris, France. In 2005, they won the Japan-U.S. Creative Arts Fellowship Award (JUSFC/NEA) and participated in the Youkoba Art Space Tokyo. They have also won the Kodak Fellowship Award (2009), the New York Foundation for the Arts Award (2004), and the James D. Phelan Art Award in Film (2004). Most recently they were nominated for the Alpert Award in the Arts (2012).

In addition to residencies in Japan, Paris, and Bellagio Italy, they have performed and exhibited throughout Europe and Japan; they were chosen for the 2004 Whitney Biennial and took their work New Frontiers to Sundance in 2009. As Recoder puts it, in all of their exhibitions, they blend the formal vocabulary of art and cinema. “We use the cinema or the cinematic to go to an earlier stage: to imagine what its like to go and sit and observe a moving image; an image that’s actually being formed right before you.”

Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure is a live collaborative cinematic work that reflects Gibson and Recoder’s research on light as optical illusion. It revolves around the light play of two projectors, fractured and dispersed by a series of lenses. The performance exploits the intrinsic properties of the “changeover” system, which is used in film theaters to ensure the smooth transition from one film reel to another (so when viewers watch a movie in a theater setting, they do not notice when reels change). The result is a stimulating game of illusion and disillusion. As Gibson describes it, “in ‘Aberration of Light’ we perform an undisclosed work of feature length found-footage film. Our working concept is that the 35mm changeover system undergoes its re-appropriation as a collage/montage technique of sorts.” In their promotional material, Gibson+Recoder call it “a surrealist dream from the point of view of the projectionist.

This is the second project that Gibson and Recoder have created in collaboration with Chicago-based Olivia Block, whose sound work seeks to examine and redefine the limits of cinematic experience. Block began her career as a pop musician until she turned to field recordings in the 1990s. Since then she has developed a unique musical language, in which she brings together refined textures of environmental material with raw noise and elegant sound architecture in which wind instruments are predominant.

The Jorgensen Lecture will take place at 3:00 p.m. at the IU Cinema. The performance, Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber of Closure, will be presented at the Cinema, with live sound accompaniment by Olivia Block. The performance will take place Friday August 30 at 6:30 p.m. These events are presented as part of the Underground Film Series, in partnership with the Indiana University Department of Communication and Culture, and Film and Media Studies. They are free but ticketed events, open to the public.

This will be a unique opportunity to see a live cinematic event that can only be performed at theaters with expanded technical capacities. Previous live 35mm projector performances of Aberration of Light include the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, Serralves Foundation in Porto, and Courtisane Festival in Ghent Belgium. Ticket information at the IU Cinema website.

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Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson
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Olivia Block
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Manipulating images with multiple projectors in a live performance

The Ryder ◆ August 2013

Gimme Shelter

From Cats to Bats and Dogs to Raccoons, the Animal Shelter Helps Boomington’s Furry Friends ◆ by Dan Melnick

It’s almost impossible to resist those big eyes staring back behind the cage bars of the Bloomington Animal Shelter. Brief biographies are clipped to the outside of each cage that tell similar tales of stray animals or donated house pets. All have descriptors stating how friendly and lovable they are if only someone else would be willing to find out. Usually, through no fault of their own, hundreds of perfectly lovable and healthy animals end up in the city’s care and they’re all looking for the same thing — a second chance. At an almost breakneck pace, the staff of the shelter helps hundreds of animals find new homes every month, but for every life they save, two more come in their door in need of assistance.

The Bloomington Animal Shelter differs from shelters in surrounding communities which typically host private facilities run by the Humane Society. As a branch of Bloomington city government, the Bloomington Animal Shelter employs trained animal care and control officers. These staffers take calls about wildlife issues or stray animal complaints. About a third of animals in the Bloomington Animal Shelter are former pets, found as strays by wildlife officers.

“If they’re strays then we’re hoping to find [their] owner. Some animals already have identification and it’s easy,” says Lauri Ringquist, director of the Bloomington Animal Shelter. She and her diligent staff of twenty paid employees and more than a hundred volunteers work tirelessly to return any lost pet to its owner. However, most of the dogs and cats brought in either don’t have proper identification or never had a home to begin with. The others come from citizens bringing in strays they find themselves or people relinquishing their current pet and giving it up for adoption.

Cat for Adoption

When asked how difficult it is to accept someone’s pet, Ringquist says, “it’s very hard.” Many owners give up their animals for what is often a very fixable problem. Ringuist explains most of the complaints owners give are related to the behavior of the pet rather than an actual issue. In cases like these, the shelter has a trained animal behaviorist on staff who can recommend a number of training specialists throughout Bloomington. With proper time and a willingness from the owner, animal trainers can work with the family and help the problem animal. But even with these resources, talking someone out of giving up their animal is rarely successful. Many forget that Fido isn’t a toy that can be turned on and off at will or has the mental capacity of a person that can be reasoned with.

“By the time they get to the shelter,” Ringquist says, “mentally, they’ve already said goodbye to the dog. They’ve already decided I’m done, the kids have said ‘goodbye’ at home, whatever the story is, by the time they get here, there are very few people who are willing to go back and try again.”

That’s not to say that all behavioral problems result in abandonment, but for those willing to discuss their case, the shelter can offer help and advice by phone. “And sometimes we present people with a solution,” Ringquist adds “and they’ll say, ‘Well my problem is X.’ Great, we can help you with X. ‘Well really? And Y.’ Well, we can help you with Y. ‘And Z.’ And you realize they just don’t want the dog anymore and you just have to smile and realize that we can find them a new home.”

It’s sad when any animal that was once a house pet is turned in for adoption, but ultimately the creature is better off as the shelter can find them a new home where they will be appreciated and loved. To avoid situations like these, the shelter counsels applicants, covering as many scenarios as possible so new owners learn the responsibilities involved with owning a pet. But some people are stuck in a puppy love phase and don’t want to listen.

Dog for Adoption

Ringquist says, “We just had two situations this week with someone who adopted a puppy and brought [it] back because it was too much work and told us we didn’t counsel her enough.”

Other applicants feel the counseling is condescending and that the staff is talking down to them by reminding them about basic facts of animal maintenance. Sometimes it’s the people who are the problematic ones, but the shelter tries to do right by their animals by streamlining the adoption process in an effort to make the transition into a new home easy for their furry friends.

The adoption process is pretty straight forward for any animal, but getting to that phase is a little bit different for dogs and cats. Before a dog is available for adoption, whether it was donated by a visitor or found as a stray, the animal is put through a temperament evaluation.

“It’s a set process developed by an animal behaviorist through the ASPCA and the staff has been trained as to how to administer it looking for flat-out signs of aggression,” Ringquist explains. The test puts the animal through a series of scenarios to see how the dog reacts to various stimuli. The staff sees how the animal interacts with other dogs or other people, how it takes to getting its paws played with, what happens when people pet it.

“We’re trying to gauge how they respond to just being handled and are there any guarding behaviors we can identify and see if they’re going to be safe to be adopted,” Ringquist says.

Without another option, if the animal displays signs of aggression, not a nervous or a correctible behavioral quirk, the dog is euthanized. That doesn’t happen too often as most dogs pass with flying colors or have minor things to work on. The staff knows the signs to look for and only resorts to euthanization as a last resort.

Dog for Adoption

Cats are a different story. The felines aren’t put through a temperament test; it’s usually easy to tell where they fall on the spectrum. They’re either in the front of the cage looking to be petted or backed in the corner showing you their fangs. Unlike dogs, the primary issue surrounding cat adoption isn’t their personality, it’s their numbers.

“Cats have a definite breeding season,” Ringquist explains, “So they start having kittens in the late spring through early fall and then they don’t have kittens in the winter months.” This means that throughout the winter, the animal shelter may take in 80 or more cats in January, but come summer, they report numbers of over three hundred cats in the month of July alone. “There’s an imbalance,” Rinqust says, as to how many cats are taken in by the shelter at any given time, “and there’s a finite amount of space and a finite amount of kennels that you have.” The shelter tries to compensate for this by hosting promotions for cats during the summer, offering deals of reduced adoption fees or two-for-one specials in an attempt to move cats as fast as they can; any cat taken in after the shelter runs out of space is euthanized. Many of these pets are perfectly healthy animals, but there just isn’t anywhere to keep them.

“Our adoptions have gone up and our euthanasia has gone down,” Ringquist says. “It’s not perfect, but it gets better every year.” Last year, 137 dogs and 229 cats were euthanized by June 30th, compared to the 91 dogs and 189 cats euthanized by the same time this year. The numbers of found cats has also gone down. This is in thanks to the many organizations throughout Bloomington in addition to the Animal Shelter that help to make sure the animals are properly spayed and neutered such as the Humane Society, the Pets Alive clinic and the Feral Cat Friends who trap strays and neuter them before returning the cats to the wilds of the community.

The Bloomington Animal Shelter has a unique problem. As the number of animals moving through its cages increases, so too does the work load. There are twice as many kennels in the back that visitors don’t see, with animals undergoing the five-day holding period to determine if they’re capable of being adopted. A week before this writing, the shelter had half of its cages free, but now, they’re filled to capacity. At full usage, there are about sixty kennels for dogs, which may sound like a lot, but if no one adopts an animal, that space stays full. Typically, there’s no time limit as to how long an animal can stay at the shelter. When full, the Bloomington Animal Shelter also works with a group called Canine Express, a service that transports some of their animals to the New England states, hoping that a change in location will mean a change in demand. The shelter does it what it can for the animals within its doors, but taking care of the animals requires both time and money.

In addition to their annual budget, the Bloomington Animal Shelter also accepts donations. As they are a branch of the government, they receive most of their funding through a public budget. More often than not, they break even on adoption fees. The $75 they typically charge per animal covers the cost to care for and feed the animal during its time at the Shelter. The small amount of revenue left over that doesn’t go to normal expenses, they can put to good use on unique situations outside their typical budget.

“Like right now we have a little puppy with a broken leg and when her stray-hold is over, she’s probably going to need that leg amputated and that’s a more expensive medical treatment that our regular budget can’t always absorb,” Ringquist says.

But more than financial compensation, the animal shelter is always looking for donations of items, food for the pets and toys, specifically. They like to give every animal at least one toy. They also take sheets and towels to use as bedding from anyone doing a little spring cleaning. “We go through laundry like you wouldn’t believe,” Ringquist jokes.

From an outsider’s eye, the hardest thing about working at the Shelter would be resisting the urge to adopt everything yourself. “Probably everybody that works here ends up adopting something,” Ringquist agrees, “but we all have to realize that we can’t solve the problem ourselves.” Many of the staff participate in the foster program and take care of sick dogs or temporarily house kittens who are too young to be spayed or neutered, before returning the animal to be adopted. It frees up needed space in the Shelter’s kennels and ensures visitors find healthy and happy pets waiting for them inside the shelter doors.

Just as they counsel owners to be responsible, the employees and volunteers of the Shelter need to follow their own example. Inevitably, care givers become attached to particular strays and long to take the animals with them after a shift, but ultimately, it’s all the more rewarding to have played a part in finding the pet a new home. “[We get] attached to different animals,” Ringquist says, “and knowing that we can find them a home and they’re going to get adopted means that I don’t have to take them home myself. I know I can find them a home.” The Animal Shelter has already saved over a thousand lives this year. Shelter employees are thrilled with those numbers, but not for too long — there’s always another cage to cleaned for the next animal in need.

The Ryder ◆ August 2013

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