From Paris to Polynesia: Paul Gauguin

Gauguin-Where do we come from

Despite his dependence on the Parisian art market and his active involvement in the artistic circles of the capital, Gauguin longed for a simpler environment where he could live free.

 

by Jennifer McComas

The celebrated French artist Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) left one of the most enduring legacies and fascinating bodies of work of any nineteenth-century artist. One of his final paintings, The Invocation of 1903, is currently on view at the IU Art Museum along with three prints by Gauguin from the museum’s permanent collection. A loan to the IU Art Museum from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., The Invocation offers the chance for Bloomington residents to consider a work that embodies Gauguin’s lifelong interests in stylistic experimentation, spirituality, and the “exotic.” And as a work that is inextricably linked to French colonialism, The Invocation also offers insight into Gauguin’s increasingly ambivalent attitude towards the colonial system at the end of his life.

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848, a year marked by revolutions across Europe. In the aftermath of the revolutions, Gauguin’s politically active parents sought refuge in Peru, his grandfather’s homeland, and Gauguin spent his first five years there. His early adulthood was also defined by travel. In 1865, at the age of 17, he joined the French merchant marines, sailing twice to Brazil. These events set the stage for the intense wanderlust and fascination with the exotic that characterized Gauguin’s life and art. Initially upon his return to civilian life in 1871, Gauguin attempted to settle into a bourgeois lifestyle, obtaining a position as a stockbroker in 1872 and marrying a Danish woman, Mette Gad, the following year. In 1873 he also took up painting as a hobby. By 1876, however, his work was accepted for exhibition at the Paris Salon and in 1878 he began collecting the work of the impressionists, with whom he exhibited four times.

The stock market crash of 1882 left Gauguin unemployed. At a crossroads, he took a risk on becoming a full-time artist. While this decision had detrimental effects on his family life—their decline in living standards led to a separation from his wife, who returned to Denmark with their children—it also marked the start of his most productive and artistically fertile years. The years 1886 to 1889 were defined by artistic experimentation and conceptual innovation, prompted by his travels to Pont-Aven in Brittany, to Arles in Provence, and further afield to Panama and Martinique.

At this time, working in a style that came to be known as “synthetism,” he began simplifying forms to their essential components and using pure colors in his work, applying pigment to canvas in large, flat planes separated by bold black lines. His imagery drew upon traditional Breton customs and Christian themes, and he portrayed his subjects in an enigmatic and dreamlike manner that was influenced by Symbolism. Symbolism, a French literary and artistic movement of the late nineteenth century, encouraged the rejection of realism, instead favoring dreamlike, intuitive, and spiritual imagery. The emphasis Symbolism placed on individual perception, interiority, and the spiritual world shaped Gauguin’s art for the rest of his life. So too did the rural, unindustrialized landscape and lifestyle he encountered in Brittany, where, partly to attract tourists, the local population had retained traditional dress and certain cultural practices. To Gauguin’s eyes, accustomed to the rapidly modernizing Parisian cityscape, Brittany appeared both “primitive” and culturally “authentic.”

Yet in 1890, having established himself as a leading Symbolist painter, Gauguin considered traveling further afield. Despite his dependence on the Parisian art market and his active involvement in the artistic circles of the capital, Gauguin longed for a simpler environment where he could finally live “free at last, with no money troubles,” allowing him to devote himself completely to his art. Inspired by his earlier travels in South America and the Caribbean and by Vincent van Gogh’s attempt to establish a “Studio of the South” in Arles, Gauguin now dreamed of setting up a “Studio of the Tropics.” Gauguin’s decision to move to Polynesia was likely inspired by popular travel literature, and confirmed by his visits to the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. Held to mark the centennial of the French Revolution, the exposition celebrated France’s artistic, scientific, and imperialist achievements of the past century. A colonial display within the exposition offered visitors the opportunity to visit pavilions devoted to the colonies, which by 1889 included such holdings as Algeria, Tunisia, Madagascar, Tonkin (Vietnam), Cambodia, and Java, as well as Tahiti and other islands in the South Pacific. The elaborately constructed colonial pavilions were akin to theatrical set pieces, offering visitors a pleasant illusion of colonial life that was part imperial propaganda and part romantic myth.

In the case of Tahiti, which became a French colony in 1880 and where Gauguin would move in 1891, a romantic mythology already predated the fair by more than a century. The perception of the island as an earthly paradise, whose people “breathe only rest and sensual pleasures,” had been established by the publication in 1771 of Voyage autour du monde (Voyage around the World) by the navigator Count Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, who visited Tahiti while circumnavigating the globe in 1767. Misunderstanding the welcome his crew had received in Tahiti—during which chiefs had offered young girls to the French sailors, likely in order to secure trading privileges with the foreigners or to capture supernatural powers they were perceived to hold—he named the island “New Cythera,” a reference to the island which, in ancient Greek mythology, was the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

The reports following Captain James Cook’s voyages only strengthened this European perception of Tahiti. In Gauguin’s own lifetime, the French naval officer and popular author Pierre Loti (1850–1923) also offered a romanticized and sensual picture of a paradisiacal Tahiti in his 1880 book Le Mariage de Loti. By situating Tahiti as a paradise, Bougainville and Loti merely shifted the concept of a classical Arcadia or long-lost golden age—long a trope of European art—to the South Pacific, thus aligning it with an intensifying European interest in all things “exotic.” This romantic image of Tahiti as a land of abundance, easy living, and friendly inhabitants was skillfully co-opted by the organizers of the 1889 colonial exposition, who sought to encourage French immigration to the Pacific colonies. While the fair’s attractive presentation of the colonies undoubtedly sparked Gauguin’s interest in Tahiti as a potential location for his “Studio of the Tropics,” so too did the island’s status as a French colony, which would facilitate his move abroad and help him maintain contact with the Parisian art world.

In March 1891, Gauguin requested funding from the Ministry of Public Education and Fine Arts to “study and ultimately paint the customs and landscapes of Tahiti,” a proposition that undoubtedly interested the colonial administrators, who approved his request. The following month, he sailed for Tahiti, where he stayed for two years before returning temporarily to France. The paintings Gauguin produced in Tahiti are among his most iconic; they blend the synthetist style he had developed in Brittany with Christian iconography, motifs he saw in Polynesian, Maori, and Javanese art, and a sense of the spirit world that pervaded traditional Tahitian culture. Upon Gauguin’s return to Paris in 1893 he busied himself with the production of Noa Noa, a book of woodcuts that accompanied an exhibition of his work at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, and were meant to explain his Tahitian imagery to a European audience. Although the exhibition was fairly successful, resulting in the sale of forty paintings, and although Gauguin had found Oceania less arcadian and more expensive than he had imagined, he returned to Tahiti in the summer of 1895. He would never return to Europe. Gauguin’s final years were marked by financial distress, legal problems, severe depression, and ill health, including a diagnosis of syphilis. He also found himself increasingly disenchanted with the French colonial society in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital, and the transformation of traditional Tahitian culture by westernization. Throughout the 1890s, he struggled to reconcile Tahiti’s colonial reality with the paradise constructed by Bougainville, Loti, and the displays of the 1889 colonial exposition, and ultimately determined to travel to a less developed and more remote part of Polynesia. He was prevented from doing so only by his precarious financial situation.

In 1901, the opportunity to resettle in the Marquesas Islands, some 750 miles northeast of Tahiti, presented itself when the Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard offered Gauguin a monthly stipend in exchange for regular shipments of paintings. While this financial stability provided Gauguin with the means to make the move to the Marquesas, the arrangement also placed certain artistic restrictions on him. Gauguin needed to produce pictures that Vollard would be able to sell to Parisian collectors. Therefore, as the art historian Elizabeth C. Childs has noted, Gauguin’s most marketable Marquesan paintings tended to be pastoral landscapes that avoided any indication of colonial strife or European intervention.

Yet, despite these peaceful images, and Gauguin’s own perception that the Marquesas would be more “unspoiled” than Tahiti, they had in fact been greatly affected by their annexation by the French in 1842. In particular, its people had been decimated by western diseases, including venereal disease and influenza. When Gauguin arrived on the island of Hiva Oa in mid-September 1901, the Marquesan population stood at about 3,500, whereas it has been estimated at approximately 80,000 in the late eighteenth century. Indeed, it was during his two years in the village of Atuona on Hiva Oa that he began to question both the colonial system and the Catholic Church’s influence in Polynesia. While he did not necessarily find the more “authentic” Oceanic culture he had sought, Gauguin nevertheless enjoyed a less marginalized social position than he had in Tahiti, and he was able to form closer friendships with Pacific Islanders during his stay in the Marquesas.

Perhaps due to the personal relationships he formed there, he even became embroiled in conflicts with the French colonial administrators due to his advocacy on behalf of the indigenous people. This is not to say that Gauguin’s growing awareness of indigenous rights and colonial exploitation had a significant impact on his art. His own aesthetic concerns, combined with his need to consider the Parisian market, dictated the subject and style of his paintings. Audiences in France expected to see in Gauguin’s paintings the idyllic vision of Polynesia that had been established by Bougainville, Loti, and the 1889 colonial exposition.

The Invocation appears to offer viewers this idyllic vision, yet a closer look reveals a hint of Gauguin’s newly ambivalent attitudes towards French colonialism. The focus of The Invocation’s composition is a nude female figure who stands before a verdant, mountainous landscape—the environs of Atuona—with her arms stretched skywards. She is surrounded by four female figures, two seated and two standing. Three are semi-nude, while the fourth—the only one who looks at the praying figure—is dressed in a style of loose-fitting garment introduced by European missionaries. A cross visible in the upper left of the composition signals the location of a Catholic church and cemetery.

The Invocation is painted in Gauguin’s unique style, featuring a matte surface with a regular pattern of vertical brushstrokes, which almost impressionistically evoke the lushness of the landscape. By contrast, the bodies of the figures in the composition are flatly painted and heavily outlined, in the stylized manner he had developed in Brittany. Motifs and iconography from Gauguin’s Tahitian oeuvre frequently recur in his later, Marquesan works, and The Invocation is a prime example. Most strikingly, the pose of the central praying figure recalls that of the most prominent figure—the centrally placed woman who reaches up to pick a piece of fruit—in the mural-sized painting Gauguin himself considered to be his masterpiece, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, an 1897-98 meditation on the cycle of life

While the precise meaning of Gauguin’s Polynesian paintings is often elusive, many address the topic of spirituality. Spirituality was, in fact, one of the most persistent themes in Gauguin’s oeuvre. Traditional Christian iconography, as well as the depiction of a more esoteric, visionary Christianity, appears in Gauguin’s work around the time of his introduction in the 1880s to the circle of Symbolist artists and writers around the poet Stephané Mallarmé, who himself became one of Gauguin’s staunchest supporters.

In Tahiti, Gauguin’s paintings presented a hybrid vision of Christian and Polynesian spirituality (or at least his own understanding of it). The Invocation, on the other hand, alludes to the clash between Christianity and traditional Polynesian religion, which was characterized by a complex pantheon of spirits, gods, and ancestors. The Christianization that accompanied colonialism became particularly troubling to Gauguin in the Marquesas, where European religion had been introduced more recently. While English missionaries had arrived in Tahiti in 1797, and Christianity had become widely established on the island by 1820, it was not until the 1850s that Catholic missionaries began to make a significant impact in the Marquesas. For the intended European viewer of The Invocation, knowing little about Polynesian culture and religion, the specific nature of the prayer is enigmatic—who or what is being invoked and why? Yet, the praying nude figure offers a clear contrast and perhaps an antidote to the restrictions Christian missionaries imposed on the Marquesans—as represented by the dress and headscarf worn by the woman in the background as well as the cross dominating the distant landscape.

Shortly after completing The Invocation, Gauguin died on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa on May 9, 1903, at the age of fifty-four, and his body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Catholic church seen in the painting’s background. Produced at the end of Gauguin’s life, The Invocation occupies a unique place in the artist’s oeuvre, representing the culmination of his lifelong artistic experimentation, innovation, and total dedication to his art. In analyzing Gauguin’s Polynesian oeuvre, scholars in recent decades have often turned a critical eye towards Gauguin’s complicity with the exploitative colonial system. Yet while The Invocation indeed offered early-twentieth-century French audiences the colonial fantasy of a tropical paradise that they expected and desired, it also offers insight into Gauguin’s increasingly ambivalent and complicated attitude towards colonialism.

 

Jennifer McComas, class of 1949, is the Curator of European and American Art at the

IU Art Museum

TALKIN’ ABOUT ECOSEX—IN ART, THEORY, PRACTICE AND ACTIVISM

Annie and Beth

A conversation with Elizabeth Stephens, Annie Sprinkle and Kara Rooney

[editor’s note: Annie Sprinkle is an artist and a feminist adult film star with a PhD in human sexuality. She and her life partner and collaborator for 13 years, filmmaker Beth Stephens, came to Bloomington as guests of the Kinsey Institute for the fall show, “For Love or Money,” Kinsey. Some of Annie’s photographic artwork was included in the exhibition. Both Annie and Beth were featured guests at the Sex Salon and their film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain–An Ecosexual Love Story, was screened at IU.
“Our film is about the tragedy of mountain top removal mining,” Beth says, “and it is also a love story about the Appalachia Mountains and the people who live in them.” It has screened at international film festivals and major museums; it’s still making the festival rounds and soon it will be released for pay per view by the distributor, Kino Lorber. Sprinkle and Stephens are “so totally thrilled to show the film at IU.”Stephens’ family has worked in mining since the 1600’s beginning in Cornwall, England. Born in Montgomery, West Virginia, she says she was raised to marry into the coal business. Instead she moved to California, became an artist and professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, and married Annie. The two women produced, directed, and star in the film together.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain was three years in the making. This documentary introduces some surprising moments, such as a wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the gals singing the state song to the police. Earth First Journal’s Russ McSpadden writes, “Without compare, this is the sexiest nature documentary and one of the most profound films to deal with the beauty and tragedy of the Appalachian Mountains in the age of King Coal.”

“Our goal,” say the filmmakers, “is to spread the word about serious environmental issues, and also to make the environmental movement a little more sexy, fun and diverse.”]

 

KARA: Lets start with one of your art projects. You two did a series of nineteen weddings as performance art in nine countries. How do you bring a very private or intimate experience such as a wedding ceremony and its associated connotations into the public sphere, and what was it like to share those encounters for the first time with an audience?

BETH: We started doing the weddings as a form of protest, because it pissed us off that we weren’t allowed to get legally married. Not that we wanted to. It just wasn’t fair.

ANNIE: We had both done a ton of work about sex, so we wanted to try being ‘radically traditional’ and explore ‘love’ in a non-Hallmarky way. Our weddings were big love fests, which were quite humorous and irreverent, of course.

BETH: We married the Earth and other nature entities; rocks, soil, the sea, the sky, a lake in Finland…. Our first wedding was at the Harmony Burlesque theater, which was a lap dancing place on Broadway just below Canal street.

ANNIE: We had about 120 people there. We started out small. We sent out invitations and asked for no material gifts but invited people to help co-create the weddings. We had a procession, then about 20 3-minute performances; then the vows, the rings, the kiss, recession, and a ‘reception’ with more performances. When we got to the part where the officiant says, “does anyone object to this marriage,” our friend Barbara Carrellas objected. She hates weddings and marriage. So every wedding there after always had a couple of people perform objections to the marriage. When we did the kiss at the first wedding, we activated a tesla coil.

BETH: We wanted to do our first wedding of the series in Manhattan, even though we were living in California at the time, because that’s where we met, and where we both started our art careers. It’s where a lot of our close friends and former lovers were. Annie did her first one-woman show at the Harmony Burlesque, so the theater had sentimental value. Plus, it was in 2003 and not that long after 9/11.

ANNIE: Our friend, artist Sheila Pepe, described that first wedding as, “Broadway meets Fluxus in a whorehouse.”

KARA: The first wedding took place relatively soon after 9/11. Was that a coincidence, or were these performances meant to act as group healing sessions in some regard?

ANNIE: When the war in Afghanistan broke out, we thought, “hell, we can get along, let’s just make a commitment to work things out if there’s conflict. If we as individuals can’t work things out, how do we expect countries to get along?” We felt the personal was political, and that we were going to set an example somehow. But it was also a call for love; it was about wanting to generate more love in the world. We definitely wanted to bring some love to Manhattan after 9/11.

BETH: There were three different impulses that came together to create the wedding performances. The first one was that Annie and I got hitched up in a domestic partner ceremony so that Annie could get some health insurance.. I had a job as a professor, with benefits, so it was like sharing health insurance. Then the war in Afghanistan broke out. We realized that the wedding ritual was a great platform for transmitting a message, a feeling, a performance, whatever. At our domestic partner ceremony the press was there and we spoke out against the war and we were on the news all over the USA. If you present something as a special ritual, people seem to pay more attention.

KARA: Would it be accurate then to say that these performances acted for each of you as a therapeutic vehicle, or was this curative element a byproduct of their production?

ANNIE: We have done seventeen of the big weddings and only three were about people, the rest were about marrying nature. So for me, I always wanted to feel more connected with nature. I grew up in LA, lived in Manhattan 22 years, then San Francisco… The ecosexual weddings definitely connected me with nature. We have a video that is ten minutes long that shows highlights from some of our weddings. You can watch it on this web page: http://gauleymountain.com at the bottom of the page.

BETH: That’s where we first became really involved in environmentalism. We thought if there were a way to heal the earth that incorporated the kinds of issues we are looking at, and if people are part of the earth (people are nature) – then we would like to heal that binary system that separates people from nature.

ANNIE: If you think about it, people really are made of water, minerals, even stardust! So if people are made of the stuff of the Earth, therefore they are Earth. So when we married the Earth, that shifted everything for us. We followed our muses and ended up exactly where we are supposed to be today: developing ecosex art, theory, practice and activism. We’re trying to make the environmental movement more sexy, fun, and diverse, and make it a place for queers, sex workers and weird performance artists to feel comfortable. Hey, we don’t all fit into the Sierra Club. We hope our film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story entices other people to love the earth more.

Beth: We started shooting our next film, which is about water issues in California. Working title is Water Makes Us Wet. There’s more info at www.theEcosexuals.org.

KARA: This question of who profits or who benefits has been at the heart of the feminist debate, especially around the sex industry, for quite some time. In opening the picture up, you’ve taken that binary way of looking at the system of exploitation versus empowerment, or oppression versus liberation, out of the equation. You’re moving the conversation beyond these poles, presenting something very different in that regard.

ANNIE: To a lot of Americans, sex is about what sex toys you have, what lingerie you wear, what porn you have. Some people think you can’t have great sex unless you have the right strap-on. As ecosexuals we want to send a post consumerist message. We’re even saying “Stop making and watching porn! Let’s bring back the live sex show! Porn watching is using up so much electricity.” To be honest, I still do love lingerie and strap-ons. But that’s not the be-all end-all. There’s a whole world out there!

KARA: Annie, what you were saying before about the sex industry and its commodified entrenchment, in many ways it can be argued that the technological models we utilize mirror our relationship and needs to art, that our contemporary comfort zones are now to a large degree located either behind or in front of the camera instead of face to face. In your opinion, how does the sensibility of this mediated interface effect the consumption of erotica, porn, art, and other spheres of aesthetic or sexual interest?

ANNIE: From a historical perspective, human sexuality changes and goes through phases and has popular and unpopular styles. I believe everyone is at the right place at the right time. With the Internet, we are definitely exploring and discovering really interesting new territory. Who is to judge what’s better or worse, having computers or not? Now I’ll contradict myself. I’d argue that its important to keep making porn, because is it’s kind of an historical record. If you look at porn from the 1800s or the 1920s, sex was different then. Even blow job techniques change. Each person is an erotic universe unto themselves. We all have more to learn, and we all have something to teach. That’s what is so great about sex as subject matter, its endless, and there’s more to discover and create.

KARA: So this mediated interface does not affect the way that you approach your work or the consumption and reception of it? Whether it’s face-to-face or encountered via the television screen or the computer monitor, it’s –

ANNIE: It’s definitely best to experience our work live, in a group, to actually come with us for a weekend ecosex workshop and camp out and participate and interact with nature.

BETH: But ecosex includes technology too. We do love our social networking interfaces.
There is something ecosexy about computers, and ecosexy about cities too.

KARA: Annie, can you speak to how your prior experiences in the sex industry and the way that technology might have been used in those settings is different or is similar to the way that it’s used in the art world now? Perhaps not in your performances per se, but in other performances that you’ve been a part of, or that you’ve been witness to.

ANNIE: I totally loved combination of having sex and at the same time, shooting a film. It’s a great combo. Sex and creativity are so linked, They are one and the same impulse. With sex, and with creativity, or technology, some days are better than others, some days you just don’t go very far. Sometimes you’re a lead balloon going nowhere, and sometimes you fly. In our last theater piece, Earthy; an Ecosex Bootcamp, we use technology, video, lighting, and computers, to give the impression we are out in nature! That’s crazy. After we did that show, we redid it, we got another director and took it outside and made An Ecosexual Walking Tour which we just performed in June and will do in Central Park on September 16th. Much nicer to do a show about nature outside,

KARA: In terms of the way that you’re engaging with nature, especially in regards to your more recent work, there seems to be an invocation of the goddess in the texts that you’re employing and your physical presentation of self —

ANNIE: If anything, we think of the Earth as transgendered, actually multigendered – we’re not so into “lesbian” either. The word and concept of “lesbian” and “goddess” seems old fashioned, sort of quaint and nostalgic.

BETH: We’re definitely going with more of a punk rock edge these days.

ANNIE: The idea of having making love only with people seems really limiting, when you can make love with a tree, a rock, the ocean… So even this idea of “heterosexual” or “lesbian” or even “bisexual” – bisexual? Why only two? It all seems very limiting compared to what we imagine, which is a transgendered ginormous Universe with, gazillions of erotic and sensual possibilities.

BETH: It’s not just transgender, it’s transgenital.

ANNIE: Yeah, its totally beyond genital sex! But it includes genital sex of course. We love genital sex too. All sex is really ecosex!

BETH: I think a lot of strategies and tactics towards different kinds of political liberation have been viewed as having a narrow horizon – the horizons have narrowed for certain things, and I think with ecosexuality we’re really opening up the spaces of hopefulness that something else could move in a different way because we’re politically very clear about what we’re trying to do. We’re really trying to shift this metaphor around the Earth from ‘Earth as mother’ to ‘Earth as lover,’ to get people to engage in a more mutual way of being in and thinking about the world. But we’re not punitive, you know? We’re not “you’re either with us, or against us”. You can still maintain your heterosexuality and be ecosexual, or gayness, or your bisexuality and be ecosexual – it’s not an exclusive sexuality. It’s also not an exclusive viewpoint of the world. We hope our kind of ecosex engenders more passion, empathy and intimacy with nature, but also a wider vision as opposed to a narrow, gathered vision.

KARA: You’re not requiring people to identify with one state of being in the world; you’re actively challenging those codified norms.

BETH: Yeah, it’s really a campaign of attraction; if you want to be part of it then hey,
everybody’s welcome, but if you don’t, that’s fine too, bye bye.

* Kara Rooney is an artist and critic based in New York, where she currently serves as the Managing Art Editor for The Brooklyn Rail.

Lotus Festival 2015: A Global Block-Party

tUnE-yArDs will perform at this year's Lotus Fest.

 – by Paul Sturm & LuAnne Holladay

 

“You don’t know about me but I’ll bet you want to; Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22.”  -Taylor Swift

Over the course of four fast-flying days (September 24-27), the 22nd annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival will fill our downtown streets and B-town hearts with fab musics from across the globe.
For the uninitiated, the annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival is an outrageously enjoyable music festival; one of our nation’s oldest and best-known world music gatherings. Artists from literally all over the world vie each year for a spot on the festival itinerary, so the talent is always impressive and performances are consistently inspiring.
This global shindig commingles a dizzying variety of world cultures presented through a broad range of sounds and musical styles. Lotus has booming party music, thoughtful chamber music, rowdy street bands, intimate solo and duo performers, emerging artists and experienced masters, acoustic groups and totally-wired amplified acts to enliven even the most aloof listener’s inner booty-shaker.

Festival performances are staged within a network of outdoor tents and indoor venues selected for their close-knit proximity. Which means that Lotus also delivers an exuberant, nomadic street scene with sidewalk food vendors, corner buskers, impromptu aesthetic experiences, and the perfect setting for endless social hookups and ‘BF’ hobnobbery.
Music is the main fare, but visual art and participatory activities abound for those who crave multiple ways to celebrate internationalism. Beginning August 28, the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Galleries will once again devote exhibit space to a Lotus-related exhibition of festival textiles (on view Aug.28-Sep.26, free & open to the public). Athena boutique (on Walnut) will host its usual hand-drum jam sessions in front of the shop.
On September 24, launching the 4-day festival is the annual Thursday night “Kick-Off Concert” at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, this year featuring Baltic Crossing and Sierra Maestra: two of the strongest ensembles in the Lotus-22 lineup. Admission is $15 advance, $20 day of show. Closing the festival on Sunday afternoon is the traditional “World Spirit Concert” at the BCT, featuring Maarja Nuut and Şirin Pancaroğlu, both making their Lotus premiere. Admission is the $5 Lotus pin (a cool keepsake!).

The Lotus Arts Village is moving from 6th Street to Kirkwood Avenue on the south side of the square (in front of Fountain Square Mall). The Village’s usual visual art displays and interactive play spaces will be accompanied by an assortment of food trucks providing delectable street munchies on Friday and Saturday. And fans of public revelry will delight in the return of a Lotus parade on Saturday night led by the members of Fanfaraï, giving our human caravan a lively North African flavor.
More free fun can be had at the annual “Lotus in the Park” family friendly fête on Saturday afternoon at Waldron/Hill/Buskirk Park (aka 3rd Street Park). Concerts, workshops and ‘make-it-&-take-it’ craft tents will be joined this year by four craft artists appearing as part of a partnership with Traditional Arts Indiana and its Indiana Bicentennial arts series. The artists – members of TAI’s Rotating Exhibit Network – provide demonstrations of their traditional craft alongside a free-standing 3×7-foot panel that features engaging photos and info describing the folklife practice. Also joining the Lotus Park action on Saturday will be Bloomington’s Ryan Academy of Irish Dance and a Filipino dance group from Indianapolis, both offering demonstrations.
Looking at the Friday-Saturday Artist Showcase nights, the ‘talent-nova’ will blow your mind and elevate your aesthetic ch’i. Ireland’s all-star Brock McGuire Band returns to provide that dash of Celtic music no Lo-fest would be complete without. The renowned Heritage Blues Orchestra will be in town for one night (Friday) in a set that will irrefutably affirm the power of the blues. On the opposite end of the size-spectrum, Korean duo Su:m will absolutely thrill those who love expressive chamber music performed on traditional acoustic instruments.

Lotus has booming party music, thoughtful chamber music, rowdy street bands, intimate solo and duo performers, emerging artists and experienced masters, acoustic groups and totally-wired amplified acts to enliven even the most aloof listener’s inner booty-shaker.

This year’s festival includes two performers who use electronics with spectacular musical results: Maarja Nuut and tUnE-yArDs demonstrate masterful digital looping technique, and tUnE-yArDs also offers a hefty dose of superb old-skool synth work. Where Maarja’s soundscapes are lushly harmonious, tUnE-yArDs’ loop-jams are lively and invigorating. If you seek unforgettably wonderful musical memories, these two acts are on the must-see list.
Lovers of rich polyphonic choral music will want to see Zedashe from the Republic of Georgia. Their close harmonies and pronounced vocal techniques are the stuff of sonic beauty. The emotional power of great singing also will resonate in many solo and ‘feature’ vocal performers: Bhi Bhiman, Ester Rada, Jessica Fichot, Karolina Cicha & Bart Pałyga, Lula Pena, Martha Redbone, and Nano Stern.
All in all, this year’s Lotus Festival includes 24 different musical acts, with only 6 returning bands; so it’s a perfect year to purchase a 2-night Festival Pass…there’s just that much brand new and superb musical talent to be heard and seen. And only a third of the performers are booked for single sets, which increases your odds of catching every artist by juggling performance venues and artist rosters across two nights of stone-cold sonic bliss.
Lotus Festival tickets for all admission-based events can be purchased in person at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Box Office, by phone at 812-323-3020, or online at bctboxoffice.com.

Complete artist profiles follow:

Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa (Morocco, Senegal, France)
Moroccan Aziz Sahmaoui’s musical passions are rock, fusion, and Gnawa, the trance music of Northern Africa. His voice, swinging between the inflexions of bluesman, muezzin, and crooner, pulls the audience into his poetic universe where jubilation is the order of the day. With his talented squad of musicians – his ‘University of Gnawa’ – Aziz will funk your junk with hot tunes, rousing choruses, and an unstoppable beat to drive your feet. Pulsing Gnawan rhythms act as groundwork for inspiring musical improvisation by the high-flying instrumentalists of the University. As Aziz says: “The groove, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.” Ain’t that the truth!
Lotus premiere

Baltic Crossing (England, Finland, Denmark)
The soaring, joyous music of Baltic Crossing comes from the folk scenes of England and Scandinavia. This young quintet’s musical prowess and love of old dance traditions make for brilliant sets of jigs, polskas, waltzes, schottisches, and other tunes. Ian Stephenson (guitar) and Andy May (Northumbrian bagpipes & piano) hail from England; the Scandinavian side is represented by Danish musician Kristian Bugge (violin), and Esko Järvelä (violin) and Antti Järvelä (mandolin & double bass) from Finland. Baltic Crossing’s repertoire is mostly instrumental, often playful, and always tuneful. Fans of Frigg will recognize brothers Esko & Antti, and will find a lot to love in Baltic Crossing.
Lotus premiere

Bhi Bhiman (USA)
American singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman is known for his fine guitar playing, his clever and edgy lyrics, and a remarkable voice that has earned comparisons to such artists as Nina Simone and Bill Withers. His most recent album, Rhythm & Reason, explores the immigrant experience and the politics of race. The American-born son of Sri Lankan parents, he says that “My sense of place was, is, not limited to my county or my state or my country. It’s…an international feeling of community.” His stylish covers of classic songs make excellent companions to his original material, and Bhi is equally comfortable performing at Bonnaroo, Carnegie Hall, or on a Lotus stage.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Brock McGuire Band (Ireland)
Last seen at Lotus in 2011, the Brock McGuire Band returns to town performing Irish music with passion and precision. Founding members Paul Brock (button accordion & melodeon) and Manus McGuire (fiddle) now live in County Clare, and both are award-winning masters of Irish traditional music. The band also includes Dublin-based Garry O’Meara on banjo, mandolin, & vocals, and Limerick-based composer and arranger Denis Carey on piano. Their repertoire emphasizes Irish music; but don’t be surprised if they toss in a few arrangements of American old-time, bluegrass, French-Canadian, and other Celtic tunes. Discover why the Irish American News calls them the Instrumental Band of the Decade.

Delhi 2 Dublin (Canada)
A Delhi 2 Dublin set is possibly the only place you’ll see a fiddle player rocking out with a kilt-wearing Korean, flanked by two Bhangra percussionists and a vocalist who looks like he would be at home in a Bollywood music video. The group began in 2006 as a one-off performance in a Vancouver club, and they’ve been at it ever since, throwing Bhangra, Celtic, dub, reggae, and electronica into a musical blender. Match that multiculti fearlessness with electrifying live performances and you have a perfect Lo-fab dance storm. They brought the funk, the sweat, and a hard-rocking tent scene at their solitary Lotus show back in 2012; this year, make D2D your last-call party stop on Friday and Saturday to find out why one reviewer called them “the United Nations of rock and roll.”

Ester Rada (Israel, Ethiopia)
Ester Rada was born in Israel to Ethiopian parents, and her cross-cultural sound builds on that dual heritage. Her band’s instrumentation and arrangements reflect Israeli music, the influence of Ethiopian jazz, strong rhythmic drive, and a multicultural sensibility. Listen to her powerful, confident vocals and solid grooves, and it’s also easy to trace Ester’s influences to divas of classic and contemporary soul and R&B: Aretha Franklin, Pattie LaBelle, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott. Members of the band come from Yemen, Poland, Morocco, Iraq, and Israel. Ester’s musical melting pot serves up a delicious stew of sonic delights.
Lotus premiere

Fanfaraï (France, Algeria, Morocco)
Fanfaraï fuses a cultural mix of 14 musicians for a colorful explosion of North African music. The Paris-based group grew in 2005 out of a smaller Algerian street band, adding musicians from France, Morocco, and India who share a passion for what they call “the traditions of festive wanderings.” Brassy horns and booming percussion blend with Arab, Berber, Afro-Cuban, and Latin influences to create big, bold street music. Fanfaraï draws on popular brass-band repertoire, salsa, jazz, and funk, as well as the heritage of Idbalen and Zernadjia – itinerant street musicians who have animated Algerian rituals and feasts since the turn of the 20th century. Fanfaraï’s music embodies an energetic, cheerful diversity – as lively and varied as the musicians themselves.
Lotus premiere

Heritage Blues Orchestra (USA)
The grit of low-down country and urban blues mixed with the bold brass of New Orleans; the hand-clapping fervor of gospel punctuated with fiery postmodern, jazz-infused horn arrangements; the haunting cries of work songs and pulsating drums that reach back to musical roots centuries old. You’ll journey across the Middle Passage, be driven down Highway 49 from Clarksdale to New Orleans, go from chain gangs and juke joints to orchestra pits, church pews, and even back porches. The celebrated Heritage Blues Orchestra’s music is a testament to the enduring power, possibilities, and boundless beauty of African-American music. “Heritage Blues Orchestra may be a blues version of what Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center cohorts regularly do—namely, apply historical research and practical experience to different traditional styles, and finally (and not easily) to create something that is at once new and timeless” (Wall Street Journal).
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Jaron Freeman-Fox & the Opposite of Everything (Canada)
Canadian violinist and composer Jaron Freeman-Fox straddles the shifting border between tradition and innovation. The name of his band – the Opposite of Everything – hints at what he likes to call the general lunacy and creative drive of his music. His musical roots are in Celtic and bluegrass fiddling, but Jaron’s further study of Indian classical music and jazz has helped to push his music further into genre-defying realms. He’s even collaborated with a troupe of Rajasthani nomads. You could call this restless energy and boisterous enthusiasm “The New Ruckus” (the title of a track on Jaron’s first CD), or you could just take it from the Ottawa International Jazz Festival folks, who dubbed Jaron “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.”
Lotus premiere

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Canada, USA)
Focusing on songs collected by legendary folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, this ‘collaboratory’ led by Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone brings together some of North America’s most distinctive and creative roots musicians to revive, recycle, and re-imagine traditional music. The song list includes Bahamian sea chanties, African-American a cappella singing from the Georgia Sea Islands, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes, and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: sea captains, cowhands, fishermen, prisoners, and homemakers. This was and is music of the people. Lomax Project album collaborators are many; those likely to be on hand for Lotus include Jayme on banjo, Grammy Award winner Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Margaret Glaspy on guitar, and Moira Smiley on accordion. The Lomax Project is this year’s Lotus Dickey Artist, honoring that late, great Indiana old-time musician and song writer.
Lotus premiere

Jessica Fichot (USA)
Los Angeles-based chanteuse, songwriter, and accordionist Jessica Fichot is a lot like her hometown of Paris: French at heart, but with a soul that’s truly international. Drawing from a French, Chinese, and American upbringing, her music fuses styles and languages, taking the listener on a journey out of the French chanson tradition and into the realms of gypsy jazz, 1940s Chinese swing, international folk, and her own imagination. Jessica visited Lotusland for the first time back in 2010; she returns to Bloomington with a new album sung in Mandarin: Dear Shanghai. Armed with accordion, toy piano, and multilingual vocals, Fichot has toured the world with her quartet of like-minded multi-culturalists. Préparer pour la béatitude musicale, dear Francophiles.

Kardemimmit (Finland)
The four young women of Kardemimmit sing and play the Finnish national instrument – the kantele. If you’re new to the kantele, think zither or dulcimer: the quartet has mastered both the 15-stringed and 38-stringed varieties. The distinctive sound of this plucked acoustic instrument and their delicate, tight vocal harmonies in a style of singing known as reki make Kardemimmit a standout contemporary Nordic ensemble. Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius and Leeni Wegelius perform traditional Finnish songs as well as their own modern, original folk music – adding to a long and dynamic musical tradition. This quartet racked up an enthusiast following of B-town fans when they played Lotus two years ago; their live performances are simply divine.

Karolina Cicha & Bart Pałyga (Poland)
Karolina Cicha’s impassioned, compelling interpretations of the old songs of the Kresy (the Polish Eastern Borderlands) mix folk tradition, rock and pop, and performance art. Karolina sings in the languages of the Kresy: Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian, Tatar, Romani, Yiddish, and even Esperanto — and while her primary instrument is the accordion, she is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. A student of Poland’s diverse cultural traditions, Karolina honed her art at the renowned Gardzienice Academy for Theatre Practices. With cellist and vocalist Bart Pałyga, Karolina brings a new boldness and energy to old songs of Poland’s multi-ethnic cultural landscape.
Lotus premiere

Lotus Dickey Song Workshop (USA)
Bloomington folk music maestro, Grey Larsen, will once again recruit a cadre of his pals to lead a workshop on the songs of Hoosier singer/songwriter Lotus Dickey (1911-1989). Lotus was a Hoosier treasure; his curious, humble, gentle spirit inspired everyone who knew him. The workshop is an occasion to celebrate Lotus Dickey’s contributions to the art and life of Indiana and to enjoy the power of voices united in song.
ONE SHOW ONLY

Lula Pena (Portugal)
Fado, the signature musical tradition of Portugal, is embodied in the voice and music of Lula Pena. Elements of Portuguese folk music, French chanson, Cape Verdean morna, and Brazilian bossa nova color Lula’s music, but its heart is in fado. Her deep, sensitive voice and spare guitar work communicate the feeling of powerful longing, or saudade, essential to the genre. Thoughtful, emotional, poetic, stark, mesmerizing: all apply to her unforgettable performances. Lula has rarely toured outside Portugal, and Lotus is proud to present her at this year’s festival.
Lotus premiere

Maarja Nuut (Estonia)
Lyrical, trippy, trancelike, transcendent: fiddler Maarja Nuut creates remarkable soundscapes from the traditional dance tunes, songs, and stories of her native Virumaa in Northern Estonia. Using electronics, she often builds from a single violin motif, deftly looping it and adding harmonic layers with voices and violin improvisations. An Estonian loopmaster in the Andrew Bird/Robert Fripp mode, Maarja spins inventive and beautiful sounds from simple musical origins. Her performances are unforgettable: deeply folkloric, yet thoroughly modern. Her premiere at Lotus is not to be missed.
Lotus premiere

Martha Redbone Roots Project (USA)
Martha Redbone is an Independent Music Award-winning musician of Cherokee, Choctaw, Shawnee, and African-American descent. Martha explores traditional and modern variations of folk, roots, blues, tribal, and soul music. She launched the Martha Redbone Roots Project in 2012 with release of The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake, a collection of 18th-century poems set to the music of Appalachia. Her latest project, Bone Hill, is an interdisciplinary theater work that brings to light the post-slavery history of people of color working the coal mines of Appalachia amid Jim Crow laws. The music is radically wide-ranging – from traditional Cherokee chants and lullabies to bluegrass, blues, gospel, jazz, rock and roll, R&B, and funk – all powered by her magnificent voice. In the words of collaborator Roberta Uno, “Martha’s music is ancestral, soul-shaking, and elevating.”
Lotus premiere

Nano Stern (Chile)
Chilean singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and musical activist Nano Stern serenades audiences with nothing but a guitar and his voice, bringing listeners to the edge of their seat – and to their feet – to move, laugh, weep, and revel in heartfelt songs of Chile. The grandson of Jewish refugees, Stern has created a sound that incorporates the mid-century folk reverberations of his homeland with rock attitude, classical craft, and jazz techniques. He explores the complexities of the personal and political, and finds new ways to play with Chile’s long-repressed roots music. It’s a mix that also captures the indigenous, African, and European elements that define Latin music. “It’s an enormous gift we received from the people of the past, from the tradition itself,” he says. “Yet…I think it should be open to all kinds of promiscuity, to every sound getting together with everything else. That’s when things get truly beautiful.”
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Sierra Maestra (Cuba)
Featuring many stars of Cuban music since the group’s formation in the late 1970s, Sierra Maestra was the first of the modern-era Cuban bands to play in the old-style son line-up: tres (3-string Cuban guitar), guitar, trumpet, percussion (bongo & güiro), and vocals. The arrangement reflects the song style’s golden age of the 1920s and ‘30s. Five of the original nine members remain in the band, which has pioneered the son revival for new generations. The band’s name is a tribute to the mountain range in eastern Cuba that is considered the birthplace of son. With our Cuban détente, and Carnival Cruise Lines announcing trips to Cuba, it’s a perfect year to bring la cultura cubana back to Bloomington via Sierra Maestra: the heartbeat of Cuban soul. Fun Lotus fact: Sierra Maestra was last in town for Lotus 1997, gracing the ‘stage’ of the old Indiana Theater before it was transformed into the Buskirk-Chumley. They’re in for a treat…and so are we.
ONE SHOW ONLY

Şirin Pancaroğlu (Turkey)
Her work in unearthing the historical Turco-Ottoman harp called the çeng has earned Şirin Pancaroğlu a unique place in Turkish music and folklore. While she is trained in classical music (with a Master’s degree from the IU Jacobs School of Music), her eclectic influences include Turkish traditional music, improvisation, electronic music, and tango. Şirin’s efforts to re-introduce the harp to wider audiences in her native Turkey led her to active concertizing and to founding the Association for the Art of the Harp. Once a symbol of mysticism among Turkish poets and writers, the çeng has reemerged in contemporary Turkish folk music, thanks largely to Şirin and her music-making.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

숨[suːm] (South Korea)
숨[suːm] was formed in 2007 by a pair of Korean musicians trained in traditional instruments. They had an ambitious goal: to start a new era of Korean folk music grounded in the experience of modern life. The band’s name (pronounced “soom”) means “breath.” They compose and perform original work on traditional instruments: Jiha Park plays the piri (bamboo oboe), saenghwang (24-pipe mouth organ), and yanggeum (dulcimer), while Jungmin Seo performs on both the 25-string and steel-string gayageum (zither). This is a rare opportunity to hear exceptional music of an instrumental discipline and tradition rife with gorgeous sounds.
Lotus premiere

Trio Brasileiro (Brazil)
This young trio’s stunning virtuosity is matched with a deep devotion to the language of music – specifically choro, a traditional Brazilian genre marked by intricate, lively rhythms, gorgeous melodies, and improvisation. Trio Brasileiro includes Dudu Maia, one of Brazil’s finest players of the bandolim (a kind of mandolin); the celebrated Douglas Lora on violão 7 cordes (7-string guitar); and the amazing percussionist, Alexandre Lora (brother of Douglas) who plays the pandeiro (a kind of tambourine). Trio Brasileiro is dedicated to performing the great traditional choro music of Brazil as well as their own compositions, which are modern reflections of that great traditional musical form. Their sets at Lotus 2012 were popular and packed; if you missed them then, catch them now.
ONE SHOW ONLY

tUnE-yArDs (USA)
tUnE-yArDs is fresh, avant-garde, experimental, groovy, poppy, funky — pick a word to describe Merrill Garbus’s band and a reviewer somewhere in the world has already used it. In addition to writing the music, Merrill (on lead vocals, percussion, ukulele, and a wide assortment of samplers & electronics) and her collaborator (and Bloomington native), Nate Brenner on bass & synthesizers, are joined by an ever-changing array of bandmates to create a post-modern sonic stew; “a lovably scrappy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic that is distinctly their own” (SPIN). Named the top looping artist by BaebleMusic, tUnE-yArDs has a unique sound driven by a relentless hippy-shake groove that comes from Merrill’s love of percussive hooks, pop chords, and singsong melodies. One of the greatest bands I know, tUnE-yArDs is a must-see act.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Zedashe (Republic of Georgia)
Zedashe’s repertoire is grounded in ancient polyphonic chants from Orthodox Christian liturgy as well as folk songs and dances from the Kiziqian and Svanetia regions of the Republic of Georgia. Field songs, love songs, historical ballads, war dances, ritual circle dances: these traditional pieces have been passed down through generations of musicians and song masters. The close vocal harmonies are often accompanied by the shunner (Svan lute), pander (Kiziq lute), chonguri (Gurian lute), doll (drum), chibonie (goat-skin bagpipes), and accordion. In the music and song of Zedashe, rich folk traditions that trace back to Pagan and early Christian periods come to life and revitalize the soul.
Lotus premiere

 

 

Cannes: High Hopes & High Heels

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● by Filiz Çiçek

The train comes to a halt, the guards anxiously running back and forth. It is 7:30 in the morning. A man has thrown himself in front of the train outside of Marseille. “It is probably Mafia related,” says the man sitting next to me. At noon I ask if I can get off for a few minutes to get a cup of tea. “No Madame,” the guard says sternly. “If you step off of this train, we must stop everything and come searching for you.” I feel as if I am in a James Bond film. Until the Ministre de la Justice arrives to determine the cause of death, the train will not move and no one is allowed to get off. “Maybe it was about unrequited love,” the young woman from Strasbourg says. “After all, this is France.” We arrive in Cannes six hours late. I run straight to the Palais des Festivals to catch the opening press conference of the 65th Cannes Film Festival.

In many ways this year’s films show ordinary people crossing boundaries of good and evil, blurring the lines between black and white, dwelling instead in postmodern tints and shades of grey. Something you don’t see in today’s Hollywood or in American discourse, where everything is distilled in to two binaries — Republican versus Democrat, good versus evil, black versus white, pro-choice versus pro-life and so on.  The American impulse seems to want to simplify life. But life tends to be so much more complicated and that is reflected on the screen at Cannes.

The festival begins amidst criticism. “Don’t allow young women to think that they might one day have the gall to direct films and to go up the steps of the Palais except on the arms of a prince charming,” Fanny Cottençon/Virginie Despentes/Coline Serreau wrote in Le Monde. Several days into the festival, a group of French feminists in beards take to the steps in protest. And it is brought up at the opening press conference: jurist Andrea Arnold of Britain and jury president Nanni Moretti of Italy agree that since they make up half the world’s population, women should have a greater voice. But the general consensus of the jury is that Cannes is committed to quality artwork regardless of sex, gender, race, etc.

But that is the age-old conundrum: who decides what is good and what is quality? Historically, mostly male juries and critics who do not identify with “feminine” topics have been dismissive of women’s work. How genuine is it to say that race is not a factor when it is obvious that the festival tries to give voice to the underrepresented by favoring films from those communities and countries with directors who have been oppressed? If they are socially sensitive to race and ethnicities, then why not gender?

Being tall and beautiful can be painful, as I found out, if one is trying, or encouraged, or downright required to achieve through high heels. The festival is as much about a grand spectacle on high heels, as it about art and money. They seem to be essential components of the Cannes’ glamour. The red carpet is the pulse of the Festival, where glamour, magic and money all march together. Andrea puts it bluntly, “Red carpet is big business.” He is one of my flatmates who teaches at l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. He seems to know everyone at the Palais Des Festivals, and every restaurant in Cannes. He is here to do networking like many others at the Festival who are there to buy and sell films. A producer from New York gives the following three pieces of advice: “Don’t go to the parties you are not invited to. No means no. And wear good shoes, high heels if you are a female. The guards look at your shoes here — no heels, no red carpet.”

I decided to put her advice to the test. I attempt a red carpet premiere with my eco-warrior shoes made of recycled tires and other recycled materials. A female guard in a male tuxedo looks me up and down, stares at my shoes and says, “Very sorry, Madame. No more room.” So when I get an invitation to sit by South Korean director Im Sang-soo during the premiere of his film The Taste of Money, I compromise. I want to wear a Trashion dress to promote sustainable living. So I purchase half size bigger stilettoes that everyone seems to be wearing on the red carpet. Their heels are five inches tall, mine are four inches. Terrified of falling, as one French actress would later, it takes me a few minutes to find my balance. My small toes are already blistered, I take them off as soon as I make it to my seat in the theater. I conclude that it is the sedentary people who come up with such ideas.

The nomads, I think, got this one right. They hardly have any distinction between male and female attire. They have pastures to cross, goats to milk, weather to mind, they don’t have time for hyper-sexualized fashion. What use do they have for stilettoes? After everyone leaves the theater, I find one of the hosts and plead: “Please, Monsieur, don’t make me walk four blocks down through the barricades in these high heels, only to walk back to this same theater, for the next screening. My feet are hurting.”

“I am sorry madame but you must follow the rules.”

When I begin walking barefoot on the red carpet, he quickly finds me a short cut. As I approach the confused guard at the end of the gate, who is staring at my bare feet, I smile: “I want your shoes; let’s exchange.” He lets me pass.

Everything is carefully choreographed, to be consumed properly with precise etiquette, style and certain standard of quality. Fans stand on ladders in a designated area for a better view. Some have come all the way from Italy, Germany and Scandinavia just to glimpse the glamour. The journalists, photographers, the guards, the limousines, and the stars all have their designated sections and assigned roles. If you are a female, you need to be mindful of your smile, your lips and hips and legs and bosom — your body is simultaneously celebrated and commodified. Your role is to project magic and glamour. And to be projected upon, to be an outlet for desire, inspiration and hope.

Marilyn Monroe seems to be everywhere at Cannes. She can be seen from a distance on the side of a six-story building. She is part of the collective French imagination. She is “movie star” personified. I ask Andrea about his take on it. Why Marilyn? Why don’t the French identify with a French actress instead?

“They live on and get old,” he answers. “They don’t die young like she did.”  Nothing like a pretty, dead, young blond woman. In fact there are two female images in public spaces that one frequently encounters: Marilyn Monroe and Mother Mary. I ask a Frenchman at a restaurant about it. “She is so beautiful, a Goddess and died so young, you know.” Such sadness in his voice, it sounds like Marilyn died for Cinema. As if she were a martyr. Ste. Marilyn. She is Cinema herself, at least in Cannes.

Miriam, a French staff person from California at the American Pavilion further explains, “This year in particular the theme is Old Hollywood, because the hostess is Bérénice Bejo, the actress from The Artist.” Indeed Old Hollywood dominates the hallways; there is not a single photo of a European actor or actress to be seen.

Americans also dominate the competition portion of the festival. Wes Anderson and his cast open the festival with Moonrise Kingdom. Followed by John Hillcoat’s Lawless, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, and Lee Daniels’ The Paper Boy. Daniels and his cast yield one of the more interesting and intense press conferences. Asked about possible parallels between Matthew McConaughey’s gay character in the film and his own sexuality, Daniels grows sincere and passionate: “I know every character in this film,” Daniels says. “John Cusack’s character was based on my brother who went to jail. Nicole Kidman is my sister. We all have roles to play; we present to you one persona here at Cannes, and at home we have different ones.”

This sentiment is echoed by Fatih Akin who speaks briefly before his environmental documentary Polluting Paradise: “There are many worlds coming together here today. Each one of us is a different world you know, from different countries. Cannes, too, is a world in itself. We are here to see and hear one another.”

“This is my most personal film yet,” Akin adds. “I know directors say that after each film but this truly is.” He brought his father and the most of the Çamburnu village activists from the Black Sea coast of Turkey with him. In the end, his sentiments come across through the film and audience gives them a standing ovation. Some of the villagers are tearing up.

Akin then hosts the biggest party in Cannes. There are Turks, Kurds and Germans, British, Austrians, Greeks, Indians. Ewan McGregor and Joshua Jackson are joining in. Akin, who selects his soundtracks before writing his scripts, is deejaying. At 3:00 a.m. the French guards are still trying to get party-goers down from the tabletops where they are singing and dancing. Every aspect of the festival is so carefully planned and choreographed by the French that people seem to jump at a chance to chill out, relax and be themselves rather than perform Cannes 24/7.

The Americans play bingo and karaoke, interrupted with occasional film screenings and small parties. Only the Indian pavilion seems to be as joyful and lively. They offer free food, snacks and drinks, PR materials, interview set-ups. At the international village, only the Americans charge to get into their pavilion as well as for food and drinks.  This results is Americans going to the other pavilions, in particular the Turkish pavillion for their baklava and raki.

Turkish Kurds from Germany, some armed with films and some with anti-Turkish government sentiments also occupy the Turkish pavilion. I have long conversations with them about history, life and art. A couple of them suggest that I read certain political books written by political terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on which side you are on. I say that long ago I decided to make art rather than politics.

I have a surprising ally in Rezan Altinbas, a Kurdish director from Turkey. I have always been weary of making art a slave to a social agenda; there is a fine line between art and propaganda. Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Douglas Sirk, R.W. Fassbinder and Yilmaz Güney get away with it because they weave their socialism into a film format, not the other way around. Rezan agrees. His film Sessiz-Be Deng/Silent, is based on his childhood recollections of visiting his father in jail. His female character visits her husband in prison in Diyarbakir in 1984, a few years after the military coup d’état. On the back wall it is written: “Speak Turkish. Speak it a lot.” The couple struggles to communicate. They remain in anguish and in silence. As their hands clasp, our hearts clasp with them. Her tear drops down from her face, to his hands, and into our hearts. It is the human heart that is in the forefront, not guns and violence. Or slogans. Whether you are an Aboriginal in Australia, a Native American, an Uyghur in China or a Kurd in Turkey, what better way to say that speaking one’s mother tongue is a birthright?

Rezan goes on the win the Palm d’Or in the short film category. In his acceptance speech Rezan dedicates his award “to all the lonely and beautiful women of my country,” echoing Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s acceptance speech in 2008 when he received the Best Director award for Three Monkeys. Ceylan dedicated his award to his “lonely and beautiful country” which he “loves most passionately.” Most of Turkey interpreted those words as a comment on Orhan Pamuk’s political statement about the 1915 events involving the Ottoman Armenians. Most Turks believe that in 2006 Pamuk betrayed Turkey, his native country, in order to win the Nobel Prize for literature..

Art, party and politics all seem to run very high at the Turkish Pavilion. It is one of the busiest hubs at Cannes next to the Indians, who are trying to make a big impact this year at Cannes with Gangs of Wasseypur. It is a five-hour epic about a family feud in a place “that is not visible on Google maps,” according to its director Anurag Kashyap. “I am confident that my film has broken all cinematic conventions in India,” he tells me on the eve of the screening. “In Cannes I am a little nervous, but we will know soon enough how the world reacts!”

Ceylan may not be popular with Silent’s Kurdish actress from Turkey,but he seems to be the golden child here at Cannes. He won numerous awards over the years at Cannes. Back at the Turkish pavilion there is a party in his honor. As Turks and Kurds sing collectively in celebration, he stands back and looks in, quietly. He seems to be there and not there, like the character in his film Distant.

Ceylan is the subject of the Coen Brothers short film titled World Cinema. When an American cowboy, played by Josh Brolin, goes to a movie theater and sees Ceylan’s Climates on the marquee he asks, “What is that one about?”

“It is about lovers and estrangements and former lovers. Flawed people. Difficulty of love and so forth,” replies the box office attendant.

“People talk back in forth in Turkish?”

“Turkic.”

“Turkic? But you got them-those words up there to help follow the story along?”

“It is subtitled, yes.”

“Hmm…. Is there any nudity?”

“Partial”.

“Is there livestock in any of them?”

“Maybe a rabbit in La Regle Du Jeu…”

The Cowboy ends up liking Climates quite a bit. “There is whole a lot of truth in it in my opinion,” he comments to the attendant; the point being that Americans need more art-house Cinemas and that Ceylan now symbolizes the master director. And he is awarded the Directors’ Choice Award “for excellence, courage and taking artistic risks.”

Emir Kustarica and Elia Suleiman play themselves in 7 Days in Havana. Prior to the film’s screening, Kustarica joins the “people on the left side of the world,” as he puts it, including Benicio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Gasper Noe, Juan Carlos Tabio, Elia Suleiman and Laurent Cantent. Their works speak for them, and they actually speak about their work. Kustarica’s is self-revealing and self-deprecating as he is drunk in Havana where he is to receive an award, constantly arguing on the phone with his wife halfway around the world in Serbia.

Elia Suleiman does not speak; rather, Fidel Castro does most of the talking. At the Yemeni Embassy, Suleiman is told that El Presidente will receive him after his speech. After a few hours of waiting, he decides to go to the zoo. When he returns toward the evening, Castro is still speaking on TV. As the day comes to an end, Castro looks up to the sky and says half jokingly: “There is still some daylight left; let us continue comrades.” Elia Suleiman’s face remains motionless, yet potent. He is Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin and Jimmy Stewart combined. He emanates kindness and human warmth. It is official. I am in love with Elia Suleiman!

At a master class the next day we learn how Philip Kaufman, director of The Right Stuff, transitioned from from a math teacher to a filmmaker in France with a hand held camera. His cinematic roots are all too European. A clip from his Unbearable Lightness of Being is presented as one of the most erotic scenes in cinema; Juliet Binoche’s character is forced to take erotic photos of a woman, whom she realizes right then is her husband’s lover. Kaufman responds with an anecdote; “Stanley Kubrick called me about that scene. I was quite excited: maybe he was going to share a great insight with me. Instead he asked where did I get that Pixar camera (Binoche is using in the scene)!”

On my last night at Cannes after the awards ceremony, Arthur, an aspiring film director from Paris, offers me an invitation to a private party where the jury and the winners will be in attendance. By then I am intellectually and artistically over-stimulated and physically exhausted. My head wants to find a pillow. But then again, I might actually see organic exchanges in a more intimate setting for a change, so I say yes to being his date.

Joshua Jackson and jurist Dina Kruger are first to arrive followed by Ewan McGregor. I notice a middle-aged woman staring at me. She looks familiar. As I approach her to say hi, I realize it is my camera that has been the focus of her attention. “No photos please.”

“Ok. No worries.”

She is Leila Hatami, one of the stars of The Separation from Iran who was there to present the Grand Prize. I did not recognize her without her head attire and I gather that she didn’t want me to photograph her without it. The official fashion law of Iran also applies when she is in Cannes.

As the night comes to an end, my heart is dancing with Fatih Akin punked Against the Wall, and my head is falling into a Pillow Book with Ewan McGregor. Time to write my own. I put my camera to rest. Arthur’s voice is following me to the sandy beach; “You are my perfect woman. I want to make life with you!” He’s known me only for one short week. I dip my feet into the Mediterranean, breathe in its midnight air. The End.

The Ryder ● 2012

Brewed Awakening

Coffee

It’s time we opened our eyes to economic and social dimensions of coffee ● by Catherine M. Tucker

Do you drink coffee? If so, you are among the 80% or more of adult Americans who drink coffee at least occasionally.  Coffee is an ubiquitous part of daily life in the USA, yet few of us have time to think about how coffee is produced, its social and environmental ramifications, or the experiences of growers who depend on coffee as their main source of income.  This is true even though opportunities for awareness are greater today than ever before.  If we look closely at coffee in the grocery store, we are likely to see packages declaring “organic,” “shadegrown,”  “Fair Trade,” or “bird friendly” on the labels.  Each of these labels represents a claim to quality that encompasses environmental, economic and Read more

South Pacific

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 1.19.21 PM

IU Opera and the Long History of the Middle Ground Between Opera and Musical Theater ● by Chris Lynch

If you’ve been monitoring the national opera scene, you may have noticed a few curious happenings: this season opera-diva Renée Fleming costarred with Broadway leading-lady Kelli O’Hara in a new production of The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lyric Opera of Chicago is currently preparing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel for a production this spring, and next year San Francisco Opera will put on Sweeney Todd. What’s with the opera world’s sudden interest in musicals? As it turns out, it’s only new for these big opera companies, which have historically produced traditional operatic repertoire in a conservative manner. There have always been other institutions and artists that didn’t care about the differences between opera and musical theater or that worked to resolve the discrepancies. IU Opera Theater is one such institution, and their upcoming production of Read more

Charlie Hebdo: Choosing Sides

Memorial

● by Ethan Sandweiss

On January 7th at 11:30, I was finishing my language class at Lyon’s Alliance Francaise.  Less than three hundred miles away, the employees of one of France’s premier satirical magazines were being slaughtered.

Despite the rise of terrorism all over the world, France has, up until the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, remained remarkably untouched. I’m working in Lyon as an au pair, but when I first heard about the attack (through my American family), it seemed far off and small, as if in another country. Being a foreigner here, it’s sometimes hard for me to gauge Read more

Film: 12 Criterion Releases That Made My 2014

Like Someone...

● by Craig J. Clark

As any self-respecting cinephile can tell you, the Criterion Collection is an invaluable and expertly curated resource for anybody looking to be a well-rounded movie-lover. Releasing dozens of films a year (at the rate of 6-8 a month with the occasional boxed set thrown in for good measure), there’s never a shortage of goodness to be had on Criterion’s slate. (This also includes their periodic Blu-ray upgrades, which often come with new supplements that weren’t included on the original releases.)

Before we get too far into 2015 (which is yielding its own crop of must-buys, including Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le silence de la mer), I’d like to highlight a dozen of their best titles from 2014 – one for each month. Read more

An Energetic And Raw Romeo & Juliet

Romeo & Juliet

● by Chris Lynch

Students in Indiana University’s theater department will premiere a new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by professor Nancy Lipschultz, on February 27. According to the director, “Our approach is totally traditional this time. I’m not really known for that. I’m known for mixing it up and doing things like Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Jay Z, but this time we’re going late Renaissance. The stage is sort of a replica of [Shakespeare’s] Globe stage, the costuming traditional, and there will be traditional music—lute, drums, mandolin, and some singing of lullabies and Elizabethan drinking songs at the beginning.” Lipshcultz felt that “it might be nice to have the students do a full-on late-Renaissance Romeo and Juliet without, you know, adding the Dixie Chicks.” Read more

Chadors And Shadows

From "A Girl Walks..."

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the Iranian Vampire Western ● by Tom Prasch

Alone in her room, dancing by herself in a windowless, barely furnished space, walls papered with vintage-feeling (80s-ish) pop posters , with her pixie-cut hair and striped shirt, the girl seems to be channeling Jean Seberg ala Godard, back when the nouvelle vague was still new. But when she dons the black chador to go out into the streets, prowling the menacingly empty desolate night spaces of her oil-industrial city, she becomes something else: a dark-clad vampire who mirrors the movements of her prey before her incisors snap forward like a switchblade and she goes in for her kill. Read more

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