Archive for January, 2009

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Ethics is the Esthetics of the Few-ture

Laurie Anderson Tape Bow Violin

The tape bow violin was created by Laurie Anderson and Bob Bielecki. The horse hair of the violin bow is replaced with recording tape, and the bridge of the violin is replaced with a tape head. Early experiments included working with palindromes. My favorite piece is called ‘Ethics is the Esthetics of the Few-ture.’ The tape bow violin is similar to the loop in that its range of sound is limited to a short sample. The difference is it never loops, it moves backward and foward at varying speeds.

MP3 Two Songs for Tape Bow Violin

It took me a while to track down the phrase. And as you begin to roll it around in your mind, it reveals surprising depth and a few sharp corners. Its origin is either with Lenin, Gorky or Godard, but most certainly in Godard’s film Le Petit Soldat.

For Godard, yes, his life is film; “everything is cinema,” he says. Godard asserts that “it may be true that one has to choose between ethics and aesthetics, but it is no less true that whichever one chooses, one will always find the other at the end of the road. For the very definition of the human condition should be in the mise-en-scene itself.” Lenin (actually Gorky, according to Godard) is approvingly quoted by the protagonist of Godard’s second feature film, Le petit soldat (1960), as saying: “Ethics are the aesthetics of the future.” This character, photographer and right-wing government agent Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), falls in love with Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina) just as Godard fell in love with Karina during the filming.

It’s the tangle of political thought that ties ethics and aesthetics into a gordian knot. In her performance, Anderson puts the emphasis on the “few,” and so our thoughts naturally turn to Brecht. The two phrases contained in this piece “ethics is the esthetics of the few” and “ethics is the esthetics of the future” reveal a movement from scarcity to abundance. And so, from one kind of politics to its opposite. Truth and beauty have long been aligned, here we align the Good and the Beautiful. It’s a pairing that on the surface seems natural, but at its depths can strike some dissonant chords.

Can You Identify Yourself?

Rene Magritte - Mirror

Nasrudin went into a bank with a check to cash.
“ Can you identify yourself?? asked the clerk.
Nasrudin took out a mirror and peered into it.
“ Yes, that’s me all right,? he said.

Maira Kalman and The Pursuit of Happiness

Maira Kalman

I’ve loved Maira Kalman’s work for many years. Her paintings and illustrations are so entwined with the everyday life of the mind. They illuminate and bring out the joy and humor in life as it unfolds around us. Kalman’s blog on the New York Times site is a perfect combination of complex and simple technology. It brings us paintings and illustrations as commentary, as another part of our daily conversation.

Angel by Maira Kalman

Kalman’s blog entry on the Inaguration of Barack Obama features 16 or 17 paintings from her experience of that day. I watched the event live on television and listened to the various commentators attempt to interpret the significance of the day. For me, Kalman seems to have captured it perfectly, not just the event but the life around it.

While photography allows us to capture the visible world with a great deal of ease, the paintings and drawings of Maira Kalman capture much of what is invisible. Technology did a superb job of capturing the event and distributing it around the world in real time. The paint brush, pencil, and palette of paints was perhaps a little slower– but it got to the heart of the matter.

Silence, In Three Movements

Silence is sharing too.”

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