Category Archives: Art

Quote of the day: Dr. Seuss, a modern prophet


From author Lydia Millet in a short but powerful essay for the Atlantic Wire on why she believes Dr. Seuss’s brilliant parable The Lorax [the children’s book, not the treacly film version] is a seminal work of literature extremely relevant for our times with its warning of the dangers of rampant human greed:

Isn’t that a subject worthy of novels? Shouldn’t the cascades of extinction and rapid planetary warming register in our literature? And yet, despite the fact that most Americans support the work of saving species from winking out, and increasingly support strong action to curb climate change, the highly rational push for the preservation of nature and life-support systems often appears in the media—and certainly appears in most current fiction—as a boutique agenda. Climate change is shifting that marginalization, but not fast enough.

What makes The Lorax such a powerful fable is partly its shamelessness. It pulls no punches; it wears its teacher heart on its sleeve. This is commonplace and accepted in children’s stories, but considered largely undesirable in literary fiction. In fact snarkiness and even snobbishness can be brought to bear by some critics if they believe they’ve sniffed out a whiff of idea-mongering in fiction. When it comes to philosophy—just say no! Politics? Heaven forfend! If adults wish to put themselves in the path of notions about right and wrong, the theory seems to go, they can darn well seek out a house of worship or a counselor. Maybe even an AA meeting. They shouldn’t go to a book, unless it’s holy scripture or a self-help manual. Fiction should be an ethically safe space, free of fancy ideas. It should be dedicated modestly to relationships or escapism or the needs of luscious voyeurs.

But I happen to believe in the urgency of now. I don’t accept the proposition that ours is a historical moment like any other, that we can handily shrug off our duty to the future by placing ourselves in an endless, linear continuum of progress that makes its share of errors but is finally, comfortingly self-correcting. Rather I follow the strong evidence for the singularity of this human era, its unique power to make or break that future, directly linked to tipping points associated with climate catastrophe and the irreversibility of extinction. I cleave to science and the need to communicate science, or at least the products of science. Beyond and within science, love: not the love we have for ourselves, but that greater love we forget or take for granted in daily life, the love of otherness. The desperate need for otherness. And I suspect there’s no place, in art or journalism or politics, that isn’t ripe for that discussion.

Coping with the inevitability of climate change


Given that global climate change is already happening, and the reality that political leaders lack the will or ability to implement measures to head off imminent impacts, what then?

That’s the subject of How To Let Go of the World -and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, the new documentary from Josh Fox, direct of the award-winning 2010 documentary Gasland.

Here’s how the reviewer for the New York Times sums up the film:

The film’s title will use up many of the allotted words for this review, so it’s best to be terse when critiquing “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.” Hence, a one-word assessment of this documentary: Tough. As in, tough to watch. Tough to consider. Tough to ignore.

But beneath the despair Fox conveys a certain optimism in this discussion with Chris Hedges for the latest installment of Days of Revolt, Hedges’ weekly series for teleSUR English.

The optimism lies not in any conviction Fox has that quick, massive response may avert the worst impacts — he has none. Rather, his optimism stems from the ability of the human spirit to craft emotional responses that foster a spirit of community, responses mediated by song, dance, and the other arts.

From Days of Revolt:

Days of Revolt: Letting Go of the World

From the transcript:

HEDGES: I just want to interrupt–you in the film point out that it’s not like we stop at 2 degrees. That becomes essentially, once we hit 2 degrees, it just begins to accelerate.

FOX: The problem is we’ve already warmed the Earth by about a degree Celsius over pre-industrial times. We have enough heat and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and methane in the atmosphere now to bring us to definitely 1.5 degrees and perhaps beyond. Some of the projections for this year even bring us to 1.3 degrees, and we’re talking Celsius. Doesn’t sound like so much. But if you think about your freezer at home, if you take it from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 34 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts to melt and everything starts to spoil, which is what’s happening on the planet Earth right now. Everything that?s supposed to stay frozen is melting and that has created feedback loops and all the things we know will continue to accelerate.

HEDGES: Explain feedback loops.

FOX: So at the top of the Earth and at the bottom of the Earth, there are these poles which have white snow and ice, and white reflects heat and light and black absorbs it, right? So that heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space, because it’s reflecting off of the poles. As the poles shrink as we melt them, then all of a sudden there’s even less reflectivity. So that’s one feedback loop. Another feedback loop is that as we melt the permafrost, there’s all sort of methane trapped inside the permafrost that creates even greater greenhouse gas emissions. These things start to accelerate and spiral.

HEDGES: You also talk about the animal agriculture industry, which many people avoid, but is a major contributor to climate change.

FOX: Of course, there’s so many contributors. Not just oil and gas and coal but yes, animal agriculture and deforestation is another major cause because trees basically bring carbon into them and exhale oxygen which we need to survive. So the more we cut down the forest, you get less oxygen and you get more carbon dioxide. What was most startling to me is the sea level rise projections. When you 5-9 meters of sea level rise, that’s basically say goodbye to Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore.

HEDGES: You show in the film what it will look like. What these cities will look like when huge sections of these cities are gone.

FOX: In New York it’s always interesting because whenever we show that map to people in New York, you see the Lower Eastside get eaten, you see Williamsburg, Red Hook and The Rockaways. And people always go, ‘Well, I live over here in Park Slope. I’m on a hill.’ I’m like ‘Okay that’s cool. Yeah you’re right, you know. The Brooklyn Bridge won’t be under water but the onramp will be.’ Now you won’t be able to take the subway. It’s so funny how we think these things aren’t going to happen to us and yet, that is extraordinarily startling.

So what does this mean, this 2 degrees? Basically what it means is if we’re already for all intents and purposes are at 1.5 or beyond, there is no scenario in which New York, Baltimore or D.C., Miami, New Orleans stays above water if we continue to develop and drill for more fossil fuels. And just today, the oil and gas industry had a huge auction in the SuperDome in New Orleans to ten more years of oil and gas drilling offshore. We’re talking about frack gas expanding. We have proposals right now for 300 frack gas power plants throughout the United States and people are battling them every single place we go. They’re battling the pipelines, they’re battling the power plants. Hillary Clinton speaks of natural gas as a bridge fuel. So does Barack Obama, by the way. What that bridge means is 30-40 more years of dependence on fossil fuel, the worst fossil fuel that there is for climate change. That’s not responsible action, that’s not what is says in the Paris Accords. You have an incredible contradiction right now among this administration that saying, ‘We wanna take on climate change. We wanna keep climate change well below 2 degrees,’ is what they said in Paris. And yet you have FERC permitting all these pipelines.

And now for something completely different. . .


A delightful subversive little animation from Crave, the directors and vfx artists collective of Roman Kaelin, Falko Paeper and Florian Wittmann:

Wrapped

Program notes:

“Wrapped” is a graduation short film from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, created at the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction. After running at over 100 festivals world wide and winning numerous awards the film is finally online.

“Wrapped” delves into the clash between civilization and nature.

  • LA Shorts Fest / Best Experimental / 2014 / USA
  • Siggraph CAF / Best Student Project) / 2014 / Canada
  • Animago Award / Best Young Production / 2014 / Germany
  • ISFVF Peking Film Academy / Bronze Award / 2014 / China
  • Festival of Beijing / Outstanding Technical Achievement / 2014 / China
  • The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival / First Place, College Competition / Animation / 2014 / USA
  • Cinemaiubit International Student Film Festival Bucharest / Best Experimental Film / 2014 / Romania
  • VES Awards / Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project / 2015 / USA
  • Next Generation Short Tiger / 2015 / Germany
  • ArtFutura / 3D ArtFutura Show Award / 2014 / Brazil
  • XVIII Guanajuato International Film Festival / Mention Short Animation / 2015 / Mexico

And now for something completely different. . .


Take some old photographs of American cities, add some animation chops [including the coolest steampunk time machine we’ve ever seen], and some timely music [Al Bowlly’s rendition of “Guilty”], and presto. . .

And do pop it up to full screen!

From seccovan [where you’ll find more delightful animations]:

“The Old New World” [Photo-based animation project]

From PetaPixel, where we spotted it:

Here’s an amazing short film titled “The Old New World” by photographer and animator Alexey Zakharov of Moscow, Russia. Zakharov found old photos of US cities from the early 1900s and brought them to life.

The photos show New York, Boston, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore between 1900 and 1940, and were obtained from the website Shorpy.

It’s a “photo-based animation project” that offers a “travel back in time with a little steampunk time machine,” Zakharov says. “The main part of this video was made with camera projection based on photos.”

Is this the next Prime Minister of Iceland?


Birgitta Jónsdóttir. member of the Icleandic Althing [parliament] and founder of the Pirate Party. Via Wikipedia.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir. member of the Icleandic Althing [parliament] and founder of the Pirate Party. Via Wikipedia.

First up, while the media have reported that Iceland’s prime minister has resigned over the offshore banking scandal triggered by the massive leaks of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, there’s a new twist.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau [emphasis added]:

Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said he was stepping aside following the largest anti-government protests in modern times in Iceland, a sign of the public anger over his family’s offshore holdings.

Iceland’s fisheries minister announced that Gunnlaugsson had stepped down, according to state broadcaster RUV.

In a statement late Tuesday, Gunnlaugsson’s office said he “has not resigned” and was merely stepping aside “for an unspecified amount of time” and would remain as chairman of his ruling Progressive Party. It said the party’s deputy leader, Sigurdur Ingi Jóhannsson, would take over as prime minister. Whether disgruntled Icelanders would allow Gunnlaugsson to return to the post in the future was far from clear.

But if his ouster becomes official, who’s his likely replacement?

Enter the poetician. . .

Here at esnl, we’ve been longtime fans of Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a poet and artist who cut her political teeth as a high-profile volunteer with Wikileaks, then moved on to electoral politics, forming two political parties and now heading the leading parliamentary power in the parliament that will soon meet to elect a new prime minister.

She heads the civil libertarian Pirate Party, one of the two she founded, and calls herself a poetician rather than a politician.

It’s fitting that the job is now vacant — ore nearly so — because of another leak, the massive document dump listing the clients of a Panamanian law firm specializing in setting up front to hide plutocratic wealth for government tax collectors.

From Judith Ehrlich, Oscar-nominated director of The Most Dangerous Man in America, Daniel Ellsberg & The Pentagon Papers, here’s a quick 2014 look at Jónsdóttir and some of her accomplishments:

The Mouse That Roared

Here’s what Jónsdóttir told the Sydney Morning Herald about the latest developments:

Birgitta Jonsdottir, ex Mullumbimby and Melbourne resident, former colleague of Julian Assange, now official ‘poetician’ for Iceland’s Pirate Party, admits with some surprise that she might be her country’s next prime minister.

“Statistically, that’s very possible,” she says. “But then, that is not my main goal.”

>snip<

Ms Jonsdottir, a member of parliament for the Iceland’s Pirate Party, says Mr Gunnlaugsson had taken his colleagues by surprise with his visit to the president.

“He had not consulted with anybody and they were like so pissed off,” she said. “They did not conceal it, they were just seething.” They had then forced him to resign, she says.

“It’s been a really long day… this whole day was totally bizarre in so many different ways.”

To get an idea of the man whose job she stands to inherit, here’s what hapopened when a Swedish television report held his feet to the fire with questions about those offshore companies incorporated by those Panamanian money hiders.

From videos hahaha:

Iceland’s prime minister walks out of interview over tax haven question

Program notes:

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the prime minister of Iceland, walks out of an interview with Swedish television company SVT. Gunnlaugsson is asked about a company called Wintris, which he says has been fully declared to the Icelandic tax authority. Gunnlaugsson says he is not prepared to answer such questions and decides to discontinue the interview, saying: ‘What are you trying to make up here? This is totally inappropriate’

If you’d like to learn more about Jónsdóttir, here’s a link to a TedX talk she delivered last June. Her Twitter account is here.

UPDATE: Newsweek has just posted an essay by Jónsdóttir on her party’s sudden change in political fortunes, in which she writes:

Currently we are experiencing similar events to that which Iceland experienced in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008. And yet we still don’t have a satisfactory system for holding those in power to account—other than standing outside the parliament and screaming it out loud.

The constitution we would implement was written by and for the people of Iceland in 2011 in response to the financial meltdown. It would include the separation of powers to prevent another economic collapse, while also reforming the way MPs are elected and judges are appointed. It is completely unacceptable that despite a referendum in 2012 that saw 67 percent of the electorate voting to put this new crowd-sourced constitution into law, it still hasn’t been.

It is difficult to say at this stage exactly what the complete ramifications of this scandal are, but it is obvious that our nation’s reputation will be severely damaged abroad, simply because we are the only Western European country with a sitting minister—let alone a prime minister—that has been directly implicated in this scandal.

If this was a comedy it would be funny but this is actually our head of state. This is not what Icelanders are like and this is not what Iceland is.

And now for something completely different. . .


Take fresh snow, then add an artist with a pair of snowshoes. . .

From KQED, public television in San Francisco:

Drawing in the Snow in the Sierra | KQED Arts

From KQED:

For the past seven years Sonja Hinrichsen has made snow drawings all over the world. Over time she’s come to terms with the completely unpredictable nature of her work. Though she spends months planning her projects, she can never be sure if the weather will cooperate, until the appointed day arrived. If there’s no snow, there’s no canvas. If the snow is falling, she has to wait out the storm. Even when conditions are perfect and her creation is complete, it’s a race against time to photograph the work before the next snowfall covers it up or it simply melts away.

Snow drawings started as play for Hinrichsen in 2009 during a winter hike in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Imprinting labyrinthine patterns on the pristine snow as she walked, she would listen to the crunch of her snowshoes and the sound of her breath and be transported to a kind of meditative state. It wasn’t until after her next foray on a frozen river that she got the chance to fly overhead to photograph the results. She was amazed by how impressive the spirals appeared from above, and how much more “canvas” she had covered. Then it struck her, if she involved volunteers, she could create drawings on an even larger scale.

Climate change and fluctuations in snowfall around the world, especially in California, have added to Hinrichsen’s challenge to be in the right place at the right time to create her best work. Ironically, after years of drought-driven, low snow pack in the Northern Sierra, this winter’s El Nino storm system provided near perfect conditions. On President’s Day weekend volunteers from the Bay Area, Reno and nearby Truckee gathered at UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station to help Hinrichsen create her first project in the California. The KQED Arts crew strapped on snowshoes and followed the group as they worked for two days to fill 60 acres of meadowland with spirals of varying sizes and shapes.

Rad the rest.

Mr. Fish: The cartoonist as King Lear’s Fool


As folks who come here with any frequency quickly learn, we think Mr. Fish [or Dwayne Booth, according to his driver’s license] is the best editorial cartoonist of the age — or at least that part of it crossing our gaze.

On the surface his images, are generally graphically simple — more like wall posters than the typical newspaper cartoon, the works of Mr. Fish sear themselves into the visual cortex and worm themselves deeper into the brain, koans of interlinked images and words. [For a comprehensive look at his works see his website, Clowncrack., where you can also buy his books and other icthyous paraphernalia]

When Chris Hedges sat down with Mr. Fish for an extended interview of Days of Revolt, we knew we were in for a treat, and we came away with an even deeper appreciation for the artistry and complexity that is Mr. Fish.

We were at first surprised to learn that before he took up the graphic arts, Dayne Booth saw himself as a provocative philosopher in the making, reading deeply in the field, a heritage that helps us understand the deeper complexity beneath the surface of his works.

So sit back, set the gear knob to a high definition resolution, click the image to full screen, and prepare for a provocative pleasure.

From teleSUR English via the Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Mr. Fish

From the transcript:

HEDGES: Why do you, why do you run into such friction, do you think?

BOOTH: I think because it’s difficult to–when you have an image, right, when you have an image that is inflammatory in any way, it’s really difficult to, to recast that in such a way that it, to contain it. To contain it. Once an image is released, like I said, it resonates with people and it looks like reality. So it’s really difficult to verbally contain an image once it is, it is released. And so what images tend to do, since they are not verbal and they are not intellectualized, until after the fact, is they enter into a person’s, into a person’s mind. And it explodes your belief, and it turns your comprehension of what is being addressed in the drawing into shrapnel, and then you have to put it back together again.

And you have to put it back together in a way where you have to question your previous thoughts before you looked at the image. And that’s, people don’t want to do that. People like to base their political opinions on, on fashion, on allegiance to a, a, to your team.

HEDGES: Well, also, you’re imploding the very meticulously managed image that these figures in power have created for themselves at great cost, expense, and time.

BOOTH: Yeah. Yeah. And they’re also, it’s interesting, you just made me think. If you look at society, okay, where this is sort of a broad analogy. If you look at society as a chess match, right, we’ve got power represented by certain people, and we’ve got people who have less power. And they function in the rules of this game, right, that’s how society works. Art does not–it doesn’t have to rely on the rules of the game and all the expectations that people have, because it’s thinking outside, it’s questioning the folly of the game in a way that is unique, right.

So I try to do cartoons that look at that chess board, right, and make it a tragedy to understand that you cannot play chess with somebody where you’re not forced to sacrifice some of your own players, where you’re not going to–you have to, you have to attack the other opponent. Right, those are the rules of society, right.

So if you’re looking, and you’re living inside of a society that functions like that, it’s the job of the artist, or even just the radical thinker, to question the folly of this game. And with images when you show the brutality of how this game is played, that’s when people are going to see it as being much more believable than if you’re trying to convince them with an intellectual argument.

HEDGES: You’ve spent a lot of time illustrating the American military machine. That, you know, seeps into a lot of your work.

BOOTH: Yeah. Because it’s a difficult conversation for people to have. I did cartoons leading up to the invasion of Iraq that I never got any hate mail about. This is before the invasion. So I was questioning the obvious catastrophe that was about to happen. And I was also questioning the job of the, of the soldier. When the, when the invasion was, began, that’s when I started to get death threats, because I continued questioning what the, what, you know, how do we perceive the troops? You can’t just, okay, we have to support the troops.

And I did a cartoon that depicted individual troops. And I wrote, good guy, good guy, good guy, good guy, good guy, and I put a big bracket around it to group them all, and I said bad guys. Because the conversation is such that it’s not an easy conversation to have. And if you’re a responsible cartoonist and you know how to do that, you know not to, to–. As a cartoonist and a joke-teller, you have license to step outside of the box. It’s what humor does. And if you’re a good humorist, the stuff that you do is not funny. Because I think that great satire, and great art that is under the umbrella of satire, you have the responsibility to avoid making it just about finding the punchline. Because mirth cripples rage. And when you’re trying to inspire people to recognize what’s wrong with the government and do something about it, and get–put bodies in, to step out into the street and raise your first in the air, you can’t give people the phys–their physiological, the relief of the laugh.

HEDGES: That’s like the fool in King Lear.

BOOTH: Right.

HEDGES: Who speaks the most naked truth about Lear, throughout the play.

BOOTH: Yeah.

HEDGES: Which, you know, is coming from a point of satire, but also is, because it is a naked truth, twinned with a kind of painful recognition. Which I think is what your work does.

BOOTH: Yeah, and I think that people want to see that, because it does feel more honest. You know, I think people in their private moments, when they’re deliberating on these notions and on the reality of history and what’s happening in the world right now, they know that it’s screwed up. They know that there’s a problem and they know that there’s a lot of pain, right. Once you move into a public space where it’s impolite to complain as loudly as you want to complain, and when you want to speak truth to power, which is considered impolite, there’s a time and a place, you become much more conservative than you really are at heart.

So showing people art and getting them to look at an image, it happens internally. When you look at an image, your reaction to it is inside yourself.