Sunday night, moon disappoints

Because as it sets over Bologna, you realise museums and galleries are closed on Mondays, and your single day in this city, while not fully wasted, is still going to be somewhat incomplete.

Nighttime skyline of Bologna with the Church that has an icon painted by St.Luke lit up in the distance.

Nighttime skyline of Bologna with the Church that has an icon painted by St.Luke lit up in the distance.

An hour later, the moon gets over to the Church witht the sacred icon, inviting to to contemplate if it is worth waking 3 miles through the longest arched gallery in the world to see it.

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Medieval night out

This is not a pizzeria butted against a dead-end alley. This is a portal to something wondrous. People who get in, never get out. At least, they never get out the same.

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Nighttime in Verona, the city of Romanesque masterpieces, which score far behind the fake Romeo and Juliette attractions

I’ve always shrugged off critics’ view of Barnett Newman’s Midnight Blue as “a portal to the sublime”, but this Pizza Resraurant made me think there’s some truth in it.

Barnett Newman Midnight Blue

Barnett Newman Midnight Blue

The secret is to link up tangible experiences with abstract generalisations. The difference is that Barnett Newman ain’t gonna give you no pizza, and no Chianti.

How anti-racism becomes racism, or the brave new Orwellian world revisited

A few years ago, an exhibition meant to explore the role of religion in modern Russia was shut down by a group of Orthodox Christian protesters who were offended by it, without actually seeing any of the artworks. As it turned out, all of the exhibits were quite innocent and inoffensive, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the right to discuss the role of religion in a modern society. Shut the f*ck up, was the response of fundamentalist crowds. They successfully used mob tactics, and physical violence to prevent visitors’ entering the gallery.

Protests in Russia against the opening of the ICONS exhibition

Western human rights groups and artistic communities, including many black artists, said it was unacceptable repression of artistic freedom by the tyranny of Putin. Putin had nothing to do with it directly, except fostering religious nationalism, of course.

In 2002, a terrorist plot to attack a church in Bologna, Italy was foiled by police. The church has a 15th-century fresco showing the Prophet burning in Hell. No Muslim fundamentalist could get offended by it, as to get offended they had to go inside, and that’s something blasphemous in itself. The offense was about the right of a Christian artist (five hundred years as dead) to express opinions about Islam.

International outcry was strong, though not as strong as when a Dutch film director was murdered two years later for expressing his views on the ways women were treated in Somalia in a short film. But, well, the guy was actually killed. Remember Salman Rushdie and the fatwah on him.

In both cases, Western human rights groups and artistic community, including many black artists, said it was unacceptable repression of artistic freedom by Muslim fundamentalists, inspired by Iranian ayatollahs, who, unlike Putin, were directly responsible.

A few days ago, a Barbican gallery was to stage an art exhibition by a South African artist. The show was to feature black actors chained and in cages to depict the horror of slavery.

A performer, captioned the Missing Link, revolves on a plinth in Exhibit B. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

It was canceled when a crowd of offended protesters blocked the entrance, which was the climax point of their campaign to banish the show.

What was offensive about the show?

The lady, who kicked off the campaign, started her petition with “A piece of work, ‘Exhibit B’, by the controversial white South African Brett Bailey is coming to the Barbican Centre in London this September…”

Wait a second, I am OK with “controversial”, for most art is controversial today, but what has being “white”  to do with evaluation of an artwork? If I start criticizing an artist by stating he was “black”, most people would be repulsed so much they wouldn’t read any further. I mean, putting race as the argument of the first order (or any order, for that matter) is racism.

Now, what does the lady have to say next?

“I’m a Black African mother from Birmingham.”

What does sex and motherhood have to do with it all? I am a father of two. Does it mean I am always right against a father of one, in the wrong against a father of three, and immeasurably indebted to a mother of one or more? Or is it simply an expression of certainty that white people should be barred from talking about racism? Isn’t it racism?

The lady’s position is explained in her final press-release. I skip some of the populist mantras that are, actually, 95% of the text.

“The barricading of The Vaults occurred because the Black community refuses to have racism defined for them by wealthy, white liberals.”

Is it OK if racism is defined by poor white conservatives? Or maybe by nationalistic white trash?

I wish Lenin said a just society could not be defined by a German philosopher for Russians. We could skip the communist revolution then. Alas, ideas don’t depend on the race or nationality of their creators, and live their independent lives.

The above is, in fact, the only valid argument against the exhibition (all others being falsified assumptions and misrepresented quotes about the artist and black actors participating in the show).

This argument is, perhaps, best expressed by Lee Jasper, one of the campaign’s most prominent supporters, “Could you imagine a similar show today with Jewish people in gas ovens, lets say produced by a German? No, neither can I.”

This is a funny way of wrenching facts. Were that show to celebrate dying Congolese workers with Belgian soldiers cutting their hands off as punishment for low productivity, perhaps, I could agree with the sentiment. Comparing the deadly Holocaust to a humiliating Human Zoo? No. But even in this comparison there is a further sharpening of cards, because Germans did produce art about “Jewish people in gas ovens”. I could suggest talking to Heinrich Böll, a Nobel laureate in literature, but he died thirty years ago, so…reading some of his books might be a good starting point for further discussion.

I feel I’ve seen this tactics before: among fundamentalist Christians in Russia, among fundamentalist Muslims in the West, and now among anti-racist (and also anti-liberal – do you see a contraction here?) activists. They like getting offended by others having an opinion because those “others” are not of the same colour, financial position, or marital status.

The interesting thing is that deep down these campaigns have nothing to do with the art objects that are used to fuse the bomb. The central idea is getting noticed, going supernova on Facebook, in the press, on TV.

I am sure this is the case now. The Barbican Centre caved in, and canceled the show. The moment when London boroughs start surrendering to Sharia law is not in some distant future. White liberals are great at surrendering to activist groups. Here, I have to congratulate Scotland though: I am surprised it didn’t secede, and excited to find a country where common sense can still beat populism. You don’t see it often nowadays.

Orwell would be curious to see that it is not only war that can be seen as peace, but also anti-racism that can become racism and vice versa.

Disagree with me. Or agree with me. I’d love to hear your view. I welcome all opinions.

You’ll be a gargoyle soon

They said, five hundred years, mate, and we gonna make you a gargoyle. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the entrance lion job ain’t that bad.

Stand guard in front of the City Council, they promised, for five hundred years, and – bang! – next thing you know you are up there, watching the roofs, bathing in the wind. Great view, and the right to snatch some dumb pigeon off the cornice after sunset. Perks for high-flyers, y’know.

They didn’t tell me the last two hundred years would be a touristic nightmare.

FLorence, near palazzo Veccio

FLorence, near palazzo Veccio

It was more or less fine before the two-legged invented photography. Lemme snap one goddamn tourist with a camera, and I’ll stand a hundred years more! My teeth ache and crrrrrumble ’cause I don’t use’em as I should. And the bastards keep taking pictures of my useless jaws.

Hey, you, to the left of me! I can see you, periferrrrrally. I’ll have your face catalogued.

Big bosses say, no, ye can’t have tourists. Not even after dark. The gargoyle promotion is only for the lions who’ve shown endurance. Then you can command pigeons to shit on idiots with telescopic lens. Not until then. Blast!

I’m having absurd dreams lately. I think too much of the gargoyle job, I guess. Sometimes I imagine myself a stork watching the ocean.

I am sure I took it in Bali. Or Mexico.

I am sure I took it in Bali. Or Mexico.

Y’know my problem? I never fly. I dream of flying, but I can only conjure up a bird that shows off endurance. Sometimes, I am just standing there on one leg, like that French mime by Uffizi. Except that I am a bird.

I got it in Mexico

I got it in Mexico

It’s an evil loop. I think gargoyles are more like birds with a shitload of endurance and I keep dreaming of birds standing like guards at Buckingham Palace. We had a mime here that mocked it up on the piazza fifty years ago. I need a re-training. Or a shrink. I asked if Michelangelo was available for counsel, but my HR boss said he only handles serious stuff, like Dissociative Identity Disorder. Yeah, that’s multiple personality. David has a huge problem with that ’cause he’s here, in front of the Palazzo, and in the Art Academy at the same time. Mickey’s full-time on that case, so they offered me an anger management course by Savonarola.

I remember the guy. He was burning books right here on the piazza. He’s nuts, totally. He needs my councel on endurace instead.

Hey, dude, where are you going? Wait! Don’t go! We may not have had a good start, but I’ve come to like you, sort of. No-no-no-no! Stay for a coupla’ years more, at least!

I’ll tell you the joke Da Vinci made up about Medici! I’ll tell you who Mona Lisa really was!

Gone.

Bastarrrrrrrrrrrrrrd!

Ideal man. Almost

Folk art is dying, all across the globe. Impoverished artists with solid art-school background pretend to be “folk”, and push authentic craftsmen and artisans out of business. Luckily Bali remains a place where talent is still passed from father to son in a natural way, untarnished by academic instruction. It may not help with proportions, but it does help to focus on anatomy’s important bits, responsible for the continuation of artistic line. Procreation of creativity at its best.

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I took this photo some years ago, but it is still inspiring

Share this inspiring image with your friends free of any charge, but should you wish to acquire the original, remember that “fixed price” in Bali means you’re a moron if you don’t insist on a 50% discount.

Great grandads and their great grandsons

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These two images are about 75 years apart. Boys in the painting share the dream of becoming pilots. In the 30s, pilots had uniform pants, jackets to kill for, plenty of food stamps and the romantic aura of heroes. It is social realism, which was an art movement as full of lies as the communist idea itself, but this painting is genuine and true.

Boys in the photograph also watch the world in front of them, and also dream of something, but today that “something” is very different from becoming pilots.

The hero today is someone rich, glamorous, and famous. The guy who owns planes, not the one who pilots them.

No, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just boring and uninspiring.

I haven’t seen a good painting about dreams for ages. Have you?

Art house movies don’t exist

A sure way to make a laughing stock out of oneself is to point at something and denounce it as “low art”. You would be instantly reminded that the most venerated objects of art, from Shakespeare’s plays to Picasso’s paintings, had been seen as “low art” before they were recognised as the summits of culture, and that it is not about art spelt with a capital or lowercase “a”, but your desire to rise above others on a mere claim you’re smarter. Someone is bound to note this is a dumb attempt at self-appreciation as everyone knows today that the concept of high vs.low art is a sales tool to fool the mega-rich out of their money.

Why do people who agree with the above, keep insisting that cinema is either mass-market chewing gum for the brain or high-calorie art-house food for the mind? Why does art house cinema remain the last bastion of the high art myth? There must be something special about art house cinema, that puts it so high on the plinth of intellectualism.

What is it? 

Don’t expect to find an easy answer. Art house cinema is such an ephemeral concept that even the definition of an art film is built on its difference against all other types of movies: “An art film (also known as art movie, specialty film, art house film, or in the collective sense as art cinema) is typically a serious, independent film aimed at a niche market rather than a mass market audience”.

It’s like saying that “art is something that is not not-art”.

“Luke, I am your father, because all the other actors in the Galaxy were not interested”.

“Oscar Wilde is a genius of humourous writing because Dostoevsky is never fun to read”.

Very few things can be defined by negation. Zero, aliens, and god’s existence are among those unseen but useful concepts that can only be described by what they are not.

An alien is anyone who’s not from this planet (whoever they are). US immigration authorities believe this definition also includes people from other countries, whatever they can be, but this comes from a rather strong assumption that the US is a planet.

God exists because it can’t be proven otherwise.

And what is a better chance to experiment with art house movies than to watch the one intent to show God doesn’t exist?

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So, I set up a test, with me as the guinea pig, and Terry Gilliam’s latest film, The Zero Theorem, as the stimulus cheese at the end of the labyrinth. The film’s motto: “Nothing is everything” looked a promising negation.

The plot spins around a computer genius who is tasked by his bosses with proving that life as we know it was not a plan of God, but a Big Bang accident. Off-duty, the genius is waiting for a phone call from God, uses a burnt-out Orthodox Christian cathedral for a flat, and wears a WWII black leather coat.

Brevity, clarity, and ability to engage are keys to success in painting or sculpture, but in art house movies complexity, obscurity, and absence of a clear story get to be the required ingredients. Why?!

Perhaps, a mind-boggling revelation awaits the one who musters enough courage to get through the maze of an art house film?

Critical reviews won’t help: all you get is a vague promise of “interesting and satisfying existentialism”. Most people are full to the brim with their own existential stuff to want more from someone else. I, the lab mouse, just want the revelation cheese at the end.

Fortunately, the critic was wrong, and the idea of the film turned out to be much simpler than its plot.

People who believe in God (which is equivalent to the hope of an afterlife) have to lead a restricted life. Some have to stay away from pork, others [try to] abstain from adultery, there’s even a religion that makes the use of elevators a sin on Saturdays.

They also have to spend some 5% to 10% of their life on religious rites (instead of visiting striptease bars or watching reality shows, and I can’t say which option is, actually, worse ), and generally make sacrifices, preparing themselves for the final interview with the doorman of whatever Paradise they’ve chosen to believe in.

So, compared to people who don’t believe in God, and thus are free to allocate their resources in any way they want, the life of a believer must be poorer, on average.

It is DYING that’s easier for believers, or rather the last moments, not poisoned by the bitter realisation it is the End, big time, without a new Beginning.

A better life for an atheist vs. a better end for a believer.

Now, what happens if a believer realises there’s no God, just before the end?

And what happens if an atheist gets a pre-final revelation that God, actually, exists?

If you are young enough to enjoy playing with these questions, Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem is two hours well spent. When I was a teenager I also believed that a heated debate with my teenage peers, fuelled by enough wine, could resolve the problem of matter over mind (and also secure attention of a girl I fancied). The plan failed on both counts.

If you think Terry Gilliam is a mountain in movie-making, but a bonsai philosopher, you can make your life richer by spending two hours of it just doing nothing.

I wish someone told me this, before I bought the DVD.

Having run the test, I circled back to my previous conclusion that art house films, defined by negation, exist only as a belief, similar to aliens or gods. My universal rule of dividing movies into great, bearable, and a waste of my time still holds firm, regardless of the fancy labels attached to them by the community of sophisticated critics.

P.S. There’s also a possibility I am not sophisticated enough.