Friday, September 30, 2005

Went to the Art Institute last night for a lecture about Loie Fuller and a reconstructed performance of her Fire Dance. The auditorium was packed with what looked like the symphony crowd on an all-Mozart night and, wierder, the "lecture" was a few anecdotes told by a woman sitting at a Frenchish table whose presence made me feel more like a child at storytime in the library. (Milk and cookies afterwards involved my ordering an entire coconut with a straw sticking out of one end at a Vietnamese restaurant down the street, but that's ahead of things..) Clearly this was intended as something for those who love to be delighted. I guess I was surprised only because the Tokihiro Sato lecture I attended in the same space a few months ago was somewhat more probative, albeit not in English. The performance was pretty stunning and quite a workout it looked like as the dancer, though essentially standing in one place, had to feverishly swoop 52 yards of heavy silk over her head and around her body for ten minutes or so. No wonder La Loie was fond of being carried off stage and to her apartment. Thinking of how the changing combinations of colored light looked when the dancer lifted her arms over her head thus abstracting the human form altogether and becoming a swirl of pure form- it's spectacular now in the most rudimentary way, but to an audience 110 years ago for whom electricity was still a new wonder, it must have been absolutely wowsers.

Walking home after coconuts- can I have this in a doggy bag?-talking about two things that really interest me of which La Loie is a part: first, the evolution of the laws regarding artistic copyright and property. She spent much of her life filing lawsuits and patents to try to stop impostors, of which there were many, from profiting from her concept. Nearly all of the time judges rejected these requests, saying bizarre things about her dances not showing sufficient originality of composition to be wholely identifiable things suitable for rights of ownership. -I've got to find the specific language, it knocks me out of my chair every time. Echoes the court proceedings I read pertaining to the trial of Brancusi whose sculptures for the Armory show had been impounded by US customs because he refused to pay the duty on them that was required of artisianal objects for sale when original artwork was exempt from such taxes. So the trial involved proving to a judge that the pieces, though abstract, had artistic merit. Oh, this specifically concerned his famous piece of the bird in flight. So you have what seems today like farcical proceedings with art critics defending the work against interrogation like this: "how do you know it's a bird? If you saw it in a forest would you shoot it?"

And the other thing that interests me is the whole spirit of the age at the end of the 19th century.. having read of the general climate of exuberance around such new inventions as the subway, the Ferris wheel, electricity, and the Columbian Exposition. This optimism versus the parallel fin de siecle of ours marked by paranoia around Y2K, 9/11, the crappy economy and erosion of civil liberties that has been the Bush years, the "culture wars," the anointing of corporations as borderless superpowers, etc. which reminds me... I've been spending some time with middle-high school textbooks lately and am appalled at how recent history is being transmitted. Contrary to my experience, apparently the 70's were a doldrums of doubt brought about by an incompetent and bungling leader called Jimmy Carter. Sure, the oil crisis, but C is like the only statesman in office I've seen in my lifetime- with maybe Clinton coming in second. And the 80's- that cultural soma at the root of many present day political aches, if you were like 2 years old, or negative two years old when it happened, you'd think that you had missed the Second Coming according to this version of history vis a vis the lionized depiction of Reagan.

Grr. The only glimmer of hope is that I saw Howard Dean on Nightline the other night showing a little muscle. Finally, someone on network TV, a dem no less, openly connecting the Abramoff, Delay, Bush dots.. and the Iraq, Katrina dots calling the whole admin corrupt, incompetent liars who hate the poor. Maybe this means the dems are finally getting some wind back in their sails. They've been complacent far too long. They'll be called partisan no matter what they rightfully oppose, so I want to see a big stink when Bush tries to fill O'Connor's spot with some Scalia brand of freak no matter what underrepresented demographic he finds to pluck her from.


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