THE MURDER OF CROWS

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Last summer, a group of Fjordians took an inspiration field trip to the Park Avenue Armory to experience Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s “Murder of Crows.” In this spatial-sonic installation, Cardiff recounts an uncanny dream through the subtle use of natural and urban sounds, machine-like distortions, intertwined with classical musical scores and a Russian anti-fascist war song.

As we entered the darkened space, Cardiff began her monologue. It sounded as though she was responding to someone in an intimately eloquent voice, as if we had been thrown into a bedroom conversation. There was a feeling of voyeurism forced intermittently into Cardiff’s dream as she dreams it in sound and music, and asynchronously as she recounts the details of it. The high ceiling and the quality of the sounds emanating from the 98 speakers surrounding us were intimidatingly appealing and immersive. Critiqued by the Helsinki Times as “an aural feast,” the installation uses sound and spatial arrangements as sole material for art. It gave the feeling of a 3D sonar experience, with particular sounds sneaking around us to map the spatial dimensions of the room and delineate the boundaries of the artwork.

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Some speakers were anthropomorphized, given human status, positioned on chairs opposite the audience and staring at us from all frontal angles. Cardiff’s softly spoken voice sprang from a gramophone speaker placed at the center of the room, giving her a physical presence in the room. A spotlight shone over her metallic body, and our chairs pointed in her direction to form a circle, drawing the focus to the center of the experience.

Filled with cues for various smells, colors, times and places, the aesthetic experience is essentially about discovering the sound mixture as it distributes itself through the space. We felt immersed in the piece both as viewers and as contributors to the total energy within it. We sat, closed our eyes, stood up, walked in between speakers and beyond the experiential space, and to this end, unknowingly completed the artwork. We naturally formed a temporary community as we sunk into the experience of Cardiff’s most bizarre dream, and shared our energy with that of other participants as a distributed state of mind. Only by being there were we able to fully understand the beauty and intricacy of the musical and spatial compositions.

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Walking out, each at our own pace, we could still locate the spotlight getting smaller behind us, and hear Cardiff’s fainting voice as she recounted her dream once again. We could continuously imagine experiencing the artwork in new ways by moving differently in the space.

For more information, please visit: Event page http://bit.ly/PlE7T3

Image sources: 1) http://bit.ly/QCtXC8 2) http://nyti.ms/MVE3ug 3) http://bit.ly/OSbrAY

First Published Aug 22, 2012 in conversations.fjordnet

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Burlesque: The “female-centric space”

Burlesque noun (1) a type of writing or acting that tries to make something serious seem stupid; (2) a theatrical entertainment in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that had funny acts and a striptease. –Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

In response to Is Burlesque Art?, a debate organized by Todd Seavey on July 8, 2010 in the underground bar of Lolita (l.e.s.), Monty Leman (supporter) and Michel Evanchik (rebel) attempted to define ‘Burlesque’ (and less so ‘Art’) as it is understood in the fine line between ‘nakedness as Art’ and performing Art (coincidentally) nude.

New York-based Burlesque photographer, Monty Leman (www.lemanphoto.com), laid out the complexity of the question as both “too short” and needing “serious unpacking.” As he noted, Burlesque is a performance rooted in and resulting from various creative cultural practices –such as: fan dancing, twirling, modern dance, stand-up comedy, as well as sideshow acts –and retains its influences from the high-level Art of Ballet. For him, Burlesque also involves a kind of satire, as he calls it “a core gesture for modern society,” which resonates with the well-respected fields of Theater and Opera. Themes that surround the Burlesque include: pornography, politics, torture, murder, mystery, expression of identity, etc. Burlesque is a “female-centric space” wherein women not only perform for the sake of the Art form, but also are very much embedded in the making and production of these acts. The 21st century Burlesque represents women, as they come to terms with their sexuality: ‘Some of these women are not conventionally beautiful; [they are rather] outsiders, minorities, “gender queer”, gay, etc.’ Leman’s point, I think, was that if women are nude, why should this imply that Burlesque is about sex? Burlesque is about women, identity, and society. Surely, Burlesque is not meant for everybody. Because it is a subcultural practice, it is appreciated mostly by outsiders themselves.

“Is the naked man Art? Does hot weather induce Art?,” reacted Michel Evanchik (writer) as he tried to lure the crowd into admitting that Burlesque, although a well-established performing style, is not worthy of Art –in the way that cooking, folding socks, and laughing are not commonly understood as Art. “To see a person disrobing is more important than Art!” For Evanchik, Burlesque is a psychological event, not Art; and no matter how much one wants to say that it is Art, the truth is stronger than the will to please Burlesque performers with a title that does not match their doings.

“Does naked, then, override everything else?” (Leman)

The debate was predictably inconclusive. The debaters still disagreed with one another and none of the manly men in the audience dared say a word. Given the type of audience, the biggest problem seemed to be that there were only two voices that truly had the space to be heard; and those same voices were restlessly running in circles discussing the high and low-ground values of Art, and how Burlesque relates to the former, the latter, and neither. Oh, and have you noticed that they were both men?

It seemed clear, to me, that the general consensus that evening was that Burlesque was an artistic endeavor –apart from, naturally, the opponent, and, surely, a peripheral number of outsiders who stumbled into that basement-level bar by cheer curiosity or boredom. Alas!, the audience tried to nudge the opponent out of his stance: “Would you say cello is Art? If it were to be played naked, Would you still call it Art, or would it lose of its value?” I too would have liked to think convincingly that Burlesque is Art or that it isn’t. I suppose I am still wobbling on that fine line.