May 8, 2018

Prayer & Menace [1/16/08]

Administrator's Note: From 10 years ago, a brief contemplation on symbols of evil, resurrected today in anxiety over the worsening Global Threat of Nuclear Destruction, as a prayer for all Citizens of the World.

"The Buddhist wan zi is an ancient symbol that signifies prosperity and good fortune, yet its meaning was transformed through its usage as the swastika by the National Socialist German Worker's Party. As the meaning of a word relates to its context so my use of the wan zi in Meaning is in the system (2005) considers how the meaning of a symbol can change through its historical, cultural or political context."

From an original writing by MCB; © Copyright 2005.

On Avenida do Almirante Lacerda, oddly just east of the Canidrome dog-racing track, sits Lin Fung Temple. Inside an inner courtyard awash in incense and prayer, I found amazingly ornate furnishings including a sand-filled stand for incense offerings that featured prominent wan zi along its decorative upper border.

As a prime example of the fluctuation of meaning through cultures and history, the wan zi is exemplary of the contextuality of symbols, how the significance of a sign can be diverted through use and cultural, political or social context. The meaning of this ancient symbol was first established as a positive one by Buddhists, Hinduists and Taoists, yet later appropriated by the Nazi Party which diverted the bent-cross to its own political use. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meanings do indeed reside within systems of representation, whether it be art or language. The spiritual essence of the cross with bent arms was cherished by Asians for thousands of years before it was hijacked by Hitler. As an icon of hate it perhaps has no equal, yet it still exists in beatific purity and peace in temples and on statuary across the Eastern world. The wan zi may someday be absolved of its fearful signification but for the present it instills such dread that its presence in the sunny courtyard of Lin Fung Temple produces a surreal ambiance of the juxtaposition of prayer and menace in the Western mind.

July 8, 2017

Every Picture Tells A Story [7/26/11]

Administrator's Note: A repost from the archives dealing with photography's loss of “respect” that touches upon the recent fascinations (and distractions?) of so-called “fake news.” My post from 6 years  ago also mentions the horrific and despised Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad . . . and it is extremely depressing to note that he is still in power.     

The tenuous respect once held for a photographic image – it’s insistence on truth and actuality – was over as soon as the conspiracy theorists began questioning the Moon Landing. Even in 1969, we knew that “reality” could be easily constructed in film studios, so why couldn’t the U.S. government have done the same? Fast forward to 9/11, and even though you watched those planes going into the Towers, you engaged in some level of doubt if you read the analyses of why steel buildings cannot collapse that way and that fast.

Today’s political agendas, even when documenting seemingly benign events, are fraught with insidious corruptibility and easily manipulated. A photograph showing Syrian President Bashar Assad swearing in his new choice for Governor of Hama, Anas Abdul-Razzaq Naem, has been exposed as a Photoshop fraud – the two men were probably never in the same room.

One might ask what was the intent of the Syrian government in pairing the two men in a seemingly “friendly” photo-opp. It goes without saying that their intention was clearly to manifest a false reality to represent an equally false “business-as-usual” vision for the rest of the world.

So intention is key here. Can we then forgive the young bicyclist who posted the equally false Photoshopped image (see above) of his “miraculous” pedaling across a body of water to promote his worthy cause? As has been pointed out already by the “Debunkers of ‘Net Fakery,” the young man’s foot can be seen resting on a post. Do we forgive his fraud, obviously committed for an ethical reason to get people talking about him and then, hopefully, his cause?

On a lighter note, actress Megan Fox tried a similar Photoshop sleight-of-hand (or perhaps it was boyfriend, Brian Austin Green) to “prove” she has not had Botox by showing the actress doing “Things You Can’t Do With your Face When You Have Botox.” This merely translates as sad – gravity is as relentless and fickle, Ms. Fox, as the public.

May 9, 2017

One Lesson Remembered

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8-12, 2017) , I would like to recount one of my strongest remembrances of an art instructor during my early years in Arkansas, and a strong lesson that I learned from him about making art.

Most of us have had at least one teacher who inspired or energized us, and taught us an unforgettable lesson. This art instructor was named Paul Ganong and I had enrolled in his sculpture class at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. This was extracurricular from my regular high school classes and I received invaluable practical studio training in Paul’s class.
Paul was one of those art instructors whose appearance suggested a radical, 1960s rock star; he favored bellbottom jeans and wore his hair down to his shoulders, with a mustache. Paul’s sculpture medium of preference was welded steel. As I had become enamored of the steel sculpture of David Smith, the machismo style of hammering, bending and welding steel appealed to me. Paul taught me how to use an acetylene torch to weld and cut steel plate, and I also learned the basics of arc welding under his guidance.

I had been working on one particular sculpture using sheet metal, heating and bending it to build an abstracted figure that stood about 4 feet tall. I thought the piece was finished and wanted to enter it into a student art show at my high school to impress my fellow students.

So my mother and I drove down to the Arkansas Arts Center one Saturday morning to pick up my sculpture from the studio and take it over to enter it into the high school art show. In the parking lot, just as I was loading my sculpture into our car, I saw Paul pull in and park. He noticed what I was doing and walked across the parking lot toward me.

With his gentle but assertive tone, Paul asked what I was doing. I told him that I wanted to enter my sculpture into the art show.

“But it's not finished yet,” he stated firmly.

I cannot remember all the other things he said to me that morning but I do remember the sense of loss that came over me as I realized I wasn’t going to enter the sculpture in the art show. But I also knew that Paul was right; the sculpture had abstract forms at the top that had been welded sealed but there were large gaps of negative space at the base. Slowly I recognized that there was work still to be done.

The image posted at the top of this page is the sculpture as it stands today at my mother’s home in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. The photograph that I took recently shows the steel has rusted over the years. You will note the additional work I put into the sculpture at the base, by closing up those negative spaces and raising the height of the piece to near human form.

The lesson I learned from Paul Ganong that day resounds with me these years later, that the yearning for recognition and fame should never outweigh one’s own sense of intention and creativity.

Thank your teachers today, and let them know how much you appreciate everything they do for you.

Image: Wounded Figure (date unknown), welded and forged steel, photograph by MCB.