Monday, October 26, 2009

"Tribe Party" in Toronto. No more 'underground art' in my mind.

Last night I attended "Tribe", one of the biggest festivals in the world devoted to "fetish" ( "Fetish Party" is its name in English) where the world of alternative options for sexuality becomes a sideboard for theatrical costumes and attitudes on a seemingly perfectly normal night. Around 4000 people rush, the days before the event, to the two or three specialised fetish and leather shops to acquire their "costumes" for that night and look perfect, in all their finery of sexual fantasy, to others, at a place where people with these rarely seen inclinations concentrate.

Ultimately, this party was nothing extraordinary, nothing that had not been seen before (1), but it was something that changed my way of documenting certain mental attitudes as someone born into a society of an underdeveloped country. Living now in one of the most developed societies in the world and having assisted to an event of this nature made me restructure my way of documenting art and its expressions, sexual choices and their different manifestations.

In this world of tolerance and civility everything has achieved its own place and these expressions of sexual life have found too, their part in the social game.

Toronto is a city famous for its gay life and its legal accomplishments for the community, but in reality it is much more than that, it is a city that has had to adapt to massive immigration and an impressive multiculturalism beyond their old closed traditions, expanding the scope of its civility, lawfulness and virtually everything finds a place within a law even if not for the most sensible of reasons, then with a great good will to harmonize all aspects of life in society.

I hadn't had such freedom of life since my visits to other cities recognized for their "alternativeness" (San Francisco and Amsterdam, for example). Amsterdam and San Francisco have the other largest fetish holidays; the most famous, perhaps in the world, is the Folsom Street Fair, where an entire city street offers itself for display in broad daylight and hundreds of thousands of visitors from almost all possible sexual positions attend.

Earlier this year (and still I owe you a blog entry about this event) I visited, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the exhibition of American photographer Catherine Opie, with a retrospective of his career, and hundreds of photographs considered years ago as "underground" but now exposed at one of the most visited museums in the world and, as the main part of the exhibition, at the gallery on the top floor of the museum were several mural-size photographs with characters and bodies transformed by tattoos and piercings in moments of pleasure-pain, some of them including AIDS patients and others in positions possibly shocking for many; this exhibition was accompanied by music in earphones that provided guidance and switched on during the visit, lending your visit a a genuine atmosphere of religiosity, acquiring a fully theatrical environment, a performance by itself. This event was not the worship of some intellectuals to an alternative art, it was the assessing of the lifetime of an artist dedicated to a different way of expression and was exhibited in a fully open way at one of the temples of modern art. Catherine Opie is heir to Mapplethorpe, who never received recognition of such magnitude during his lifetime.

The next is the video I edited for my post dedicated to this special part of the exhibition of Opie:

Where is then the presence of the art of alternative options? Where is the art in a world that was born and developed within him because of its inability to be disclosed or accepted by society?

Today anyone in Toronto can go every Wednesday or Friday between 8 and 10 pm to a workshop - exhibition of different ways to use sex toys or sexual practices using fire, electricity, metal, slaps, etc ... A lot of it is as a way to avoid the danger of these practices when done without knowledge of their effects, showing only and without any extra comment the technically correct way to do it. Is it clear what I discuss here? They are education and prevention workshops! Those are also "performances": they are doing what they usually do and what they know on a stage, in front of a group of people as spectators.

What has become of the attraction of Foucault to the occult and the attractiveness of the danger of all these practices that ultimately led him to die for them? "What could be more beautiful than to die for the love of boys" said he, referring to his incurable illness during a moment of sarcastic lucidity. He was afraid that, in the search for sexual rights, they'd lose their value as a hidden movement and source of ideas and art ... You lose something, yes, undeniably, but what is gained?

Yesterday's event, and that's what I'm writing this post in this blog, was a theatrical event, there was a "show" performing an initiation "within the tribe (the feast was called Tribe) of the fetish contemporary world, a "performance" that offered, among the clichés of this world (vampires, native Africans, Balinese and Papuans) the exhibition of many tattooed bodies, naked characters, all of them full of piercings, with painted genitals, bound, real bodies processed through many bizarre surgeries, etc ... all within an atmosphere of cordiality, festivity, and freedom.

I remembered so many theatrical and artistic events in which I had participated, where I had also been a spectator, and which I had considered scandalous because they showed a little of what in my society was not accepted or was seen as evil and monstrous, I remembered everything that I was now watching in the open, as a big open party. I also recalled some of the myths of literature, theatre, art in general, the myths of the "underground" and how I idolized them at the time, and I remark that I am still living in the back of my memory. Those bodies, those spectacles, those exhibition, those artists, that life, now are all part of our daily lives and have a place in the world, in various parts of our world. It had always been so, yes, but no in this way, not with this openness, civility, not as a part of everyday life.

An alternative sexual event like this, even with its great showmanship and frivolity, is in conflict with several ideas and moral structures that still exist strongly in the world, but their existence, their viability in our society, their commercial and social force are clear and conclusive. There can no more be a matter of scandal today, with what I saw all we have left is to see them as motive for contemplation, for analysis of their expression, as a aesthetic exposure and, ultimately, as a source of pleasure and play (can we talk about lost art then?)

Remember? God was declared dead over a hundred years ago and this does not mean that there are no more societies in which humans kill to maintain their idea of god, but the evolution of human thought that led to the mental corroboration of his non-existence is absolutely unavoidable, it happened and has had tangible consequences in the way we see the world and live ...

The destruction of the barriers of the unseen and the underground is already an active part in the open societies of our planet, is being regulated, and is finally becoming normal. "Normal" is not a word I dislike, on the contrary, it is a word and an idea that gives me peace because it avoids unnecessary disturbances.

There will be new "undergrounds," but it was time to overcome them (at least in my head). We will create new forms of concealment, because that's part of our never linear and always random human evolution.

Video Playlist (10 videos) of the party, "Tribe". Toronto, 2009.
(Videos were taken with a cell phone, therefore their short length and their low quality)

(1) Actually the theatrical event in the party was painfully bad.

(All this post have been written in Spanish and English by the author, and revised and corrected by Tadeo Berjon.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

4 Days of Monlam Festival (Tibetan New Year). Day 4: Cham Dance-Drama at Rongwu Monastery. Part 3 Middle of the dance.

Note: See the introduction to this series about the Monlam Festival in Tongren, China on the March 20th, 2009 post: "4 Days of Monlam Festival (Tibetan New Year). Day 1: Procession of the Buddha Maitreya at Niantog Monastery".

Day 4Cham Dance-Drama at Rongwu Monstery.

Narration of the third part: The middle of the Dance.

Read the introduction to this 4th day, see a video and read the preliminary story of the Cham dance at my July 3rd 2009 post.

This dance was not more a Buddhist ritual, something I never remarked at all in previous events in Amdo, now (after two or more hours since the beginning of the dance) I was witnessing a theatrical performance that happened to have Buddhist monks and Buddhist symbols as a characters and subject. I was being a spectator of something more primitive than the structured rituals of the religion of the lamas, but also a much more elaborate theatrical structure.

I was aware that such tibetan dance-rituals had much of the animistic religions professed in all the so-called "Tibetan plateau" before the arrival of Buddhism, religions where witches and shamans fixed the world and the universe in spectacular and powerful performances; Buddhists as in any other world religion had nothing but absorb and adapt those events at their convenience. However, the development of a theatrical structure as such was giving over time and what I saw that afternoon as Cham dance was much more than a witch looking for the balance of the world: they were telling a story, with characters and personalities differentiated by masks and costumes externally but attitudes and attributes internally; there were an elaborated play of symbols, scenes and dramatic development; there was drama and codified movements. Beyond compare it with classical Greek drama (which we can not have live experience), I prefer to link this to the theater of religious origin in India or to the Balinese dance-drama. The codified technique exists inside Cham dance-theater, but we don’t have here yet the evolution and separation from the temple to be an independent art, as its Indian and Balinese counterparts already got, it would also wait for the arrival of an artistic figure (like Mei Lanfang in Beijing Opera or Zeami Motoshiro in Noh) detailing to perfection those codes.

After more than an hour or so from the start, the performance was taking shape, now we were seeing in the middle of the temple’s square between 17 and 18 character-demons dancing in circles and making a small shift from one side to another, rotating while jumping in the air and falling down to almost be squatting and to continue moving in a endless repetitive motion. Everything was still fascinating to my eyes: their masks, their headdresses, hair or those faces of animals and fantastic creatures, their costumes and objects in their hands. One of this demons, with a black mask and several skulls as headdress, began to be wrapped in scarps or gauzes by many leading members of the community. We had seen how this group of ethnic Tibetan had been directed to the first circle drawn on the square (the one where the other group of monks who had participated in the previous scene had already been installed) and they were seated to observe; now they were participating with the help of some other monks wrapping the black mask demon with gauzes, they did it surrounding him like blocking something coming from his body. Meanwhile, the other demons were dancing in the same way I described before.

Two demons separated from the dancing group, one with a white mask, between wolf and horse (I can not define it clearly), and the other, a beaked black blue Bird (a raven?), a character which would have a decisive participation in the future story they were performing. In front of the stairs they began to fight among themselves. The fight kept the same rhythm and tempo as the dance was went on around him, but their choreography was a continuous crossing expressing a ferocious battle, as if their weapons collided in the air when they cross, then arrive to the extreme side and returned to the attack to crash again, the same movement dozens of times. There was clearly a physical encoding to show a battle as in many other theaters and traditions. I was corroborating the use of a martial arts play in creating this theatrical convention and the need of a codification for the fiction of a battle, a war or a simple fight between two characters.

There was no winner in this battle (at least it seemed like that), the characters (the raven black and the white horse) continued fighting and began to climb the stairs in their repetitive movements and went out to the door of the temple and entered to it disappearing from the scene. That door of the temple had become those legendary doors which represented the in and out of religious theatres, where the stage was the courtyard at the entrance to the temple and the temple entrance itself was the point of entry and exit of characters (which were originally priests).

Once the two demons left fighting the scene, the others followed them keeping his choreography, now in continuous movement toward the exit.

A new scene began with a second entrance of demons, led by one whom fought and won the monks; a better dancer than the others, he was leading the way to the square, stronger, energetic, with an undeniable presence. The choreography settled again the whole group at the square in the circle already known. During this process, two monks entered: their mouth covered with black masks, one carrying a bottle (perhaps alcohol) and the other a kind of scepter. The dance and the music stopped for a moment, the mouth-covered monks came to the chief demon and filled his cup with the contents of the bottle, then the dance and music was revived but with a slower pace, primarily using the drums, and the movements were to the center in a kind of attraction to the pyramid with the skull. This lasted about an hour, and was repeated between 5 and 7 times ( I got lost in one moment), and once again the group went towards the temple.

In the next and final scene of this middle part of the dance, 4 demons with similar characteristics (black masks -only one with a red mask- almost human, with a headdress of skulls and several weapons in his hands -mostly swords-), were accompanied by those two characters from the introduction, the cheerful skeletons. The choreography of this part seemed to be the same we already know, moving in turns and jumps and keeping their character’s attitudes ( energetic the devils, and soft and light the skeletons), this time heading towards the main square, surrounded it and eventually came under the stairs, opposite to the main entrance of the temple. At various times, one of the demons stepped forward toward the center and in front of the others and with his sword realized a sort of cuts in the air,; Thanks to that action all the other characters seemed free to move forward to the pyramid situated on the other side of the square but for some reason they never touched the wooden shrine, even though he came very close to it. This unsuccessful attempt was to have some sort of reward though at the scene to come, but for now they went to the temple without touching the pyramid and appeared defeated once more.

It was a constant battle to get to the place where death was lit, to the place where objects before stored in a temple were at open air, at the eyes of anyone who was capable to reach them, on a small stage drawn with the image of a man cut with a knife ... It looked like a struggle to come to take possession or control of the powers of death itself, a struggle between the demons and monks ... Or at least, preparing to get those demons pure or prepared to cope or what would give them death. I do not know anything for sure, all are guesses of my mind, but I like playing with it, at the end I was a simple spectator of a religious drama in a foreign culture.

Video: Cham Dance Performance (The Middle of the Dance)

(All this post have been written in Spanish and English by the author, and revised and corrected by Tadeo Berjon.)

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gao Brothers's Last Exhibiton and an article from The New York Times by Jimmy Wang.

During my years living in China I didn't see much of Gao Brothers's work (many pieces and photographs were prohibited) but what I saw was enough to be confident about their way to criticize China and its government, I felt really happy with their sarcasm and my mind worked while was seeing their works.

I don't want to talk much about them, the article I'm posting here, from The New York Times, is a very good introduction and show what is most of them, their work. My only comment today is about their age: they are around 52 years old and not anymore members from a young generation; they were sons from a father killed during the Cultural Revolution, and they were Tian'anmen generation heirs... They got a great artistic value, they are politically strong and congruent, but as middle age men they have lost the power to influence others in their country.

My visits to many galleries in Beijing during the last 4 years only showed to me an enormous group of young artists working for money and "craziness"... That could be a Pop Culture characteristic for USA's 50s and 60s but, in 2009 China?

What happens with the new Chinese artist who only criticize "Chinese Pop Culture" while their government is still working as a dictatorial Communist bureaucracy?

Love Gao Brother's work, their sarcasm and critics impossible to see it in any Chinese playwright for example, but that means I'm loving what is not anymore a new way to make Art in China.

New York Times article about Gao Brother's last Exbition in Beijing
(Don't forget to see the video inside the article's page)

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