Dienstag, 29. September 2009



Film review: Seraphine



by Simone Kussatz

Movie biographies can be tricky. We only get to see a fictionalized version of what has once actually been. To please the majority’s tastes, biopics often focus too much on the external, instead of getting down to a character’s core. Undaunted by such constraints, “Séraphine”, a film directed and written by Martin Provost in 2008, which is an homage to French artist Séraphine de Senlis (Yolande Moreau), won multiple Césars (France’s version of the Oscar), although sobriety and discretion are its dominant tones. In her César winning role as the former shepherdess and housekeeper turned painter, Belgian actress Yolanda Moreau slowly blurs the tenuous gap between artistic genius and madness.

The film concentrates on the later years of devoutly catholic Séraphine’s life in Senlis, France, where she works as a servant in the temporary home of German avant-garde art dealer Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), who is impressed by her artistic ability. With Uhde’s encouragement and financial help, Séraphine receives her first group show exhibit with her work being displayed alongside Henri Rousseau’s.

Provost’s nuanced portrait leads us gently into the inner worlds of Séraphine. With her eagerness to evolve, her sensuality and authenticity, her need for artistic expression and love for nature, which is her source for comfort and inspiration, we learn to understand how Séraphine’s vulnerability will also soon break her.

Séraphine sheds light on a unique friendship between two people, who exist on the fringes of society. Uhde, because of his closeted homosexuality and Séraphine, because her social class does not allow her eccentric behavior. She hugs trees and swims nude in the rivers other women wash their clothes in. Their friendship is broken, however, when Uhde can’t keep up with his promise to exhibit her work again. Distressed about the news, Séraphine meanders deliriously through the streets, where people see her dressed in a wedding gown. Diagnosed with a mental illness, she’s locked up in the Clermont-de-l'Oise psychiatric hospital, where she dies alone after numerous straight jacket treatments.

This aspect of the film is particularly interesting and disturbing at the same time, considering that Europe had not only been overshadowed by the depression, but faced with Hitler’s gradual rise to power with the understanding that the mentally ill and homosexuals were the first groups he wanted to exterminate.

Provost’s mise-en-scène seems slightly withdrawn. Costumes, upholstery and all other objects are kept in subtle colors, mostly pastels, except for Séraphine’s canvases, which are covered with warm and radiant colors. Most scenes are shot outdoors in the natural light of a lush European summer landscape. Film music is kept to a minimum; instead natural sounds prevail. For example, one hears birds chirping, wind rustling through trees and church bells ringing. This choice in mise-en-scène adds vast dimension to the overall tenor of the film, a complex depiction of a simple woman, who was also an artist.

(Edited by Aparna Bakhle-Ellis)

Managing editor of FABRIK Magazine Los Angeles

Film review - Sandra Vaghe Stelle Dell' Orsa


Vaghe Stelle Dell'Orsa, 1965 (a film by Luchini Visconti)

After a brief scene of a party given by SANDRA and her husband ANDREW with an international crowd of people, conversing in different languages and mingling in front of a grand-piano played by a classic pianist, the viewer witnesses a long scene of a fast ride in a convertible going through Geneva, the Alps in Northern Italy to Florence and Toscana to the small city of Volterra. During the scene of the ride the camera is positioned inside of the car, so that we don't see the occupants, but just their view, passing freeway signs, bridges, facades of buildings and everything that surrounds them.

Volterra is where Sandra grew up. There is the house of her childhood, the place where her mother betrayed her father and turned mentally ill, where her father was picked up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz where he died, where Sandra's husband Andrew finds out about her and her brother Gianni's incestuous games, it is Gianni's final destination, where he commits suicide, and the place where Sandra wishes to pay homage to her father through a bust of her father placed in the garden. As much as the incidents in SANDRA are gloomy and mysterious, so is the aesthetic of the film. Shot in black and white many scenes play at night, or in dimly lit rooms. In one scene, for instance, Sandra walks alone through a completely dark garden at a windy night towards the bust of her father covered with a white piece of cloth. As she is embracing the bust, and the white piece of cloth is lifting up in the air, one thinks she is embracing a ghost. The fast ride in the car towards Volterra seems symbolic. It is a journey from the present into the past, a dive into the subconsciousness where the tragedy is imprinted in Sandra's mind. The reference to Sophocles' Electra is obvious, although slightly modified. There is Sandra, Electra and Gianni, Orestes and their dead father epitomizing Sophocles' Agamemnon who was killed by his wife's lover. Although Gianni becomes mad as Orestes does, in Visconti's film he doesn't kill his mother but himself. In Visconti's version of Electra, The Trojan War is World War II and the city of Delphi Volterra. The film does not go into detail about World War II and Auschwitz. Therefore it doesn't serve, as many war films do, as a tool to overcome a traumatic past, but to provide the film with more complexity and an interesting perspective.

The interaction between the characters is more visual than verbal. The characters' eyes and body language tell us more than their words. Although furnished with antiques, Sandra's home leaves a void. Large rooms that have stayed unused for a long time express feelings of loneliness. The monotone sound of a ticking clock, only once in a while interrupted by classical piano music such as a nocturne by Cesar Franck adds to the sadness that accompanies the characters' lives.






Larry Johnson at the UCLA Hammer Museum of Art, Westwood

by Simone Kussatz

Celebrity culture is the main theme running through Larry Johnson’s retrospective exhibit. Johnson’s celebrities are faceless and shown to us in a most outré way. We see them through the eyes of their creators, the machinery of mass media, which not only profits from their early and tragic deaths, but, as the exhibit suggests, may have also caused them. This sinister and ironic view can be felt throughout the sixty-work show, organized by adjunct curator Russell Ferguson and spanning Johnson’s career since 1982.

The overview opens with Johnson’s reworking of a Paul Rand video in which the individual letters of the word “women” move up and down like the horses in a merry-go-round, accompanied by circus music. In the very next room, Johnson’s six-panel breakthrough work Untitled (Movie Stars on Clouds) (1982/1984) is installed high up on the wall, showing a light blue sky with puffy clouds and actors’ names — Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo — superimposed on them. From one’s earthbound perspective the names have a god-like quality to them but at the same time remind us of their unhappy lives, cut shockingly short like Michael Jackson’s, who died five days after the exhibit opened.

Cartoon-style animals appear in subsequent works, including a goat and a donkey with a bee stinging its rear. The four panels comprising Untitled (Land w/o Bread) (1999–2000), are ironically named after Luis Buñuel’s sober 1933 documentary Land without Bread. Two of the photographs show Johnson’s finger in front of the camera’s lens, admitting to the artist’s technical and conceptual imperfections. Johnson’s goat images, as noted by Christopher Knight and others, relate to Greek mythology but also carry a gay subtext.

What stands out most in Johnson’s display are his text-based works. Some of them feature bright, multi-colored or constantly changing lettering on colorful backgrounds, rendering texts artful and decorative, similar in approach to Jenny Holzer but deliberately more tasteful. Johnson’s fragmented texts derive from different genres and sources (some he appropriated, others he wrote himself). Since celebrities are made and known through the media, words logically play a key role in Johnson’s approach. As Johnson put it himself, “To master celebrity is to master language.”

Edited by Peter Frank

Peter Frank is Senior Curator at the Riverside Art Museum and Associate Editor for Fabrik and The Magazine. He was born in 1950 in New York, where he served as art critic for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News, and moved to Los Angeles in 1988.

Larry Johnson,
Untitled (Winter Me)
Color photograph
45 1⁄2 x 61 in. (115.6 x 154.9 cm)

Edition of 3

Private collection

Astronaut Interview: Stephen K. Robinson



Quotes by Michael J. Massimino taken by Simone Kussatz July 14, 2009 at the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

"It's a chance of a lifetime to look at the world like that."

"There are no words to describe what it's like to be out in space. If you're in heaven that's the view, but it's more beautiful than heaven."

"Things go wrong. When it was dark, I broke the handrail off, which made me think of my uncle Frank and when I was 14 years old.......... but to overcome the obstacles that's the success. "

Full quote will come shortly.

Artist Interview: Melanie Pullen


Artist Interview: DANIEL BEN-HUR




Juedische Allgemeine: BAHMA & HENRY JAGLOM


Filmmaker Henry Jaglom


Book review: Nicole Krauss - The History of Love