Poetic and Spiritual: The Photography of Noell S. Oszvald

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by Noell S. Oszvald

by Noell S. Oszvald

Poetry, meditation and spirituality are often linked. Since the Romantic movement, poetry has been about using an economy of words–condensing meaning only to the essential–to express our profound feelings. Similarly to meditation, this process requires looking within.  The photography of the Hungarian artist Noell S. Oszvald is poetic and spiritual: a visual meditation through images rather than a verbal one through thoughts and words.

by Noell S. Oszvald

by Noell S. Oszvald

It seems to be inspired by the the Buddhist practice of focused thought to achieve peace of mind and the cultivation of wisdom. There’s also a certain animism in it, as the human figure–usually a willowy and beautiful young woman with long dark hair–appears in total harmony with her environment. She often mirrors the positions of the objects or beings around her.

by Noell S. Oszvald

by Noell S. Oszvald

Like in poetry, form itself takes on the utmost importance. In one image we see the young woman from behind assuming exactly the same position as the cat sitting next to her. In another photo, she bends like the tree close to her, in an environment as minimalist and stark as the setting of Samuel Beckett’s plays. In fact, the human being mimics so well her surroundings that she, too, appears to be a prop in the theater of life.

by Noell S. Oszvald

by Noell S. Oszvald

Beckett once said, “All I know is what the words know, and dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning and a middle and an end, as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead.”

by Noell S. Oszvald

by Noell S. Oszvald

Existential in mood without being somber, Noell S. Oszvald’s photographs do not offer, however, a long sonata of the dead. They stage the perfect setting for a meditation about life, simplicity of forms, oneness between body and mind, and a sense of harmony with our surroundings that doesn’t place human beings on top, but rather as one with nature.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Postromanticism-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0739116754

 

A Surrealist Futurism: The Art of Adam Martinakis

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by Adam Martinakis

by Adam Martinakis

The cosmopolitan artist Adam Martinakis was born in Poland, grew up in Greece and lives in England. His style combines a unique mixture of Surrealism and Futurism and his genre can be described as highly versatile. Adam creates sculptures, intallations, and 3D models (via digital photography).

by Adam Martinakis

by Adam Martinakis

Although many of his works would fit right in as the posters for science fiction movies, they are, quite literally, multidimensional, not only in form but also in content. These silent humanoid figures speak volumes about the complexity of romantic love; the angst of the human condition (reminsicent of Edvard Munch’s expressionism); the pieces of our personalities and external influences that compose each and every one of us socially and psychologically.

by Adam Martinakis

by Adam Martinakis

There’s a clear scientific bent to Martinakis’s images and installations, as many of the human figures are positioned within structures that look like the orbits of planets or the makeup of atoms, reminding us, as did the ancient philosophers, of our material place within the universe.

The remains of a memory by Adam Martinakis

The metaphysical dimension of Adam Martinakis’s artwork is very evident in the sculpture “The remains of a Memory,” which reveals both the physical closeness of the lovers and the ephemeral nature of their temporal bond. Like the lovers themselves, memory and existence are inseparably intertwined. As their memory of each other disintegrates, so do their bodies. Adam Martinakis combines art, philosophy and science to create works of art that make profound statements about the human condition.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Postromanticism-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0739116754

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The Imaginative Photography of Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik

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Somewhere on the boundary between fantasy, science fiction, and surrealism, you will find the imaginative photography of Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik. Their images are narrative in style. Each of them tells us a story: but we have to use our imagination, to help co-create the plot. Crossing the line between reality and imagination, this fantastic photography helps us see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik’s images tend to play with the notion of gender. They often feature a young couple, juxtaposed or intermingled in images that seem right out of fairy tales or science fiction scenes. The maiden in distress; the meeting of two lovers from completely separate realms and ways of life; the desolate yet majestic tower: the motifs of fantasy and fairy tale  are seamlessly integrated with contemporary elements of our every-day lives to create a fresh and original digital photography.

Yet the emotions these images evoke are far from other-worldly. They’re relevant and touching precisely because they’re the normal emotions we all feel:  longing, love, grief, sadness, hope. Transposed unto a different realm–the objects of our dreams or visions–these photographs gain depth without losing their relevance. We can still relate to them–and apply them to our ordinary lives–even though we see them as part of a completely different world, the realm of fantasy.

On their website, http://anshulesik.com/Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik describe the manner in which they create: “We take pictures, travel, work with magazines, make up unusual designs. We’re constantly seeking and experimenting; always on the moveArt, of course, has to be relevant. We want to create such a deep meaning for each picture that it will not lose its relevance for many years…. In the ordinary, we find the extraordinary.”

Playing with gender stereotypes yet also androgynous, fantasy-based yet also real; theatrical yet not over-the-top; expressive yet open-ended to many interpretations; emotional yet understated; poetic yet mythical: to my mind, the imaginative photography of Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik represents the best of contemporary digital photography. Those who have not seen it yet can take a look at the treasure of images on their website: http://anshulesik.com/

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Postromanticism-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0739116754

The Photography of Dan St. Andrei: Dreaming of a Perfect Imperfection

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Romanian-born photographer Dan St. Andrei adopts a philosophical approach to the art of photography. He states: “Life is eventually an eternal attempt to understand your purpose, to build up and mold, to grow and to define yourself … I would like to discover daily reasons to love myself.”  His images take on so many different styles and approaches: from the fetishism of his sensual fragments; to the poetic dynamism of his photographs of dancers; to the reflexive and dream-like quality of his dystopic utopia images, which he calls, in a deliberate pun,  Mytopia.

If his photo series have any common thread, it’s in depicting life, as Dan St. Andrei himself puts it, as “beautifully imperfect.” The beauty lies in the aesthetic impact, since Dan St. Andrei’s images are not only beautiful but also dreamy, even haunting. The imperfection is revealed in the human emotions and anxieties they reflect, holding a mirror to both what we reveal and what we hide within. As the artist puts it, through the art of photography, he searches “for  the meanings and hidden motivations that put our world into motion.”

It’s difficult to imagine a world without fantasy, without dream. This would be a world devoid of possibilities, without a future. Dan St. Andrei captures our dreams and hopes in motion, as they develop, both literally from the camera as well as figuratively in our minds. He states: “There are moments when we ask ourselves about our purpose in life, about its meaning and our motivations. There are moments when we ask questions about life, as it is or as we imagine it to be.” The gap between reality and dream is not unbridgeable. It’s often connected, in fact, by art and our imaginations: “There are moments when we allow our imaginations to roam free; in which we allow ourselves to dream.”

Dan St. Andrei captures the dreamer in each of  us, whether we’re artists or not. After all, it’s our dreams that make more bearable our imperfect reality; that help us change it for the better; that give us hope and a sense of drive and direction in life. Without these aesthetic dreams, we risk getting bogged down in the routines and responsibilities of daily life. The dreamer in us, the artist explains, “lives through these moments” when life’s “imperfection becomes beautiful.” This may be only our personal vision–a fantasy–or what, if we follow our dreams, we make happen in real life.

There is also a sense of nostalgia in Dan St. Andrei’s images, as he suggests bygone eras. He does this without melancholia however, even adding a ludic touch, as in the fashion series below, photographed by Dan St. Andrei and created with the help of the talented stylist, Alin Galatescu.

Andrei Octav Doicescu aptly stated:  “The present disintegrates, first in history, then in nostalgia.” Nostalgia is an acute, often painful, awareness  of an irretrievably  lost past that we still long for in the present. But Dan St. Andrei shows us the past doesn’t have to evoke sadness. The past can reappear in our present as a playful celebration of previous epochs, in our imaginations, in art and of course in history. 

Like a Proustian search for lost time in pictorial form–a search for lost love, for impossibly perfect social structures, for the (unattainable) fulfillment of our sensual and sexual desires–Dan St. Andrei’s photography captures the peregrinations of our search for meaning in a life deprived of certainties. You can view his portfolio on his website, http://danandrei.com/.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Postromanticism-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0739116754


More on Romanian Photography: Claudiu Ciprian Popa

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I just returned from a book launch in Romania and was very impressed with the artists I had the pleasure of meeting in person and collaborating with. I have posted earlier articles about two impressive Romanian photographers of international stature: Nicolae Cosniceru and Dan St. Andrei. Today I’d like to present Claudiu Ciprian Popa, a young photographer (and Director of Photography) who impresses both through his versatility–he has a double formation in photography and film–and through his talent. It’s not an accident that Claudiu Ciprian Popa’s style resembles in some respects Nicolae Cosniceru’s, his former mentor and now colleague at fotofactory.ro. There’s a noticeable similarity in the manner in which the two photographers approach the public through a striking visual impact of juxtapositions, as in the photo below of a young woman painted in black.

Claudiu Popa, however, retains his own unique style and a more lyrical approach to photography, as evidenced by the series Firefly Dreaming (of the model that goes by the name Laura Firefly), which reveals a metamorphosis of a young woman into a vibrant and seductive sensual being.

A talented Director of Photography, Claudiu Ciprian Popa has also collaborated with Barna Nemethi (whom I’ve written about earlier, on litkicks.com) on an artistic commercial for Encyclopedia Britannica. This commercial offers not only an aesthetically interesting presentation of its main theme–books–but also a philosophical reflection about time. Through rapidly moving images, it traces the transformations in our lives which fundamentally change us while also pointing to some stability or foundations, provided by our upbringing and culture.

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici?feature=mhee#p/f/17/uE_xPyVkgkw

Recently, Claudiu collaborated with Curtea Veche Publishing on a book trailer for my novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, translated into Romanian by Mihnea Gafita as Intre Doua Lumi. I was fortunate enough to participate in making this short film and to meet the talented young actors, some of whom are already stars on Romanian TV shows. Although we only had a few days to make the book trailer, Claudiu managed to recreate the introductory scene of the novel (in a short skit) as well to capture the novel’s overall mood (in the later, dreamy sequence).

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici?feature=mhee#p/a/f/1/DgCdLdygaII

This short film marks not only a new step in Claudiu Ciprian Popa’s career, but also a relatively new direction in publishing: namely, that of launching books through multimedia publicity campaigns that include book trailers and music videos. For more information about Claudiu Ciprian Popa’s photography, see http://fotofactory.ro/.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Postromanticism-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0739116754

 


Dystopic Utopias in Art and Fiction

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There are several great novels associated with the dystopic utopia tradition, but without a doubt four of the most notable are: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Such novels distinguish themselves from both fantasy and science fiction. In an interview, Atwood stated that she prefers the name “speculative fiction,” a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein, to describe A Handmaid’s Tale (NY: First Anchor Books Edition, 1998): “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships. Speculative fiction could really happen.” (“Aliens have taken the place of angels: Margaret Atwood on why we need science fiction,” The Guardian, June 2005). Speculative fiction has become an umbrella term that includes utopian and dystopic fiction as well as apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, some of which may also be considered to be science fiction or fantasy. The best speculative fiction, I believe, reveals what has already begun to happen and extrapolates with amazing lucidity how social and political ideals can turn into our worst nightmares. Every utopic ideology, from Marxism to eugenics and from primitivism to technocracy, has within it the seeds of its own dystopic undoing. Each one shows part of what has happened in our cultures and how things could get a lot worse.

Margaret Atwood’s novel illustrates what could take place in any culture or society where the women’s movement joins forces with the radical right to create a “purer” society.  In such a world, “freedom to” (dress as one wants, choose one’s profession and life partner) becomes “freedom from” (being a sex object, having too many choices of partners, location or profession). But “freedom from” is only a euphemism for lack of civil rights, for constraint, for invisibility itself (as women are enshrouded in a veil and even wear blinders on top of their heads, so they can’t see or be seen). It is a dystopic utopia; a contradiction in terms. Some societies have already implemented such a “freedom from” in the name of various religious or political ideologies. However, as Atwood underscores, no society—even the most seemingly open-minded and liberal–is immune to it. Totalitarian constraints can happen anywhere, even in the U.S, which, in fact, is the setting for her novel.

While Margaret Atwood envisions a danger that could happen, George Orwell describes a social experiment that did happen.  To many who have lived through the totalitarian phase of communism in Eastern Europe, as I have, Orwell’s 1984 is, in many respects, a historical novel: one that goes hand in hand with Robert Conquest’s monumental history, The Great Terror.  Newspeak, thought police, brainwashing; the physical and psychological torture of political prisoners to confess to nonexistent crimes and the show trials were all part and parcel of how the NKVD and other Secret Police organizations ruled  with an iron fist during communist dictatorships. O’Brien, the Thought Police agent in the novel, states the open secret of totalitarian regimes: “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” (1984, NY: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1949,  p. 272)

Perhaps the only speculative aspect of Orwell’s utopic dystopia is, as O’Brien himself points out, that those put on show trials die purified of their thought crimes and convinced of the righteousness of the new regime. They often are not, as were the victims of Stalinist purges, the embittered martyrs of a lost freedom. O’Brien promises Winston: “I shall save you, I shall make you perfect” (251). Perfection in 1984 is a world with no objective parameters of truth and falsehood or of right and wrong. It is a world in which the past is a convenient fiction for the present; a world where the difference between fear and blind trust is obliterated.  The Thought Police aims not merely to oppress man, but also to gaslight him: to get him to accept relativism without question. “We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him,” states O’Brian (263). He pursues: “We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him…. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him… Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation” (263).

By their very nature, utopias are ideological and dogmatic. They often represent a reaction to one form of constraint or dogmatism with an equally strong reaction in an opposite direction.   Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (NY: HarperCollins, 1932) probes another aspect of ideological dreams that could easily turn into nightmares: the social experiments of eugenics and the supposed biological justifications for social hierarchies and castes. Written during a time when the Nazi party was already starting to implement eugenic policies—described, in some ways, in the novel–Brave New World doesn’t spare democratic societies its sharp social critiques either.   Huxley describes the dangers that capitalism and industrialization, if left unchecked, can pose for humanity. Human beings are reduced to little more than automatons, consuming mood altering drugs and engaging in ritualistic sexual activities to compensate for lack of thought and the superficial and impersonal nature of their emotional ties.

Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (NY: Random House, 1953) issues a powerful warning against censorship: books are burned because of their dangerous, potentially conflagrating ideological effects. However, as the author states in an interview in the late 1950’s, the novel also touches upon the alienation among people caused by an excess of information and too much exposure to the mass media: “But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog… The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. … There she was, oblivious to the man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction” (quoted by Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction, NY: Ayer Co. Publishing, 1975). Obviously, the author’s critique can be exponentially multiplied today, when most of our human contacts are mediated by ipods, computers, twittering, Facebook and other technological gadgets and social/mass media networks.  The future is already here. Each of these speculative novels not only predicted it, but also critiqued it in a way that remains very current.

Why are these speculative novels still relevant and important today? I’d like to explore this question by using as my point of departure a few famous quotes by leading writers and intellectuals.

1.“Our business here is to be Utopian, to make vivid and credible, if we can, first this facet and then that, of an imaginary whole and happy world.” H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia

Any society is flawed; any political institution, no matter how inclusive or democratic, has some corruption, inequality and unfairness in it. Utopian visions hone in on those weaknesses and injustices to imagine a better world, a world without these flaws. They function, in some ways, as a magnifying glass that allows us to see better the problems with our societies and institutions and as a mirror to imagine their obverse side.

2. “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Almost every speculative novel is, in many respects, more multidimensional and more lucid than any political ideology was or ever could be. It captures both sides of the coin: the utopic vision and its dystopic, more realistic downsides. As Hawthorne puts it: both the ground you build a better society upon and the place you segregate its outlaws and its casualties.

3. “All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” Toni Morrison, Online NewsHour interview, March 9, 1998

Utopic visions offer the best vantage point for social critiques. As Morrison points out, they are almost always correctives for hierarchies and injustices in the real world of the have’s from the perspective of the have not’s.  Since each society has so many distinctions and hierarchies, the have’s and the have not’s are not a binary dichotomy (between races or classes), but more of a fractal of many social and cultural dichotomies.

4. “Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache… Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.” George Orwell, Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun

Utopic visions will always exist because nothing in our world can ever be perfect. We will always suffer from the “toothaches” Orwell alludes to. There will always be something wrong with our social and political institutions, no matter what they are. The need to imagine a world without whatever specific flaws we choose to focus on in our societies is therefore also inevitable. We will temporarily see in those utopic visions a better society. However, as Orwell points out, in reality, we might only be exchanging a toothache for a headache, or one problem for another.

5. “In the next few years the struggle will not be between utopia and reality, but between different utopias, each trying to impose itself on reality… We can no longer hope to save everything, but… we can at least try to save lives, so that some kind of future, if perhaps not the ideal one, will remain possible.” (Albert Camus, Between Hell and Reason)

As a counterpoint to Orwell’s cynicism, we can safely say that not all utopias (or dystopias, depending upon your perspective) are equal. Some hells are hotter than others; some political and social structures worse than the next. Utopic visions offer a horizon of possibility. They enable human beings to at least try to aspire to creating better social institutions and governments.

6. “Life without utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness.” E. M. Cioran, History and Utopia

A world without utopic visions is a world deprived of imagination, where one only sees what is and remains blind to what could be. Utopias enable us to dream and envision another way of life, perhaps a better world. They are healthy fantasies and necessary regulative ideals: as long as we remember their dangers and undersides, as each of these great writers reminds us.

 Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

Literary Images: The Photography of Alex M. Bustillo

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Alex M. Bustillo is an international artist par excellence. Born in Miami, Florida and of Cuban origin, he currently resides in France. Alex has lived throughout the world, however, including the United States, Puerto Rico, Latin America and Italy. It’s not only his diverse cultural backgrounds that shine through in his photographic collages, but also his keen interest in all aspects of culture: including philosophy, literature, music and film.

Pablo Picasso is credited with having invented the artistic collage, made up of sketches, painting and newspaper cutouts. Bustillo transforms this modernist tradition into a postmodern artform that includes overlapping materials as diverse as digital photography, plexiglas and aluminum foil that somehow work together to create a striking and unique artistic whole. Not limited to the visual arts, Bustillo has even collaborated with the American musician Garland Jeffreys to incorporate musical ideas in a visual context.

Bustillo doesn’t shy away from anthropology, philosophy or even erotic fiction. His collection  Story of the Eye (above) offers a visual interpretation of Georges Bataille‘s famous erotic and philosophical collection of vignettes by the same name, which was published in 1928. Bataille is best known for his anthropology of pleasure, Eroticism (1957), which studies human sexuality in terms of religious sacrifice and cultural taboos.

But it’s Bataille’s erotic tale that captured the imagination of artists, literary critics and film producers. Written in the tradition of libertine fiction made popular in eighteenth-century France by the Marquis de Sade, Story of the Eye describes the erotic passion between an adolescent male (the narrator) and Simone, his main partner. The couple have a menage-à-trois with Marcelle, a mentally ill teenage girl, engaging together in various exhibitionist acts (in front of Simone’s mother) and other taboo sexual behaviors.

Simone and the narrator are the original Bonnie and Clyde–or Natural Born Killers, more like it–manifesting their penchant for transgression through their increasingly violent sexual bond. When Marcelle breaks out of the mental institution, she becomes suicidal and hangs herself. The sociopathic lovers have sex next to her corpse, suggesting necrophilia, a recurrent theme in the book. This seedy story seems to be taken right out of pulp or pornographic fiction; however, it’s become a favorite allegory of taboo and transgression among French (and Francophile) intellectuals. Both the American feminist critic Susan Sontag and the French structuralist literary critic Roland Barthes wrote about it.

In Bustillo’s interpretation, Bataille’s tale of sexual liberty and libertinism takes a dystopic turn. His dramatic images are atavistic yet historical (in the photograph above you can see superposed images of an Egyptian bust, an American Indian chief and a Roman soldier); disembodied yet carnal (one slim leg appears, suggesting death rather than desire). Rather than glorifying transgression, they tell the story of what (and who) is sacrificed by the individual and society when the sadistic and perverse are  allowed free reign and gain power over others. At once elusive and allusive, the photography of Alex M. Bustillo provides a tantalizing peek  into the world of culture. You can view more of Alex’s portfolio on the link http://www.saatchionline.com/alexmbustillo.

 

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com