Horror Vacui

The fear of the empty space, most times understood as “ridiculous to the excess”.

Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels. Francisco Goya


Historically understood as an expression of Catholic Anti-Reformation propaganda, Baroque art is normally understood as lacking the reason and discipline associated with neoclassicism and the sophistication of more refined  mannerism styles. In the 17th century, Baroque emerges in Europe as an extravagant, impetuous reaction against religious wars, the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, The 30 Years War, economic crisis and other ills and plagues form its historical backdrop. Going beyond the balanced and orderly representation of the world, it is an aesthetic of distortion, deception, complexity, and over-elaboration:  the novel inside the novel (Don Quijote [1605 and 1615]), theater inside the theater (Hamlet [c1601]), the painting inside the painting (Velázquez’s Las Meninas [1656] ), mirrors inside mirrors, etc. An emotional response to emptiness and disenchantement.

Leonardo da Vinci’s simplicity as the ultimate sophistication has become the norm in a society overwhelmed my the amount of visual information and material possessions that seem to clutter our minds and dominate our living spaces The claustrophobic in me has tried often times to convert to the minimalist / sophisticated imperative with no success. The maximalist in me can’t resist the emotional drama, radical spirit and aesthetic vertigo of the horror vacui.

Photos (mine) San Nicolás Church in Valencia, Spain,  A Gothic structure invaded by Baroque extravaganza.

 

 

References

Radical

On the shoulders of giants

In December 2001 Salman Rushdie visited Porto for one of the final lectures in a series of conferences about the “Future of the Future”.  In 2001 Porto was, with Rotterdam, European Culture Capital  and the discussion of a post future at the end of a year that forever changed the collective perception of our present seemed appropriate. “The Middle Ages trying to destroy the Third Millennium”, he said.

Three months after 9/11 and 12 years after the fatwa on him, Mr. Rushdie walked alone in Porto. No bodyguards. Carefree.

On the last week before Christmas shops in downtown Porto stay open at night for people like me who can’t plan their shopping in advance. As part of our mini-tradition, me and my best friend went out for some late night shopping that December of 2001. We stopped at a deserted Café Majestic for tea. In 2001 there were no lists of “the most beautiful coffee shops in the world”, there were no lines of tourists at the door, there was no Maître d’ trying to bring some kind of order to the process of sitting down. In 2001  you could actually go in and sit and be almost alone. It was late and the gentleman sitting at the far end table by the piano paid his check and got up to leave. As he made his way to the door, Mr. Rushdie walked past our table and looked at the incredulity on my face and winked and left. I was brought up in a house of books, my father is a Literature professor and  meeting or just seeing one of these “giants”in person, still makes me feel as over the moon as a teenage girl coming face to face with her favourite rock star would.

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In June 2010 Sir Salman Rushdie was the keynote speaker at a conference I was attending in Kansas City and spoke about freedom and the media and the power of Literature and novelists  “who are able to probe the truth without being beholden to facts.” After his plenary address, I and few hundred others waited in line to have our books signed. Holding my copy of The Ground Beneath Her Feet, I approached his table and didn’t ask him if he remembered that night in December 2001. That was the fantasy conversation going on in my mind.

These line focus on Salman Rushdie because of a cold night in December 2001. They could easily be about Borges, Coetzee, Murakami, Pessoa, Auster, Cortazar, Sontag or many others. These are my superheroes. The ones with no x-ray vision but that are able to pierce into your soul and help you discover yourself. The ones that can’t fly but still make your imagination soar and plant the seed of invincibility in your heart. The fearless ones that keep fighting for their truth in a world that so many times keeps telling us that intellectualism is frivolous as if, paraphrasing Orwell, the only goal was to keep ourselves alive when the ultimate objective should be to retain our humanity. Or as Flexner, ten years before 1984 was published, questioned whether “there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.”

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And because I am not superhero myself, I will keep borrowing the words

The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it’s a truth that’s in hock to nobody. It’s a single artist’s unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it’s incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book’s truth is slightly different in each reader’s inner world. These are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader’s imagination. And the enemies of the imagination, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down and can’t. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have. But good books do have effects and some of these effects are powerful and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance. Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.

Salman Rushdie, The Power of the Pen

Such is the power of Literature and the super power of writers. They may not be the kind of hero that braves  against the violence of the natural world but they are of the same kind of the ones that “do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky!

References

George Orwell, 1984

Abraham Flexner, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

Salman Rushdie, The Power of the Pen

Walter Lippmann, Amelia Earhart – Herald Tribune – 7/8/37

 

Superhero

Bizarre witnesses

If they asked me, I could probably write a book on my mistakes. Not that it would amount to a very interesting read. But then, I take a long time to admit mistakes and I am not ready to talk about most of them, let alone willing to write them down.

My “Closet of Errors” is an attempt to come to terms with some of those mistakes by honoring them as intentional, mostly because my closet is full of witnesses.

In the Summer of 1992, I went to León in Spain for a paid work placement wit immigrant communities. I used part of the money I got to buy this Junior Gaultier jacket on sale. It was a super sale. It cost me 2.500 pesetas, something like €15 today or, if you are to believe that some online vintage  listings are accurate, €500. This witness still lives in my closet. I think I bought it because it was an unmissable opportunity to own a Gaultier piece (even if it was a little too small and it makes raising my arms a tad impossible) and because, in some way, it resonated with a watching, and loving, “Little House on the Prairie” when I was a kid. I think I haven’t worn it for at least fifteen years but it is not going to be easy to let this one go.

Having grown out of “Little House on the Prairie” and after a few years studying in the UK, my next Gaultier was a nod to Punk aesthetics and an attempt to keep some kind of Britishness with me. It’s now the property of someone living in New York. I though I was ready to let it go because I was selling it someone who would love it as much as I did. I wasn’t and I have the feeling that I didn’t sell it to the right person. I never got any feedback apart from the one in my mind telling me that, even though my unworn wardrobe can be an investment with an interesting return, it’s really not about the money. It is always about the lives I have lived wearing a particular piece, the lives I planned on living when I bought some other.

I planned, or better yet, I daydreamed a lot, and, in the process, started to choose the wardrobe to go with all the fabulous things I would be and for the grandiose life I would live. I have always missed places in time that I didn’t know  and prepared for them. I dreamed of being an aristocratic bohemian in Marrakesh, a flaneur who spent the time reading books and being intellectually brilliant and aesthetically striking.

Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are.

Adam Phillips


I prepared myself to go live in Ibiza and lounge by the sea in never ending parties.

 I was even ready to go dancing at Studio 54.

I got ready to be a rock star wearing silver leather jackets, or maybe be a bass player for Lenny Kravitz in fringed suede pants.

I got ready for all the fantasy going around in my mind. I prepared myself for a life of eccentricity and adventure. I groomed myself to be someone else. In the process, I forgot to get ready for real life.

The witnesses to my mistakes that still live in my closet are now stories written on small papers that accompany the items I’m ready to let go or in somewhat bigger posts when they tell the stories of a life that I can’t leave behind. They are the witnesses to whom I am becoming. As Adam Phillips wisely puts it, “we share our lives with the people we have failed to be.” There’s no escaping this, “we are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do. So when we are not thinking, like the characters in Randall Jarrell’s poem, that “The ways we miss our lives is life,” we are grieving or regretting or resenting our failure to be ourselves as we imagine we could be. “

Coming to terms with my unlived life(s) has not been an easy process. Sometimes I get the chance to perform one of those imaginary parts for a moment and live out real scenes exactly as I imagined they would turn out. In January 2014, I dragged myself through the polar vortex and went to the opera at the Met. As I should, wearing my, never worn before or again, opera coat. I will most probably keep repeating mistakes and collecting witnesses to those repetitions.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, it’s equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining.

Parker Palmer

References

Dinah Washington,  I could write a book

Adam Phillips, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life

New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle

Parker Palmer, Naropa University Commencement Address

 

 

Witness

 

Movie Inspiration of the Week – Le Mépris (1963)

The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desire. This is the story of that world

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Costume Designer Tanine Autré

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Aristotelian tragedies might not need elaborate costumes. After all, sometimes what you do not wear speaks as loud as what you do.

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This week, inspiration seems to be simple,  the always present, always perfect always modern Breton shirt. This week, more than ever, craving Summer by the harsh and timeless landscapes of Mediterranean sea.

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This was the first film that made me feel I could (I needed to) live inside it.

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You aspire to a world like Homer’s, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t exist

References

Contempt: A Visual Reading and Other Loose Ends

 

 

Movie Inspiration of the Month – The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)

Costume Designers: Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (Oscar Best Costume Design, 1995; BAFTA Best Costume Design, 1995; Australian Film Institute Best Achievement in Costume Design, 1994).

After a somewhat long hiatus caused by jet lagging, I’m back to being movie inspired, this time by one of my absolute favourites.

A story of blood, sweat and tears and a ton of sequins on a tight budget ($20.000) that results in a fabulous road movie extravaganza.

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Costume designer Tim Chappel says that for Priscilla, instead of getting briefed by the director or researching the characters, he and co-designer Lizzy Gardner started with the music. He was allowed to just do free association to the songs, and come up with ideas from that point. It was a truly creative experience.

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Reading those words just made me want to experiment doing the same. How would “normal life” look like like if instead of the weather forecast or your scheduled meetings, or any other practical consideration, each day was inspired by a song?

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Probably an idea worth considering.

I would like to have my words meet the grandeur and glamour of this larger than life adventure. The fact is, they can’t. Again in the the words of Tim Chappel this is a movie that taps into this idea of being yourself and absolute freedom

Glitter does never age and it does not get more fabulous than this.

 

Images via http://www.theguardian.com and http://www.nfsa.gov.au

Movie inspiration of the Month – Thelma and Louise (1991)


Costume Designer Elizabeth McBride

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I’m in Colorado for the week so it seemed natural to go back to a movie of South West journeys.

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While this is not a movie with elaborate costumes, clothes do tell a powerful story on Thelma and Louise, accompanying character development and the change of direction and the so

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You said you ‘n’ me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin’, look out ’cause my hair is comin’ down!image

they become more and more natural, but more and more beautiful as it goes on and by the end… just these mythical looking creatures.

Ridley Scott

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Movie Inspiration of the week – Orlando (1992)

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.
― Virginia Woolf, Orlando
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Costume Designer Sandy Powell who has won three Oscars for Best Costume Design (Shakespeare in Love, 1998; The Aviator, 2014 and The Young Victoria, 2009) and is responsible for sartorially composing characters in some of my favourite movies.

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For it was this mixture in her of man and woman, one being uppermost and then the other, that often gave her conduct an unexpected turn. The curious of her own sex would argue, for example, if Orlando was a woman, how did she never take more than ten minutes to dress? And were not her clothes chosen rather at random, and sometimes worn rather shabby? And then they would say, still, she has none of the formality of a man, or a man’s love of power.

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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Yet again, though bold and active as a man, it was remarked that the sight of another in danger brought on the most womanly palpitations. She would burst into tears on slight provocation. She was unversed in geography, found mathematics intolerable, and held some caprices which are more common among women than men, as for instance that to travel south is to travel downhill.

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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Whether, then, Orlando was most man or woman, it is difficult to say and cannot now be decided. .

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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The film’s social commentary is never far from the surface, however, and “the sheer crippling unmanageability of Orlando’s bourgeois female attire… brilliantly conveys feminine physical and social constraint” (Pidduck, 106).

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To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split in two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing

 

‘we are one with a human face’.

 

 

…not a blend of masculine and feminine characteristics, but an absence of them, and where androgynes are perceived to rely on neither masculine nor feminine behaviors.

Larin McLaughlin

 

Photos via Costume Captures

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)

 

Costume Designer Jacqueline Moreau, César Award for Best Costume Design for La passion Béatrice in 1988 and La vie et rien d’autre in 1990.
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French director Jacques Demy didn’t just make movies—he created an entire cinematic world. Demy launched his glorious feature filmmaking career in the sixties, a decade of astonishing invention in his national cinema. He stood out from the crowd of his fellow New Wavers, however, by filtering his self-conscious formalism through deeply emotional storytelling.

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Palme d’Or, Technical Grand Prize and OCIC Award 1964 Cannes Film Festival

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It’s been raining for over three months here. Every week. This is Southern Europe and it’s getting to be depressing. It doesn’t get much uplifting than this brilliant, bright and bold technicolor world of exuberant details where clothes even match wallpaper.