Book Browsing: Ueda Yoshihiko

Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Filed under: books, collecting, Japan, museums, New York City, photography | No Comments »

On the final day of a trip to New York City last week I stopped in at Dashwood Books to peruse their excellent selection of photo books from Japan. I picked up a copy of hi mi tsu ki chi by Nishimiya Daisaku which I first heard about here on Little Brown Mushrooms. I also saw a couple of interesting volumes from University of Tokyo Press. What caught my attention about these two books was the design of the covers, full bleed images of items floating on black backgrounds with areas cut out creating a lower level for type. I later found that art direction for these books was provided by Hara Kenya, a well know designer and design philosopher (White, Designing Design) with photography by Ueda Yoshihiko. The subject of each book is museum specimens, one of birds from the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology and one of stone implements from the University of Tokyo Museum.

BIOSOPHIA of BIRDS, the larger of the two volumes 168 A4 (28 x 20.4 cm) pages, contains specimens of birds in various stages of unpacking. Some of the birds are on stands as if ready to be displayed, but most look like they have just been taken from storage, some bound and tagged, some still in their boxes. All are photographed on the same black background.

Biosophia of Birds
BIOSOPHIA of BIRDS

Biosophia of Birds
spreads from BIOSOPHIA of BIRDS

ONE HUNDRED STONEWARES, closer to square in format (24.2 x 23.4 cm) and a bit thicker at 186 pages, is a collection of stone tools photographed in a similar manner.

One Hundred Stonewares
ONE HUNDRED STONEWARES

One Hundred Stonewares
spreads from ONE HUNDRED STONEWARES

Both books were published in 2008 and in trying to find out more about them I came across what seems to be the first in the series, CHAMBER of CURIOSITIES, published two years earlier. Sadly I haven’t seen this one in person because it looks the most interesting. Rather than a typology of a single subject (birds or stone tools) it’s a collection of oddities from bones to butterflies.

Chamber of Curiosities
CHAMBER of CURIOSITIES

Chamber of Curiosities
Ueda Yoshihiko from CHAMBER of CURIOSITIES

The books I saw at Dashwood are beautifully produced and priced to match, but if you’re fond of museum collections or typologies they’re worth taking a look at given the chance. Also, to see more images from Ueda Yoshihiko’s other work, go here and here (text in Japanese).


Pass the popcorn

Posted: January 23rd, 2010 | Filed under: museums | No Comments »

As much as I enjoy movies I’ve never really done the whole film festival thing. I’ve seen movies at the San Francisco International Film Festival, but I’ve never made a festival a destination or sat down and watched multiple movies a day for days on end. That was until last week when I went to the Palm Springs International Film Festival and saw 26 movies over eight and a half days. There were people there who saw more, but I feel like roughly three movies a day is the right amount. Any more than that and I imagine they all start to run together. The bulk of the films I saw were their country’s submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were the best film that country has to offer. The system is notoriously political. Each country has a governing body that is allowed to submit one film for Oscar consideration. This year 65 countries submitted films. Of those 65, nine have just been announced as the short list (six from Academy voters, three from the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee). The list is cut down further by committees in New York and Los Angeles to the final five nominees. All of which is to say that at each step in the process there’s a good chance a film you like isn’t going to make the cut. Controversy is common, though this year various pundits have said that there aren’t any glaring omissions. I have a quibble about one of the inclusions, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Overall, I was a good experience, while I didn’t see any films that just blew me away, I saw a lot of good films. I’ve listed them below in levels of “good” and a brief comment. Within each level of good I’ve listed them in descending goodness. Of course, all of this is subjective and it’s hard to compare films that are trying to do different things. I could probably come up with a dozen different lists based on different criteria.

VERY GOOD

Breathless (South Korea)
The cycle of brutality is vividly realized in the debut feature of writer, director, producer and star Yang Ik-june. Though not as extreme, fans of Chan-wook Park’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy should enjoy this nuanced portrayal of the life of a small time thug and those left in his wake.

Air Doll (Japan)
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows) puts a intricately intertwined spin on the sexual surrogate love story by bringing an air doll to life and having her afflicted with the human condition. How do people deal with loneliness, find a connection with another human being, or try to find another way to fill the void?

Mother (South Korea) Oscar Submission
How far will a mother go when her son is accused of murder? Pretty far according to Bong Joon-Ho in his feature follow up to the pleasing b-monster-movie fun of The Host. A fabulous performance by Kim Hye-ja in the title role.

The White Ribbon (Germany) Oscar Submission
Small town life is never as idyllic as it seems. While director Michael Haneke’s film is in black and white, the topics it’s dealing with aren’t as finely delineated. Set in an agrarian community in the run up to WWI Haneke is asking questions about what conditions prepare the ground for post-war Fascism. Just don’t expect any answers.

QUITE GOOD

Letters to Father Jacob (Finland) Oscar Submission
Using a limited number of locations and actors, director Klaus Härö tells the story of an ex-con working for a blind priest with quiet assurance. The two main actors give great performances.

Sergio (USA) Oscar Feature Documentary Short List
The heart breaking story of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the UN mission in Iraq, who died in a bombing of the UN headquarters. The film cuts back and forth between the rescue attempt and Sergio’s life, but is a bit too one-sided in lionizing its subject to be a truly great film. It touches on the fact that he was a bit of a womanizer and mentions his first wife and children, but doesn’t get their perspective on him.

I Killed My Mother (Canada) Oscar Submission
A bit self involved, but what else would you expect from a film written, directed and starring a teenager? In fact, only a teenager could have made this film and had it feel as real as it does. Based on his own explosive relationship with his mother Xavier Dolan and Anne Dorval, who plays his mother, battle it out with gusto. It’ll be interesting to see what his next project is.

A Bad Day to Go Fishing (Uruguay) Oscar Submission
A delightful tale of two men clinging to the margins that has the feeling of a fable. A former world champion wrestler and man claiming to be European royalty land in a small town and set about to make some money putting on an exhibition bout against local talent. Things don’t go as planned. Beautifully shot by Álvaro Gutiérrez.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam (Iceland) Oscar Submission
Sometimes it’s nice just to watch a good caper movie. An ex-con looks to do one last smuggling job to help his wife’s brother and to improve his own family’s circumstances.

Kelin (Kazakhstan) Oscar Submission
A foreign movie where I didn’t have to read any subtitles because there was no dialogue. Even without dialogue, this simple story of the life of a young bride on the steppe in the second century CE is easy to follow. As you would expect from a film without words (but not sound), the visuals are quite good and winter in the steppe looks daunting.

GOOD

Terribly Happy (Denmark) Oscar Submission
One of the themes of the festival (other than “don’t mess with mom”) was “bad things happen in small towns.” In this film a city cop gets reassigned to a town in the boondocks and has to deal with things hidden there and within himself.

Max Manus (Norway) Oscar Submission
A fairly standard, but well crafted war movie centered on the efforts of the Norwegian resistance during WWII and particularly, Max Manus.

Merantau (Indonesia)
This movie may be a bit high on the list for its actual quality, but I saw it near the end of the festival when it was nice to take a break from all the serious films to see a genre film. The focus of this particular genre film was the Indonesian martial art silat with some solid fight scenes.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (USA) Oscar Feature Documentary Short List
Well-crafted and interesting, especially in comparison to the run up to the war in Iraq.

Milk of Sorrow (Peru) Oscar Submission
With a touch of magical realism, director Claudia Llosa tells the personal story of Fausta as she tries to keep herself from being taken advantage of and the larger story of a generation of children of women raped in the turbulent 1970s.

Backyard (Mexico) Oscar Submission
A fairly standard police procedural enhanced by being set in Juarez, Mexico and focusing on a female detective investigating violence against women. Throw in corrupt government and uncaring multinational corporations to round out the mix.

Samson & Delilah (Australia) Oscar Submission
The monotony of life in central Australia runs off the rails for two Aboriginal teens. Played by non-actors with minimal dialogue this “love story” was beautifully shot, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the female lead stuck with Samson. He was a mess.

Garbage Dreams (USA) Oscar Feature Documentary Short List
The story of three young men growing up in the Coptic Christian community in Egypt that makes a living from collecting trash. As engaging as some of the subjects of this film were I just wished it could have been better somehow.

NOT QUITE GOOD

Reverse (Poland) Oscar Submission
Well-acted story set in Warsaw of the 1950s and present. A grandmother, mother, and daughter struggle to find a husband for the daughter. Ultimately unsatisfying.

For a Moment, Freedom (Austria) Oscar Submission
You would think that the story of Iranian families escaping to Turkey and dealing with the unexpected conditions there would be a compelling story, but it seemed like the film maker tried to cram too much into this movie.

Nobody to Watch Over Me (Japan) Oscar Submission
Felt like a series of tv dramas strung together. The premise was intriguing, just overly melodramatic and not very well executed.

Only When I Dance (UK/Brazil)
Great subjects. Uninspired film-making.

Baaria (Italy) Oscar Submission
I expected more from the director of Cinema Paradiso, but the best I can say about this film was that it was a visually appealing mess. And at 150 minutes, way too long.

NOT GOOD

The World is Big and Salvation Lies Around the Corner (Bulgaria) Oscar Submission
For me this was the biggest disappointment of the festival. There was a lot of buzz about it and it ended up as one of the “best of the fest”, but I found it completely predictable and uninteresting. There wasn’t anything special about the cinematography either. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I seem to be in the minority thought as it ended up making the short list of nine films for the Oscars.

Dawson, Island 10 (Chile) Oscar Submission
This film seemed to be stuck between the narrative and the poetic and failed at both which is too bad because the story of deposed Allende government officials being sent to a concentration camp on an island in Southern Chile is a story I want to know more about.

Grandfather is Dead (Philippines) Oscar Submission
I’m thinking this one was culture specific. A broad comedy that the Philippino audience members seemed to enjoy. I couldn’t get past the poor production values and on screen histrionics.


Hello 2008

Posted: January 19th, 2008 | Filed under: Martha's Vineyard, museums | 2 Comments »

Between the holidays and getting ready for my midwinter review today I haven’t had a whole lot of time to see stuff or to write about the things I have seen. I did go to the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, an amazing building by Tadao Ando, and to the SF Camerawork opening for the Katsushige Nakahashi show I wrote about in my last post. The completed submarine is quite cool, floating suspended in the gallery, if you are in San Francisco I’d recommend checking it out.

As for my own work, the project that I have been working on most recently is a large map of Martha’s Vineyard, where I grew up, that is made up with a combination of burn marks and my handwriting. Below is an image of the piece with me standing to one side to indicate scale (roughly eight feet high by twelve feet wide).

Michael Silva: Martha's Vineyard


Takashi Murakami

Posted: November 30th, 2007 | Filed under: Los Angeles, museums | No Comments »

To walk into the Takashi Murakami show at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in LA is to enter a hallucinogenic mash-up of Pop and traditional references that obliterate the already blurry line between art and commerce. Murakami’s world is populated by paintings and sculptures of smiling flowers, mushrooms with eyes and all manner of creatures done in a whole palette of shiny candy colors. It’s also available for purchase. There is a gallery of 500 mass produced goods in the “Kaikai Kiki Merchandise Display Room”, a Louis Vitton store complete with cash registers, and a line to get in to the MOCA store. Even if you don’t want to take a little piece of Murakami’s work home you have to appreciate his industry. There is a video viewing room where you can sit on a smiling flower patterned carpet and watch a Kanye West video, the first part of an animated KaiKai & Kiki film (you have to return to the exhibit two more times to see the complete film), and a sample of an upcoming live action project. Outside the room is a monitor showing a looping series of short videos done in the form of commercials advertising Inochi (life) staring a young futuristic humanoid amongst Japanese school children. What makes the exhibit more than just a crass commentary on consumerism and the commoditization of art is the breadth of Murakami’s references. While his chosen vocabulary is that of the contemporary Japanese anime/manga/otaku culture he references Buddhism and traditional Japanese art.

It seems like a lot of art today is about spectacle and the Murakami show certainly falls into that category. But it is that quality and the questions that it raises about art and commerce that make it worth seeing.

For information online about the show check out www.moca.org/murakami/


Still Life with Dead Animal

Posted: November 14th, 2007 | Filed under: books, galleries, museums, New York City, photography | 1 Comment »

On a recent trip to NYC I went to the Met to see the show of Dutch paintings from “The Age of Rembrandt”. First of all, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Met and I’d forgotten how huge the place is. It also now includes a new gallery for modern (since 1960) photography, but I was really there to see the paintings.

Jan Weenix: Falconer's Bag
Falconer’s Bag, 1695, Jan Weenix from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last spring I saw Vermeer’s Kitchen Maid at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and it knocked me out. I know, I know, Vermeer is one of those artists whose work is so well known that it’s easy to feel blasé about the whole thing, but seeing that particular painting in person (even more so than the Girl with a Pearl Earring at the Mauritshuis in the Hague) was a memorable experience. So I was looking forward to seeing the five Vermeers that the Met has as well as any still life that might be there. On the whole the show was quite good, though I was disappointed that there were only a limited number of still lifes among the many portraits and landscapes and the Vermeers weren’t quite up to the Kitchen Maid. Maybe my expectations were too high. Anyway, that sets the context for the work of another artist I saw later that day.

While thumbing through a copy of Photograph at a gallery in Chelsea I came across a photograph that reminded me of the Dutch still lifes, but instead of the usual rabbit or game bird this image contained a wallaby. Needless to say I was intrigued, so I made a point of seeing the images in person.

Drew: Wallaby with Tarpaulin
Wallaby with Tarpaulin, 2006, Marian Drew

The artist’s name is Marian Drew and she finds these subjects by the side of the road in her native Australia. The gallery notes say that, opposed to the bounty portrayed in traditional still lifes, her images are a commentary on human wastefulness and disregard for wild animals. I don’t know that I get the wasteful aspect of it because the images themselves are generally quite minimal, seldom is the table overflowing. I do however see roadkill a comment on the intersection of the wild and the developed, the often disastrous consequences of that intersection, habitat loss, etc. Despite the somewhat gruesome subject matter there are some wonderful images.

Drew: Wombat with Watermelon
Wombat with Watermelon, 2005, Marian Drew

That said, seeing the images in person there was something I hadn’t noticed in the smaller image in the gallery guide. In many of the images there was a halo around the objects on the table. A kind of spotlight effect that I found distracting. I feel her best images are the ones where this effect isn’t as strongly evident. Later I learned from the gallerist that the effect was due to the fact that Drew photographs these images in complete darkness and illuminates the objects with a “torch”. She doesn’t know herself exactly how the lighting is going to turn out until she sees the image. Personally, I would rather have the images lit with a more natural light. I don’t know that her method adds anything to her intended meaning. It would be interesting to know the reasoning behind shooting the images in this way.

The intersection of man and animal (and being in NYC) got me thinking about Alessandra Sanguinetti’s from On the Sixth Day. I saw some of those images at the ICP show Ecotopia last year and finally got around to buying her book at Dashwood Books (an excellent shop with a very strong section of Japanese photography) the same day I went to see the Drew show. One of the images from the series is also a still life, though much more naturalistic than either Drew’s work or the Dutch paintings.

Alessandra Sanguinetti: Still Life
Still Life from On the Sixth Day, Alessandra Sanguinetti

Beyond the visual difference there is also a considerable difference in the image’s meaning. Rather than the wastefulness and disregard for the natural world portrayed in Drew’s images Sanguinetti was photographing subsistence farmers in Argentina who are intimately linked with their surroundings.

For anyone who hasn’t seen On the Sixth Day, I highly recommend it. It is a visual tour de force and will definitely make you think about the origin of the piece of meat on your plate.