Unexpected things happen to us all the time. If only we took the time to pay attention to the small miracles of life manifesting in front of us all the time we would be able to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

Every moment we have the opportunity to respond to a given situation with love or fear. It is our choice to pay attention to what goes on inside our minds and be able to discern what represents a danger and what doesn’t. It is part of the natural activity of the mind to generate thoughts. It is part of our innate ability to grow and improve to connect to the reality around us without reacting to our interpretations and ensuing attachments or rejections to any situation.

Life unfolds before our eyes, and we, often enough, are too busy in our worlds to pay attention to the abounding experiences that come our way to enlighten and enrich our lives. It is a  lack of awareness that impels us towards a passive interaction with the people and situations around us.

The connections with other beings is the most fundamental experience we will ever have. we are in relationship with every single element in the world. We crave for a deeper and meaningful connection with people and situations, but when the time comes we hide behind our social masks, our self-imposed identities, and we fail to let the other person in front of us to see our genuine self.

Our lives flow naturally through the sincere connections we form with one another, and we are more connected than we think we are. We share the same compound of emotions that defines the parts of our personalities which share a common bond with those of others. Our lives are more similar than we are ready to admit.

When we look deeper into each other’s eyes, we can see ourselves reflected in their aspirations, goals, sufferings, hopes, pain, and above all, the love that bonds us all. It is when we truly connect that the magic happens and fear dissipates.

Our self-imposed beliefs of who we think we are creates the separation, the doubts and the fear. We need to let go of these fears with the constant awareness that we have the option to look at things differently, without judgement, attachment or rejection.

Respect for all beings, in all forms, is indispensable for healthy relationships to be established. When we look at one another we are looking at ourselves. If we are afraid we will look with fear in our hearts. If we are compassionate towards ourselves, then we will interact with the eyes of compassion and relatedness.

We need to look with eyes wide open. We need to pay attention. We need to help each other heal knowing that we do not live in isolation, but as a part of a connected organism. We need to remember that after us, others will use the bathroom.

People are inherently good. Our nature is fundamentally wired towards kindness despite our shortcomings that cause us pain. This series of posts is an experiment; an experiment in observation.

If only we were open to recognize the world around us and the display of activity happening right before our eyes, we would see the colors that enrich our minutes, hours and days.

We have a tendency to complain and flail our arms around when things don’t go according to our expectations of what’s ideal for us. We fail to understand that there is an order and wisdom to all events, and they flow according to the internal psychic predisposition we hold in our minds.

Letting go is an act of complete surrender and trust and can be an extremely difficult process. We often hold on to the identities we create for ourselves. Those are identities are in opposition to whom we truly are. In order to develop Zen monk and teacher Suzuki Roshi refers to as cultivating a “beginner’s mind”, we need to be constantly reminded to look at the world with the eyes of a child and absorb each experience as something new and fresh, unobstructed by the conditions of the past, or the unreal expectations of the future.

Each moment is a new moment filled with possibilities in itself, and, then, it is no more. The only thing we have is ourselves in direct contact with the experience unfolding in front of us. We breathe, we look, and move on to the next one.

* The beautiful dog on the featured image is called “Shadow”. She’s a beautiful “girl” enjoying the flight from SFO to LAX with total presence and poise.

I was sad to hear, this week, that Africa’s western black rhino was declared extinct. It is disheartening the fact that our species take so many things for granted that most of us do not even give much thought to the signs of decline or suffering within our civilization. In the days of internet communication we are bombarded with information from every angle, and yet we seem to have been desensitized to the point of an utter disconnect between our lives and those of many around us. How much longer will it take for us to connect the dots and realize what’s really at stake when we fail to make the necessary changes to save the very system we depend on?

It is appalling to see that a YouTube video showing the conservationists methods to save animals from extinction has a puny number of views compared to other more popular videos depicting a nonsensical and egotistical verbiage, or lewd acts of insanity which attract viewers, and grant the individual who posted it, a celebrity status. At some level this shallow aspect of pop culture has always existed, but the internet and social platforms only augmented it and made it exponentially more visible.

As much as there is an increasing fertile ground of awareness and mindfulness in the globe, we are still a far cry from the kind of sophisticated society we hoped technology would bring to us. Poaching is the illegal hunting, killing or capturing of wild animals. This practice is observed all over the world, up to the present, for commercial purposes. It goes to show that there is still an overall lack of mindfulness in the planet that pervades every aspect of our social fabric. This lack of mindfulness eventually reproduces the models of existence and culture that we have been struggling so hard to change.

Mindfulness is a state of mind that will define how we make our choices on a day-to-day basis. It is the awareness that gives the individuals the necessary tools to observe their thoughts, words and actions. It is through these components – thoughts, words and actions – that we become co-creators of our reality and the reality we share with others.

The nature of everything in the physical realm of existence is dualistic and the opposites need to be integrated in order for a state of balance to become present in our lives. Everywhere we look we see signs of suffering and decay, and yet we tend to delude ourselves by creating an illusion of a glossy and immutable world, despite the elements of impermanence and change denying this view altogether. We create an immense amount of stress trying to create a reality that does not change; a reality that needs to stay intact and flawless so that we can control it. Our culture offers us this reality every day through advertisements, TV programs, movies, and the media in general that cater to the identities that we have created, but which contradict the essence of who we are. No wonder our external appearances improve and sparkle, but our faces show an emptiness and that elusive lack of something else that we do not seem to be able to grasp.

Our society has become increasingly addictive, and we all seem to live our lives by the dictates of the consumerist ideology governing our behavior. It is time we all shifted our consciousness towards more awareness. Only with awareness can we be within every situation on a level that we are able to consider our options and make choices that are not emotionally hindered, but rather, harmonically centered with the needed response.

Only in the present moment we experience life at a cellular level. All our experiences point towards that. Our interconnectedness goes beyond the schmaltzy expressions of brotherhood/sisterhood and the unity of all beings and events. We are intrinsically reflecting one another and everything else. Without awareness we cannot connect those dots, and the idea of separateness puts us in trouble. The illusion is created in the mind. When we observe the mind thinking, the illusion eventually dissipates and we are able to see.

We are always living our lives in such a haste, as if we need to get somewhere at a certain time. We are often imposing rules of conduct, limitations, beliefs and whatnot, on ourselves. We are setting ourselves up for failure and suffering. There is an immanent quality of trust and surrender to the natural mechanism of life. We must do our part and then leave it to the universe as we unfold as a whole. The level of consciousness needs to be lifted every single day. There are no miracle pills or magical formulas. As much as we differentiate, we are part of every particle in the universe, and it lives through us and in us.

The world can seem chaotic and doomed to failure, but there is nothing really wrong with it. It is a reflection of everything else. This world is breathing together and this energy makes up the reality we see. Children die every day of starvation, underdeveloped country workers are continually exploited, women and children are constantly abused, religion promotes suffering in the name of a vengeful God, wars break out in such numbers that we don’t even care so much, if we are not involved; so much misery surrounding us, and yet we are unable to see the connection, the need for inclusion, and the necessary shift on how we look at each other.

Then, there are the black rhinos. They became extinct because of our own need to use their horns. Should we feel so lucky that there is not a culture (at least yet) that would hunt us down and keep us in captivity to extract our nails because they are a valuable item coveted by many? It’s all about perspective and perspectives change, like everything else.

We are the black rhinos looking ourselves in the eye. We are the ones contemplating ourselves on the swirling pool of our desires. The universe, this world, our lives is the greatest koan humanity has ever contemplated. Look in the eye of each being, look at everything around you and they will look back at you. This is it.

IF you could save only one movie for future generations, which movie would that be?

Let’s say a huge meteor is on its way to collide with earth, resulting in a total obliteration of our planet, and scientists are working with world organizations to send a capsule to space containing a sample of humanity’s achievements and heritage. If it was given to you the choice to pick one movie to be saved, what movie would you pick, and what would be the reasons for your choice?

sac 24 posterI have my answer in the blink of an eye. If I had to choose one movie I would – without a shadow of a doubt – choose Andrei Tarkovski’s “The Sacrifice”. To me, Tarkovski’s “The Sacrifice” sums up every meaningful human discourse put together in a plausible and current plot woven into masterfully orchestrated film-making. Every detail of this movie is a work of art; every nuance a tour de force, every scene a master class.

Watching a Tarkovski movie is like taking part in a religious ritual. You embark in a spiritual journey that leaves you in a blissful state of astonishment and awe in face of the unknown of what you are experiencing. It is that intangible quality that gives his movies a sense of the sacred and the eternal. I watched Andrei Tarkovski’s The Sacrifice when it was released in 1986 and my ongoing appreciation for movies was born.

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Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 –1986)

Andrei Tarkovski was born in 1932 in Zavrazhye, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union. He died at the age of 54 in 1986 in Paris, France. His filmography consists of seven films, of which the first five were directed in the Soviet Union: Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979). The last two films were, respectively, directed in Italy Nostalghia (1983), and “The Sacrifice”, his last one, in 1986 in Sweden.

Please note that there are spoilers in the following analysis of the film.

THE SACREDNESS OF ALL THINGS AND THE FEARFUL VOID

offret_opening“The Sacrifice” opens up with a detail of “The Adoration of the Magi”(1481) by Leonardo da Vinci. The magi surround Mary as she holds the infant Jesus in her arms. They come to pay their respects and offer their gifts. Mary, baby Jesus and the magi form a triangle that gives harmony and balance to the composition. The Tree of Life representing triumph is in the center, and we observe this scene as we listen to the aria “Erbarme Dich” (Have Mercy) from Bach’s sacred oratorio St. Matthew’s Passion. Tarkovski deliberately wants us to stop and listen. Throughout the movie we will be enveloped in an atmosphere that draws our attention to the moment and the passage of time always marking its presence. This movie demands our full attention. It is precisely in our technological times, when our attention is so fragmented, that Tarkovski’s vision reveals itself so indispensable and vitally relevant.

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The Sacrifice was filmed on the Swedish island of Gotland, and not on the nearby Fårö as it had been claimed before. Erland Josephson plays Alexander, a middle-aged retired actor who opts for a life of voluntary semi-reclusion with his son, and stepdaughter Martha, on the idyllic and bucolic island. It is the day of his birthday and Alexander and his son, referred to as “Little Man”, are seen together planting a leafless and seemingly dead tree. Little Man is temporarily unable to speak due to a recent throat operation. Alexander tells his son the story of the old monk Pamve who had planted a withered tree on a hill and told his disciple Ioann Kolov to water the tree every morning to bring it back to life. Tarkovski begins his tale by handing out to us this unattainable and clearly impossible task.

NIETZSCHE’s THE ETERNAL RECURRENCE

sacWe are now introduced to an interesting and pivotal character named Otto, played by Allan Edwall. Otto, now retired, used to teach history at a secondary school. He is now the local postman, a part-time job he took to help fund his peculiar hobby of collecting odd, paranormal incidents. This scene where Otto meets Alexander and Little Man turns into a philosophical discussion on Nietzsche’s theory that the universe is bound to repeat itself in a cyclic evolution where humans will therefore experience the same events over and over again ad infinitum. When Otto leaves after the conversation about the oscillating model of the universe, Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood) and Victor (Sven Wollter) arrive by car. Victor is the family doctor, and close friend, who performed the surgery on Little Man. Adelaide is Alexander’s distant wife, herself an actress, who seems to struggle with her husband’s choice of cutting short his career as an actor to live as a recluse while working as a journalist, critic and lecturer on aesthetics. Adelaide appears to have a co-dependent relationship with Victor, a fact that becomes clearer as the story’s main event unfolds.

THE IMBALANCE BETWEEN OUR MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

sac16Alexander’s monologue, or rather, his conversation with his son begins by recounting how he and Adelaide encountered the house they now live in. Soon, his discourse becomes confounded and crestfallen. According to his observations, our material development came about at the expense of spirituality or a more meaningful existence, which corroborates Nietzsche’s idea of the fearful void swallowing us up. Alexander’s dispirited views on humanity, and the way evolution is leading the world to its own demise, carry him into a state of nightmarish visions and panic.

Tarkovski’s approach to his films was always carefully planned. He had a precise vision of what he wanted to accomplish and how he wanted us to experience his films. Every cinematic component had a far-reaching and substantial symbolism to the scene. From sounds to color; from the dialogue and silences to film effects, his movies – and in particular “The Sacrifice” – pulsate with the presence of life in a space and time that engages the viewer in a total connection with this experience in its most fundamental realization.

“EVERY GIFT INVOLVES A SACRIFICE; IF NOT, WHAT KIND OF GIFT WOULD IT BE?”

tark3782Thus posits Otto, upon presenting a framed genuine map of Europe from the late 1600’s as his birthday gift to Alexander. When he states that a gift carries in itself an act of sacrifice, Otto sets the tone of the movie. This is a character that can be interpreted as Alexander’s Über-Ich (Super-ego); the very essence of the ideal models of one’s conscience. The old map of Europe has a striking symbolic effect as we consider the event that follows, and Alexander’s act of redemption in the end. Victor’s gift also introduces a suggestive element. He gives Alexander a refined book of charming and delicate icon paintings. Alexander is pleased and fascinated with the book images as he pored over them and recognized the profound wisdom, spirituality and childlike innocence that humanity seemed to have lost over the years. To him, the images are like a prayer, and so is this movie: a prayer in the most profound and seminal act of creation. Both gifts, the map and the book, point towards something vital that has been lost and that is imperative to the survival of our civilization.

Two important characters are slowly making their presence subtly felt. First we see Julia, played by Valérie Mairesse who is a kind of nurse-maid or governess, extremely protective of Little Man. And Maria, played by Filippa Franzén. Maria is a secretive and mysterious character who lives alone in a nearby house, and who seems to inflict fear on Adelaide. She is, however, described as a witch with seeming supernatural powers, in Otto’s opinion.

ENTROPY REVEALED AND THE UNSPEAKABLE EVENT

OffretFRlobby5As we were already expecting from the initial developing ideas in the film, a convergent state of chaos and disorder had been set into motion and the pressure created reached its maximum and brought about the predicament the characters are now facing. The world seems to have come to an end. It’s WWIII – a nuclear holocaust, the ultimate catastrophe. The characters are stupefied, in shock. Adelaide bursts out into hysteria and needs to be medicated. Alexander is perplexed, afraid, realizing the culmination of all his fears. From the first scene to the last the camerawork is inconspicuous. Tarkovski uses his camera as if the space were moving around his characters. Each scene has a fluidity that involves us in such a way that we feel part of the narrative. We also feel the presence of time and the burden and terror of our own existence in a world devoid of meaning where we look at each other for answers we are unable to get.

Apart from Bach’s aria, the only other music we hear is the intermittent melodious Zen-like atmosphere brought about by the sound of the bamboo flute played by Watazumido-Shuso in Alexander’s stereo system. The other sounds are brilliantly orchestrated by Swedish sound mixer Owen Svensson. We hear every single nuance of a multitude of sounds that gives us a sensorial experience unparalleled in the history of cinema. It is particularly haunting the woman’s cow calls we hear in the background and which permeates throughout the film. We hear the grass brushing together in the wind, the leaves in the trees, the creaking sound of the floorboards in Alexander’s house, flowing water, the rumble sound of the jets in such a multilayered composition that feels natural, and organically in synchrony with the scenes.

THE PRAYER

sac_prayer In his darkest hour, when all hope for salvation seemed to have vanquished, Alexander sits on the floor and addresses God, looking straight to the camera, into our eyes. It is an emotional and sincere moment. In the beginning of the film, when he is talking to Otto by the seashore after having planted the dead tree, Alexander tells Otto that his relationship with God is nonexistent. When he’s looking at the icon paintings on the book Victor had given him for his birthday, he declares that humanity lost that profound spirituality and purity, and that we don’t even know how to pray anymore. Now Alexander feels impelled to go deep within himself and pray. It is a long and fervent prayer where he makes the ultimate sacrifice. He promises that if God delivers his family and friends and gives another chance to humanity he will abandon his family, his house, even his beloved son, and live forever in silence. He is determined to redeem himself and the world for the excesses we have committed in our material evolution. He concludes his prayer and sleeps while contemplating the horror of this moment in his dream.

Sacrifice10Otto wakes him up and tells him he needs to go see Maria. He needs to sleep with Maria in order to save the world from total destruction; it is the only way, he says. Alexander, initially reluctant, goes to Maria’s house. When he meets Maria, his hands are covered in mud because he fell off the bike on his way there. She washes his hands and again the symbolism of the water and the cleansing is striking with ample connotations. They embrace and make love while levitating and spinning gently above the bed. This is one of Tarkovski’s signature visual effects. It’s almost an act of transubstantiation. In the Eucharist the bread and wine is transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. Here Alexander and Maria go beyond their physical bodies and attain the sacredness of that timeless moment.

THE SACRIFICE

sac15The morning after, Alexander wakes up on the sofa he had fallen asleep the night before, after he prayed and made his promise to renounce his life for the sake of his son, his family and the world. Was it only a dream? Has it all happened? Regardless of what really took place, Alexander is now determined he cannot go back and he knows he must come through. While the others are having breakfast he leaves a note asking to not be disturbed because he couldn’t sleep the night before. When they leave for a walk, he puts his plan into action. Dressed in a black Buddhist-type robe with the yin-yang symbol on his back, Alexander sets his own house on fire. All the others hurry back to the scene in complete shock. Alexander tries to speak, but then quickly realizes he promised never to utter a word for as long as he lives. He is certain he made the right choice and his sacrifice saved the world. All the characters are there with him: Adelaide, Victor, Julia, Maria and Otto all confused and shocked to see Alexander in such state. The ambulance arrives and Alexander is taken away, surprisingly at his own will. Only Little Man – played by Tommy Kjellqvist – is not present. We see Little Man alone, carrying two buckets of water. He waters the dead tree, and lies down under it, resting his head on its trunk. Bach’s aria is plaintive: “Have mercy, My God, for the sake of my tears”. For the first time in the movie we hear Little Man speak. He recites the first sentence of the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the word”. Then he asks: “Why is that Papa?” The camera pedestals up to the top of the dead tree. The prayer is completed.

Sac1bThe Sacrifice is a movie to be watched over and over again. It’s a testament to humanity and artistic achievement of the highest quality in the history of film-making. Andrei Tarkovski knew very well what he wanted to convey and worked with artists and technicians who understood and trusted him unconditionally. Sven Nykvist was the cinematographer, and together with Tarkovski, applied considerable amounts of color reduction to the film. This technique gave the ethereal quality and range of emotions we experience in every shot. The bottom line: the cinematography is impeccable.

I could go on and on raving about The Sacrifice. It is a movie that needs to be watched quietly and attentively. It is a meditation on life; a universal call to prayer, but not in the religious sense of the word. The Sacrifice is not a religious movie, but it is a movie about the human spirit and its quest to improve the conditions of life. It touches the very core of our vulnerabilities as a species trying to come to terms with the complex world we have woven around us. It asks profound questions, but it does not give us any simplistic answers. It lays out the fabric of our lives before us so we can contemplate and investigate our motivations that clearly lead to the quality of life we are creating together. In a world where words do not mean much, Tarkovsky silently underscores the need for integration.

LITTLE MANStructurally speaking, the movie is also subjected to the overarching concept of the “eternal recurrence” which was introduced right from the beginning by Otto in his philosophical reflections with Alexander about Nietzsche. At the end, Little Man addresses the father when he asks his question about Creation. Alexander is gone and cannot provide him with any answers. Little Man is alone and God is silent. The answers must come from within. We are the creators unraveling the mystery of life.

I am lying down in a nondescript place. The space extends far away to all directions. It’s all white and I can’t move. All of a sudden, I see, right above me, a gargantuan object resembling a can being tilted as if about to pour its content all over me. The substance resembled, and felt like, condensed milk, and I saw myself being engulfed by it. I could not escape.  I felt paralyzed and unable to breathe. Other times, I would see myself mixed up with the thick substance as the massive can was turned over and I would be poured out slowly with the gooey and dense stuff. I would wake up with a jolt, covered in cold sweat, unable to go back to sleep, such was the intensity and verisimilitude of this recurring dream of mine.

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“In the Tower of Sleep”, 1938 – Andre Masson

Dreams have always been an area that fascinates both scientists and the general individual alike. The dream state has the capacity to transport the person to a space where one can experience situations that elicit deep-rooted emotional responses. While dreaming we feel as if we are going through the real thing. In the dream space we access the subconscious part of our minds through symbolic images that are highly charged with primeval drives. The surrealist artists explored the world of dreams and the subconscious through the use of automatic expressions that liberated the subconscious mind from the control and censorship of the waking state.

When we think of surrealist painters the first name that comes to mind is unequivocally that of Salvador Dali. Dali explored his dreams in a way that left no room for the objective reality. His paintings were live psychoanalytical tableaux that revealed a far deeper understanding and representation of his motivations by making use of a multitude of symbols and myths. He stirred archetypes together and transcended the limitations of time and space while depicting an eroticism embedded with sacred connotations.

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“Pasiphaé”, 1937 – Andre Masson

Andre Masson

André-Aimé-René Masson (1896 – 1987)

André Masson is not a name that most people will recall when they think of surrealism. Masson was born in France in 1896. He explored many methods that would enable the subconscious to be expressed freely in his attempts to paint the so-called “inscapes” or the the inner world and its images contained in the subconscious mind. Masson explored automatic drawing and other methods such as being under the influence of drugs with Antonin Artaud, Michel Leiris, Joan Miró, Georges Bataille, Jean Dubuffet, and Georges Malkine. Until today, Masson is not well-known as an important figure in the history of surrealism.It is about time he received the accolade he so rightfully deserves.

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“Portrait of the poet Kleist”, 1939 – André Masson

Surrealist Art was directly influenced by the theories of psychoanalysis, in particular the dream theories of Sigmund Freud. As much as any surrealist work attempted to depict the workings of the subconscious mind through the use of automatic drawings, writings etc., Freud denied that these works were a product of direct manifestations of the subconscious. Freud observed that “pure psyche automatism”, in the sense of what the surrealist artists were doing, was still being mediated by the directives of the conscious mind.

Regardless of any agreement on the direct expression of the subconscious mind, the images the surrealist artists rendered comprise a motley collection of “inscapes” that investigate the human psyche nonetheless. André Masson was a prominent figure in surrealism art. Masson himself had been wounded in WWI and was interned in mental institutions for years due to insubordination. His paintings and drawings show an artist who ventured into the exploration of his psyche.

Masson was a pioneer in automatic drawing and all his explorations led him eventually to biomorphic abstraction which uses forms and lines that are found in nature, thus giving birth to an organic abstractionism that melts forms into one another and creates a landscape rife with vigor, eroticism, vibrancy and violent movement. Shapes become alive as if bodies were in constant revolt. The nonlinear, pictorial quality of this type of expression frees the viewer from an objective identification, allowing a free association that can usually be found in oneiric images.

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“There is no world ended”, 1942 – Andre Masson

Dreams are often confused and violent and independent from a linear narrative. Many times dreams can only be understood outside the objective mind. It functions as a sort of gateway that incorporates shapes and forms with deep archetypical resonance. The Surrealism movement employed the Freudian “free association” in vogue among artists and the intellectual elite around the end of the 19th century, and gave birth to a new language that was able to translate the new social landscape that was forming in the new century. Even today surrealism is part of the artistic arsenal of our culture. It visually translates complex emotions and instinctive drives within the socio-cultural tapestry that make up our intricate world today.

The mind is a powerful organism that can engender a multitude of images with an intense energy output. Artists have been making use of the unmapped territory of the mind for millennia. The surrealists absorbed the revolution brought about by psychoanalysis with Freud, and created nightmarish visions as well as beautiful abstract landscapes. This post attempts to offer a few glimpses into the oeuvre of André Msson and hopefully instigate more people to get to know this prolific artist.

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“The Metamorphosis of the Lovers”, 1938 – Andre Masson

When we dream we are not aware we are dreaming, unless it’s a lucid dream. Philosophers questioned how do we know that we are not actually dreaming when we seem to be awake, since we are not able to make that distinction when we are dreaming.

The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Zhou, who lived around the 4th century BC, postulated that he dreamed that he was a butterfly and that, while dreaming, he was aware of his being a butterfly. When he was awakened, he questioned the reality he was now experiencing. He did not know whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or instead a butterfly now dreaming he was a man. Such is the reality of dreams. As in the world of dreams, the apparent reality of the objective world is in constant transformation and things may not be what they seem; we might all be dreaming this dream.

* Top painting:

“The Metamorphosis of the Lovers”, 1938 – Andre Masson

Our relationship with the world is quite simply actualized through the concepts we form in our minds that enable us to speak about the reality we perceive. It is in this context that Plato’s allegory of the cave became one of the most famous philosophical metaphors in quotidian parlance. Our perception of reality is always filtered by our senses therefore it is not reality itself, but a subjective view of the object perceived. If that premise is accurate, each person perceives the world according to their own model achieved during the socialization process. Can we really know anything at all without the constraints of the dominant ideology mediating our experience?

books3In a way, every ideology within a social system destroys the very essence of individuality and creates an illusion of a common good. Every thought or idea serving a higher purpose benefits the very structure on which the system was founded. If an individual, or group of individuals, questions the core beliefs that motivate that system, they will either be ignored or be eradicated for the sake of the system.

We are all born into social groups that are culturally diverse. Countries are different from each other, and within a specific country there will be numerous regional and cultural differences with their own set of beliefs, their own ideology. The individuals learn how to conform to the ideology of the social structure in which they find themselves in, and perpetuate that set of beliefs in a cultural succession. The government, school, religion and family are the pillars of any given society. It’s through their united force and influence that society exists. We can rightly include the media in this list as an important vehicle used to reproduce wanted behaviors and support normative beliefs.

An ideology only survives as long as it’s not questioned. Once it’s questioned the whole reason of its existence is broken into pieces and it’ll eventually cease to exist. There’s no inherent meaning to it. It’s empty. There’s a process of identification with an imagined meaning we all attach to the things and ideas within the historical context we live in. This association is quite automatic and our responses are therefore conditioned. We live as if in a dream of the reality we think we perceive, but truthfully we are simply reproducing the model represented by the chained individuals looking at the shadows in the darkness of Plato’s cave.

??????????It is difficult to break free from the operating ideologies that sustain the dominant system. It’s a constant exercise of disassociation from the copy of reality, the simulacrum. One individual might be aware and free from the power exercised by the ongoing ideology in a social expression, and still be completely entangled in other manifestations of that same ideology in other areas of the social landscape. We are social beings and we depend on the social organism for our survival, therefore, our behavior will somehow always be determined by different ideologies, one way or another.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave human beings are chained by the hands, legs and neck and they can’t move or turn around. They face a big screen. Behind them there’s a suspended bridge or passageway. Behind this bridge there’s a large fire. On the bridge puppeteers hold objects that are thus projected on the screen. The helpless, chained men see the shadows projected on the screen and perceive them as real. At some point, one of them is set free and turns around and sees all that’s going on. He is taken outside by climbing the rough pathway leading out of the cave and is blinded by the daylight. Initially he can’t look at the sun because his eyes hurt. It’s all too bright and painful for now he sees. When he returns and tries to tell his companions about the truth he experienced, they all dismiss him calling him crazy and threatening him. In this allegory, Plato shows that the truth hurts and people are afraid to change their beliefs.

Slavoj  Zizek

“What if the way we perceive a problem is already part of the problem?” – SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK

Slovene philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek joins film director Sophie Fiennes to create an explosion of intriguing philosophical analysis in the 2012 documentary “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology”. The center of Žižek’s arguments in the engaging documentary revolves around Plato’s cave. From this idea Žižek weaves his incessant philosophical discourse on the ideology behind every image and linguistic composition that serves the purpose of maintaining a social, political and economic structure developed by the operating government.

Perverts-mind-to-ideologyŽižek makes use of movies to talk about the role of ideology in our lives and how it, surreptitiously, determines the way we behave within the social group.  Žižek’s ideas billow towards us unrelentingly. He knows how to put forth his ideas without confusion. His voice and stocky figure comes in and out of reproductions of the movie sets as he muses over the different ideologies inserted into apparently simple scenes. This documentary follows “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” (2016), also directed by Sophie Fiennes and using the same format where Žižek analyzes the movies using an array of philosophical and psychoanalytical theories within the recreated movie sets.

In “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology”, the first movie examined under Žižek’s sharp lenses is John Carpenter’s “They Live” – a science fiction film made in 1988. The Slovene philosopher dissects Carpenter’s “politically subversive” film by introducing the ideas that will support his analysis for each movie he will discuss during the documentary. With the movie “They Live, we get the first glimpse into Plato’s allegory of the cave with the metaphor of the “ideology glasses” that the main character John Nada uses to unveil the truth behind the dominant message. Philosophy becomes as fascinating as Hollywood itself under Žižek’s guidance. He is funny and passionate about his subject, and even if a bit too authoritative at times, he still manages to seduce us with his arguments.

pervert3His views on specific details on “The Sound of Music, “Taxi Driver, “Jaws” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” are quite gripping and leave a lot for us to think about. In “The Last Temptation of Christ” he goes on to affirm that what dies on the cross is God Himself, eliciting that the only way to true atheism is through Christianity. You may or may not agree with him in his philosophical approach but the fact is that this documentary holds your attention with a serious discourse, however odd and zany it might sound at first.

pervert2We all agree that philosophers challenge people’s conventional opinions, but what role would a philosopher have in our convoluted times? According to Žižek himself, the philosopher’s role is to help us ask the right questions. They certainly do not have the answers any more than we do, but they can help us to think. We are approaching a social crisis and we need to find ways that we can deal with the new problems we are faced today.

It is fundamentally positive when we are challenged in our core beliefs because it is only when we let go of what we believe that we can transcend the idea and truly experience what is. Reality only exists outside language; only outside language the real can be manifested. Our experience of the Real will, therefore, take place in that space between one thought and another, between our need to be right and our willingness to understand.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’s trailer:

I had a weekend dedicated to the pleasures of the senses. The good company of friends, scrumptious food, wine and dancing into the night: the philosophy of Epicurus suitably and diligently put into practice with the ardor of a dedicated student. The Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy yielded to the latter. There’s an innocent abandon when one surrenders to the gratification of the senses, a complete surrender to the moment and an implicit trust in the unraveling of one’s life.

I’m not, however, advocating a life of excess and irresponsible behavior, but the simple relinquishment of worries and the need to control things from time to time, a tip of the scales by exercising the choice we have to trust the natural flow of life and lose oneself into a day and night of revelry and chaos. It rejuvenates the cells and unblocks energy in the body. I understand a lot of people can’t quite balance these energies and end up in a cycle of addiction that can involve gambling, partying and sex.

yoshiwara5Prostitution has been prevalent in all ancient cultures moving on to the present. From ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome up to the red light district in Amsterdam, the sex industry has revealed itself as one of the oldest professions. I felt compelled to visit this world this last weekend. Okay, before you get all on fire, hold your horses. I did not mean literally.

I felt inspired by an exhibit I saw at the Asian Art Museum entitled: “Seduction: Japan’s Floating World. This exhibit covers the works, objects and sartorial pieces from the Yoshiwara walled district of Edo (present day Tokyo). In simple words Yoshiwara was the red light district in Edo in the early 17th century until well into the 20th century when the Japanese government outlawed prostitution after WWII in 1958.

Edo literally means “bay-entrance” or “estuary” and it was the former name of Tokyo. The Edo period, ruled by the Toguwawa Shogunate (the last feudal military government in Japan), was a period of great economic growth and a widespread interest in arts, culture and entertainment. During this period, Edo became one of the largest cities in the world and gave birth to an urban lifestyle that facilitated pleasure in many forms. This culture was known as “Ukyio” – “The Floating World”.

yoshiwara6The exhibit at the Asian Art Museum gives us more than a glimpse into this sunken world. It offers us the opportunity to experience the beauty and extravagance of a privileged elite group that enjoyed the sumptuous, opulent and lavish experiences that money could provide. The system was divided into classes and the average individual would end up with lower class courtesans for a cheap price. A darker reality hid beneath the surface of the illusion created by the commerce of sex. That’s the way it was; that’s the way it is.

By 1700, Yoshiwara was a bustling complex that catered to the needs of every individual’s taste and budget. But this moated complex was more than just brothels and sex. It was a sophisticated entertainment structure that involved singing, dancing, parlor games, intricate tea rituals, food and wine, and the art of kabuki theater; all intentionally put together to make the men linger in the premises and spend their money while enjoying every pleasure they so desired in a memorable night that would guarantee their return many a night thereafter.
yoshiwara_entertainmentIn this exhibit: “Seduction – Japan’s Floating World”, the viewers can delight in a considerable display of magnificent pieces, prints and exquisite kimonos, outer robes and kimono-shaped bed covers embossed with dazzling patterns and motifs. This combination of ravishing elements conjured up a fantasy world that thrilled the viewer and offered them an experience of joy and elegance they would not forget. To the expensive, well-trained courtesans, the only way out would be to secure a patron who would take care and support them, thus giving them the possibility of a new life outside the confines of Yoshiwara. The unlucky, poor ones would eventually die too young, victims of the sex trade.

To me, from the numerous pieces displayed, the highlights were, undoubtedly, the splendid and incomparable hand-scroll “A visit to the Yoshiwara” (late 1680’s) by Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu (1618 –1694). His hand-scroll astoundingly measures 21” ⅛ in height x 693 ½ in width. A feast for the eyes showing the splendor of Yoshiwara spread across 58 feet of scroll paper. Moronobu himself was well-acquainted with the structure of the place, being married to a former courtesan. The details are extraordinarily and meticulously represented, from the entrance gate where the visitors arrived, passing through a primping station, an assignment house, the bustling streets with commerce, merchants, prostitutes lounging in latticed parlors, couples engaged in lovemaking, to the final scene where the clients would pay their bills on the following day. Yoshiwara was often referred to as the “Nightless City” – appropriately suggested in the exhibit as a present day Las Vegas, perhaps.

yoshiwara1The other two pieces that struck me for their rich detail and gracious artistry were the “Pear-form bottle with Daoist sages (ca. 1655-1680), and the “Pear-form bottle with peony and decorative-rock design (1650-1660). These spectacular porcelain bottles are extremely attractive and were possibly used to serve an alcoholic beverage such as sake during festive events. These are expensive, luxury items that only the wealthiest consumers of that period were able to afford.

This journey back in the past of old Tokyo shows the world that is not very different from that one we find in big cities all over the world. The industry of sex still capitalizes on human desires, weaknesses and the fleeting pleasure-seeking culture that exploits beauty and youth for a profit. In our convoluted and cramped cities, huddles of kids come out at night to work the streets; many of those still in their early teens. The stories are similar: poverty, escaping abusive parents and abandonment. These kids end up in the streets, eventually caving in to the lewd pursuits of men from a more privileged economic status. The world they will know will be one of drugs, sex, robbery, diseases and deceit.

All over the world prostitution runs rampant as countries struggle with a staggering poor economy that forces families to use their kids as bread winners out in the streets, at any cost. Those kids are denied of a healthy childhood and will be psychologically marred for the rest of their lives, making it almost impossible for them to be rehabilitated into society. Everywhere we hear news of sexual slaves, rape, abandonment and neglect. Losing the trust in their families, these kids grow up to be cynical individuals that will use sex and robbery as a means of survival.

yoshiwara4Upscale and ritzy prostitution might look glamorous on the outside, but the consequences are likely the same. The individual, regardless of their looks and youth, will always be regarded as a second-class element within their community and will often be a target to violence, discrimination and abuse. The Yoshiwara presents us a world of elegance and luxury, but behind this alluring façade, the less talented and poor prostitutes slaved themselves away while hoping that one day some generous patron would whisk them away and save their lives. As the seasons come and go, so do our lives. The Floating World would no longer float under its own weight, and the waters of history would silence the voices and sobs of those who perished within it.

In the end, we are left with the Latin aphorism “CARPE DIEM (“seize the day” or “live in the moment”) in counterpoise to “MEMENTO MORI (“remember (that you have) to die”) for life’s impermanence is reflected all around us, and the beauty of the cherry blossoms vanishes in the blink of an eye.

On a brighter note, here’s an Oiran Parade, in a scene from the movie “Yoshiwara Enjo”, showing “hachi monji” – a complicated way of walking invented by a legendary courtesan Katsuyama, and used by high-ranking Japanese courtesans – tayuu and oiran. This intricate walk of a courtesan, as they paraded on the streets, could last up to two hours. The effect is spellbinding:

My blogging experience is very recent. I officially started posting December 2014 after a trip that triggered my desire to write on a regular basis. I am still finding my way around. I decided to challenge myself to write a post per week for a year and see what happens.

This week I came across Idiot Writer’s blog and her work entitled “Stars Twin Flame”. On her post, she challenges her readers to write their interpretation, views and observations on her outstanding virtual painting. Her work is beautiful and extremely detailed, proving that computer art is no different than any art form, and, therefore, can touch the viewer the same way classic painters did with their oils. David Hockney has a plethora of works using his iPad as canvas.

After I left my comment on Idiot Writer‘s page, she replied to it. To my delight, she was pleased with it. Not only that, but she also, kindly, made a few suggestions to improve my blog visibility, considering that I am fairly new to blogging and the WordPress platform. I take this opportunity to thank her for taking the time to give me some beginner’s tips, and post my review of her virtual painting “Stars Twin Flame”.

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“Stars Twin Flame” by Idiot Writer

“Stars Twin Flame” shows three characters: a man, a woman and a serpent. The whole scene seems very ethereal and volatile, as if they are in a different dimension as their bodies appear suspended in time in some sort of ghostly hologram. They all seem part of each other in a connection that transcends their individuality. The man hangs from the tree with a rope around his neck.

His left hand holds the rope as if pointing to the fact that although he has been hanged he somehow lives beyond this image, we’ve been offered, of his own death. He holds the woman’s left hand with his right one, producing a cross-effect that gives balance and harmony to the composition.

A serpent is entwined on a large branch of the tree on the right side of the composition. Its head, with luminous blue eyes, is raised towards the apparently doomed couple. Also, the couple’s hands meet at the level of the man’s genitals, suggesting sexuality or even procreation, since some ancient symbolism involving serpents are closely related to fertility. It is interesting to note that the body of the snake seems to go up and end in what would be the rope around the man’s neck, suggesting a possible connection between his fate and the action of the serpent.

The blue color is only contrasted by the dark bark of the tree and the luminescence of what looks like water or light particles enveloping the couple. The whole image has an organic feel to it that centers the two individuals in a field of energy that is beyond the physical realm of existence. Only the tree seems to have a physicality that is quite palpable. Even the serpent, albeit rich in detail, seems to resemble a fantastic creature rather than one from an earthly landscape.

The serpent, the man and the woman are intrinsically the same; they co-exist within one another in a symbiosis that reveals the very nature of being human. It is the impetus of desire, and the necessary action rising from it, that gives birth to a new creation. All these fleeting pictorial details bring forth a world that’s foreign, but might echo a subconscious representation of the archetype of the first two humans, according to the Bible. However, this approach to the topic leaves it open to fresh interpretations.

In hindsight, I can’t seem to shake off this image of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in Gustave Doré and Ary Sheffer‘s interpretations of Dante’s account in the second circle of Hell. Destined to be forever swept away in the harrowing whirlwind of the lustful, the couple elicited pity and sorrow from Dante.

The overall feeling is that of a continuum where every element becomes dependent on the next. The scene might initially appear eerie, but in reality it’s much like a leap of faith when the act of surrender brings the ultimate deliverance. In my view, by exercising free will – upon accepting the invitation, the offer – both individuals are able to merge and transcend their reality. The whole concept evokes an invitation that passes from one character to the other, forming an organic triad that illustrates the seminal quest for knowledge which inhabits our minds for millennia. Outstanding work!

I woke up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and as I got ready and went out for some early brunch, I accidentally stepped on dog poop in the hallway of my building. That’s quite an interesting way to start your day. Not only did I have to clean both my boots, but also the hallway carpet, leaving it free from any odors. After stepping on dog poop four times in a space of two weeks I can clearly see a pattern forming here.
dogWhy aren’t pet owners more conscientious about taking responsibility for their pets’ behavior and random bowel movement’s needs? How many times do we have a similar experience outside in the street or in parks where pet owners just fail to clean after their dogs? Big cities everywhere have a proliferation of incidents like that, making the lives of the rest of the population miserable. Those ones who choose to not have a pet, feel frustrated, angry and somehow wronged by certain elements in their community that are protected by a social group that share the same pet lover credo that: “it’s actually not a big deal”. Well, it is a big deal. People should be responsible for the choices they make, and if you want to have a pet you need to take full responsibility and not let your beloved animal disrupt the lives of those people who are happily enjoying their own company and solitude. Try to talk to someone who has a dog about the “poop plague” that’s taking over the city, and they will quickly look at you as if you are against pets, some kind of abomination in the circle of a pet friendly city. I experienced that a few times. They just don’t get it that it’s not about the pet, but about them.

A woman who used to live in my building asked me if I could feed her cats while she was out of town for the weekend. She was quite attractive: tall, blond, fair, smooth skin, skinny body like that of a model. She looked incredibly beautiful when you would meet her at the lobby. Of course I was more than happy to help her out, being a cat lover myself and all. From day one I was in for a big surprise. Her house was a big mess: clothes all over the floor and clutter everywhere. But the worst was the intense, nauseating smell of ammonia and dirty litter. As I looked for the litter box and the food bowls, I had to literally tip-toe across the main room towards the kitchen, carefully avoiding the dried cat poop everywhere. I felt like walking on a land mine; luckily for me, the explosives were all visible. I just had to make sure I’d miss all of them. How can anyone live like that? I thought. I suppose your sense of smell gets so used to it that you just don’t smell it anymore. But I did.

I feel that the dog poop issue is actually something that reminds other heated arguments, discussions that frequently lead to frustration and animosity among neighbors and people within a close community. I’m quite sure that many cultures have a similar saying: “Religion and politics should not be discussed”, it is an old belief for sure. This pithy warning usually comes from the mouth of someone who has, suddenly, ventured into the intrepid waters of such subjects, or has witnessed other people’s boats on the verge of sinking. When can we have challenging conversations, with divergent views, without slicing each other’s throats open?

talkingPeople become very defensive when you talk to them about certain things. We seem to hold our opinions in such high regard that we safeguard it at all costs. Are we incapable of accepting a view that’s completely different from our own without judging or thinking that we are really right and the other person is completely wrong? Are we really so self-centered that we think we have the right answers and the others don’t? What makes us so sure we are right?

It appears to me that our minds are really what get us in this confusion? We often believe what we think without even questioning, and we go on further by attaching words and labels to the things we are describing or identifying. Words are arbitrary symbols, but once it’s attached to an idea they actually color our perceptions of reality and define who we are.

Our_Father 2_redIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These are the words from the Gospel of St. John. Words stick to us like a second skin and they carry meaning beyond our imagination. I was always intrigued by the word “GOD”. In my Catholic upbringing, God was always a reference to some old, bearded man, dressed in the style of the Renaissance period. God was always caring, understanding, yet distant and intangible. To top it off, the Catholic guilt has a definite purpose in keeping the faithful sheep in their community so closely-knit that any discussion that will undermine the main tenets or dogmas can never be achieved. You feel as if you are the black sheep, the fallen angel, or the pariah who dared to doubt and question the established order.

I’ve always felt inadequate in the religious community. It was as if I wasn’t holy enough to deserve the peace of mind that comes from blind faith. I never focused enough, it seemed. I was too distracted with being a kid and later a teenager. I used to fall asleep during nightly prayers which, incidentally, lasted over an hour in a succession of tedious repetitions of litanies. The very atmosphere of church rituals bore me to pieces. The smell of incense, wafting from the single chain thurible, always made me feel nauseous and smothered. I felt the walls of the temple closing in on me and the feeling was of anguish and fear rather than peace. I felt giddy and looked forward to being home reading my cherished comic books over breakfast.  God was nowhere to be found. I felt alone and unheard.

crossingI was probably in my teens when a peculiar event happened in my life. I was being really stubborn, having a tantrum and behaving like a real brat. I hid myself behind the wardrobe and refused to come to the table to have lunch. I needed attention, I suppose. Next thing I remember, our neighbor, who was a self-proclaimed medium, came into the picture and dragged me from behind the wardrobe and started “exorcising” me with her incantations and trance-like groans. Looking back, I was not possessed, but the whole experienced scared the hell out of me, and prompted me to behave in a more “religious” manner thereafter, that meaning going to church without complaining and staying alert during the long nightly prayers.

I tried my best, but eventually the boredom set in again. I guess I was not pious enough. Once I went to college, my life took a different turn. I was free to read the books I wanted, and now my ideas of that God faded away. I was proud to announce I was an atheist. But that did not last long. The spiritual fire still burned within me somehow. I can say I have finally found that one God I had been looking for. It was all around me all the time, but the preaching, the candles and the smoke coming out of the thuribles would not allow me to see it.

I can say I had a dialectic experience with spirituality. It started with blind faith, it quickly moved on to a rebellious and complacent atheism, and then it turned into a constant practice of the spirituality within me. To me GOD revealed itself as everything there is, the very source of who I am and reality itself. The word god became unimportant. I freed myself from the constraints of the symbol. Instead, my experience of god is the energy of creation. In this sense we are all co-creators of reality. Reality is in a constant flow of change. The moment we are present with ourselves, and we feel ourselves breathing and being without thinking or conceptualizing, we are GOD, we are the energy that surrounds us all the time. In that space we are always safe.

There’s really nobody to ask or place to go to but within. The experience of God is found when we learn who we are and we make the effort every day to live mindfully, ever watchful, always observing. It is in our every step that we find the essence of God as the energy of creation present in everything. It is in that sacred space that we find peace. There are no guarantees in life, no promised land to be experienced at some other time. The time is now. We need to pay attention to our lives now because it’s really all we have. Every second counts, every breath, every step.

Our minds try over and over again to catch our attention by fabricating innumerable stories and attaching erroneous meanings to them. It is our task to untangle ourselves from this living hell. We are the only ones who can successfully accomplish this. We need to be a light unto ourselves, said the Buddha. It’s the function of the mind to store experiences and possible scenarios. We only need to acknowledge them, and move on. It is in this space that I find God every time in every situation; even when I feel tempted to resist and complain after stepping on a pile of dog poop.

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Stepping on dog poop gives me the chance to be with myself and be in the moment. The first reaction is to be angry and complain. But then, some magic happens and I stay present, as if in a moment of meditation while cleaning the poop off my boots. It brought me to the present moment. It brought me to myself. It brought me to God. It brought me to the energy of life that lives inside me and keeps me connected with everything else. In God I trust. In Reality I am. With my Breath, I am present – even while cleaning dog poop.

EVERY TIME AN ARTIST DIES…

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Every time an artist dies, a star forever dims its light in the firmament.

Tomie Ohtake and Tetsuya Ishida were both from Japan. They were both painters, and they are both deceased. Their style of painting couldn’t be more dissimilar. Their views of the world and the reality they experienced even more divergent; their life spans, astoundingly disparate.

1913: Tomie Ohtake is born in Kyoto, Japan.

1973: Sixty years later, Tetsuya Ishida was born in Yaizu, Shizuoka, Japan.

They lived in different times, during their youth, and experienced different social and personal problems, but they poured their hearts and souls into their work, manifesting their vision in a ceremonial act of reaching out to others and communicating joy, and angst.

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At the age of 23 Ohtake went to Brazil to visit her brother in 1936. The Sino-Japanese war broke out, and soon afterwards WWII, making her return to Japan impossible. Ohtake settled in São Paulo, Brazil. She got married, had two children and started a new life.

tetsuya-ishidaAfter graduating from High School at the age of 19, Tetsuya Ishida began to feel the pressure his parents put on him to pursue an academic career and become a teacher or chemist. Ishida’s father, a member of parliament, and his mother, a housewife, denied him any financial support during his years at Musashino Art University.

tomie-ohtake (1)Tomie Ohtake never learned Portuguese fluently, maintaining a strong accent that only added charm to her artistic persona.  She communicated as an artist through color and abstract form that she intuitively and organically brought to life. She says that upon arriving in Brazil she felt fascinated with the light of the sun, the magnificent yellow light glistening on the new landscape before her attentively amused eyes.

Tetsuya Ishida 4Ishida showed signs of his artistic talents from an early age, but he lived in times of enormous economic crisis; this would have a colossal impact on his work. During his years at the university, Japan had entered a great recession known as the “lost Decade” comprising the years of 1991 to 2000, but recently they have also included a second decade from 2001 to 2010. After the economic anomalies that made Japan enjoy an economic growth during 1980’s, the following decade drowned Japan into debt, creating a serious asset bubble with prices going up, over-inflating the economy. Prices went up so quickly over a short period of time that made it impossible to support the demand for the products. It doesn’t take too much to recognize analogous scenarios worldwide. Prices going up and shortage of basic products contributing to full-blown inflation.

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Tomie Ohtake was a painter and sculptor. She expressed her art through an informal abstractionism that linked her Japanese heritage with an international presence in the arts in Brazil. Ohtake had a phenomenological approach to painting. Her interaction with the paint was organic and was brought forth through a constant integration of the body and the senses in her perception and relationship with reality. Ohtake would say: “I don’t like small things. I don’t like to paint with finger tips. I use the whole body.”

tetsuya-ishida04I have recently been to the first Tetsuya Ishida’s exhibit at the Asian Art Museum and found myself transported to a world that left me suspended in a state of weightlessness.  His work is said to be a type of dark surrealism, but I would rather see it as “ontological surrealism”, a surrealism that is concerned with the relationship of human beings and their condition in the world. I don’t find his work dark. I find his work reflective and meditative of the social systems that affect our lives so intrusively. The landscape is familiar but the construct is volatile and ethereal. In Ishida’s work, human beings are often morphed into objects like cans, sinks, buildings; as if they were imprisoned by the concept of those objects that falsely define their identity within the context of modern societies. There are instances where people are coming out of the bodies of reptiles or insects, organically obliterating the fine lines between our prosaic reality and nightmarish visions of life. In Ishida said that he was attracted to artists who “feel the pain of all mankind” and who “truly believe that the world is saved a little with each brushstroke.”

Tomie-Ohtake-Sem-Titulo-1987-acrilica-sobre-tela-150-x-150--size-598When you look at a Tomie Ohtake painting you can feel the vibrancy of life in the way she painted. There’s movement and chaos, but also an abundant state of awe for life, an innate urgency to communicate though color and organically reproduced shapes that redefines our perceptions. Ohtake’s style of painting is usually labeled as informal abstractionism, aka lyrical abstraction. In simple words, this style is classified as being free of the constraints of mathematical geometric forms. In the case of Ohtake’s paintings her shapes are born out of an organic impulse to become active through the relationship of the painter’s body and his senses when interpreting reality with the knowledge acquired by this holistic and phenomenological approach to art. She even painted with eyes closed, letting her body and internal imagery guide her hand. Her paintings are full of life and movement which defies simple rationalism or congruous interpretations.

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Ishida liked Franz Kafka. It’s unquestionably ubiquitous the Kafkaesque atmosphere in Ishida’s paintings. The more overt examples are easily noticeable in the blending of human and reptiles or insects; even cockroaches are coalesced into the human form suggesting the same type of alienation that Kafka so brilliantly explored and exposed in his stories. The subjects in Ishida’s work are not happy, but they are not fighting back either. There seems to be a complacent apathy in his painting that holds the individual captive and offers no possibility for change. There’s always an expression of disillusionment on the faces of the subjects portrayed. They display a vague look as if they are hopeless and are only waiting for their impending deaths. In that sense, Ishida’s work resonates with that of American painter George Tooker. A recognizable aura of isolation and disassociation of the individual within the social landscape is found in Tooker’s paintings giving us a similar experience where the individual feels lost and unable to find their place in the world. (example 1; example 2; example 3; example 4)

to12In contrast to Ishida’s themes, Ohtake’s representational world cries out life with its vibrant colors. Her paintings have movement and almost seem to be at the point where the paint will pour out of the canvas and enwrap us.  Striking colors dance before our eyes from layers of subdued tonalities which suddenly come up to the surface under the hefty organic shape created by the artist. It seems Ohtake starts with an idea that could be a dot or a smudge and develops it into a receding ripple that creates a fascinating interplay with other colors or hues of the same color. There are times that the paint seem to be the effect of the rays of the sun on the surface of water causing a glistening moving layer of sparkling flakes or scales. Or perhaps, they are part of foliage that reveals translucent or even opaque shadows. Ohtake’s paintings open the door to a mystic relationship between the viewer and her unpretentious abstractionism. Her paintings are easy on the eyes of those who would otherwise, most likely, snub abstract art. Through the many phases she experimented with during her long career, Ohtake developed a connection with the paint and brush that surpassed academic theories. She painted with her soul in a symbiosis that joined together her mental construct and her entire body. This artistic and sensual maneuver on her part resulted in vivid tableaux that captured the attention of not only the artistic, trained elite, but also the simple, laymen who felt transcended into a world of movement and color, inviting their silence within to be expressed with the plain act of just looking.

The key to understanding a work of art is mainly allowing oneself to be open and giving the artist one’s undivided attention and time to let the work speak to you. It is in these interstices that we go beyond the artistic debate, and the intention that motivated the artist in the first place is fully reached in its full force of elements, reaching the zenith of the artistic experience.

tumblr_lyiukiQOIU1r32unvo1_1280Tetsuya Ishida died too young, at the age of 31. There are inconclusive narratives that his death was not an accident, but rather a successful attempt to leave this world on his own terms. He was hit by a train and died instantly, at a railroad crossing, in the city of Machida, part of the metropolitan area of Tokyo. He left behind, during a ten-year career as an artist, over 180 paintings. On May 23rd  2015, it will be the 10th anniversary of his untimely death. The world is finally getting to know this brilliant artist, initially through the internet. We only hope that more comprehensive exhibits will give us all the chance to be touched by this young man’s vision and existential unease that are so familiar to us all in the context of inflated and dysfunctional societies within which we are intrinsically bound in the silence of our unheard voices. We are following a similar path.

ti2The world Ishida represented on his canvas is no different than ours. It places us at center stage. We are the subject of his paintings. We are the individuals chained together in the economic landscape that makes us captive and forces us to walk endlessly towards the barren wasteland of our unfulfilled dreams. Reduced to mere cogs in the system that maintains our idealized lifestyles we fail to recognize that our identities have been smashed in this mechanized process. We become entangled with the objects of our consumeristic desires, devalued by the same principle that creates the novelty. Ishida had the courage to look beneath the surface of the glittering reality and see, for himself, the swirling and dangerous waters that drown the lives of every individual lost in the myriad of empty promises for a better life. The forlorn depiction he offered us was not coming from negativism, or the assumption that life was not worth living for, nor a dismissive attitude towards the world. Quite the opposite, in his desperate but quiet representations of a dismal reality he was urging us to pay attention so we can see ourselves reflected in the madness of it all.

Tetsuya_Ishida_-_primary_bThe world has lost two different artists. Two different visions, same desire to inspire. Tomie Ohtake passed away in February 12th 2015, at the age of 101. Tetsuya Ishida died ten years ago, in May 23rd 2005, at 31 years of age. Both artists come from Japan in different times. Both complement each other in our shared humanity. Creation and destruction, in and of itself, part of who we are. It is life giving birth and death recreating the elusive quality of our lives. Looking at their work, we cannot feel indifferent for the impact is too grand to be overseen. The indelible images these artists fabricated follow us like a mirage of ourselves, of what we are, of what we were, of what we could have been and what we will be. It is our choice to listen to them. It is the explosion of the universe inside us with all its fervent colors and soothing expanding effects. It’s our discombobulated creation wreathed around us like the carcass of an insect organically attached to our bodies that seem foreign to us, yet accepted with a startling nonchalance. It is a constant movement of life and renewal. It is time we listened to what they are trying to say. It is time we paid attention to ourselves as a unique organism affecting one another in our evolutionary steps.

2 Tomie Ohtake - 1963I miss Tetsuya Ishida and I miss Tomie Ohtake. I miss them both. And I wish I had known them and that I had become friends with them. I wish I were able to call them Tetsu and Tomie.  I wish I could have listened to them talk about the way they viewed the world and how they expressed that sentiment in their works. These two artists belong to the pantheon of many other artists who managed to cross into the space of immortality through their oeuvres. They were able to put their vision and their existential experience into their paintings and touch us closely with their lives. These extraordinary beings achieved the remarkably tenuous task of transcribing onto the canvases their innermost feelings and emotions without the use of words. It is exactly through silence that we get closer to them; it is through silence that they speak to us in the exact moment and place where our human sacredness meets theirs.
1414503142.3374_115_oI feel sad. Nothing horrible, though. I feel the type of sadness originated by an existential longing that we all feel somehow, but can’t quite put it into words. I strangely miss these two artists, as if missing them I’m missing a part of myself that died with them. It’s a beautiful feeling. That kind of feeling we have when we listen to a doleful adagio, or experience the sunset in complete silence and solitude. It is also the feeling we have when we acknowledge the vastness of the night sky by ourselves. I feel both Tomie and Tetsu with me and I miss them fiercely. It’s quite odd when we spend time with people like them without even having had the opportunity to meet them in person. They come to us and change us somehow. They bring their whole world into ours. That’s what the magic encounter with a true artist is like; painters, writers, poets, musicians, philosophers, composers, singers, a friend or companion, our neighbor: they all have the ability to change us and touch us in the depths of our beings with their creative souls. That’s what the magic encounter with the other is like. It is the connection that does it for us, and we miss that so much. I have felt that way since the first time I saw Ohtake’s paintings because they’re so primitive and seminal. Then I met Ishida, and he took me to the other side of the mirror, and I saw myself depicted in his paintings, locked up, lost and unsure.

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I miss Tetsuya. I miss Tomie. I miss everything that’s beautiful and pure in us. I miss our forgotten simplicity and our capacity to just be.

We are all artists in our own way, capable of creating beauty every time we make that choice, every time we touch another being.