I brought my 100-400 lens to the beach earlier as Anne-Claire and I ordered pizza from a new truck on the Esplanade. A few minutes ago I was looking at my idle captures, I zoomed in, and I realized I could see it was a Korean Air Boeing 747.
I looked it up among the LAX departures. It was a long haul headed to Seoul. It was more than half an hour late.
I don’t know. If I was to be in the air for thirteen and a half hours, I would be really upset about the delay. Or I would cherish half an hour longer on the ground. Or maybe I would not care.
I developed a strange attachment for this flight. Tomorrow morning I will check what time they landed. Maybe I won’t but right now I like to think that I will.
I am wondering who’s flying. Are they flying home? On a business trip?
Such a long time with a mask on, they must barely have a face when they arrive in Seoul. I barely had a face last time I flew to Italy.
I am not looking forward to any thirteen-hour flight.
But a thirteen hour drive, just give me a sign and I’ll be on my way.
Disclaimer: This blogpost is a review of an art show in images and words. It does not represent nor aims at representing the ideas or the intentions of the artist. It is a philosophical and artistic way to vibe on another philosophical and artistic work.
Daniela Cueva’s show “Obsidian Edge” is on display at the One Trick Pony gallery at 1051 S Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019 until July the 17th.
Most good art deals with Time and Death. This has been the case since the Ancients invented Art. “What about Love?” you might wonder. When art is good, love is a function of time and death. Think of Shakespeare: all of his (their?) dramas about love are ultimately tales about death and time and how the two are joined in a ribbon. Time, timelessness, but also timeliness. Death, mortality, or (the unlikely) lack thereof.
Daniela Cueva’s powerful art show takes these two themes and rides them hard.
There’s an image about Daniela’s art that I cannot shake off, so I might as well share it. Think of Death as a Hot-Wheel car, Time as its track, and the artist as the hand what grabs the small car and pushes it back and forth along the track.
Time and Death are the recipients of Daniela Cueva’s interrogation, but the direction flickers as it emerges from this questioning. Questions about composition, decomposition and recomposition are laid out by the artist, and they are given multiple answers, as many as the traits of pencil that Daniela uses to carve her visions out of rough paper.
Where is time going? Daniela Cueva’s drawings don’t look still at all. They go somewhere and they come from somewhere. Possibly the same place, in a never ending circle, but they are not static. There is a depiction of silent pain (for instance in the three the birds, not alive, with their beaks open), a surgical labor of what is not alive, but which might be dead or about to live (again?). This is how Daniela Cueva plays with Time and Death, preventing the viewer from fully realizing where they stand with respect to the frame.
Daniela’s background includes a degree in Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University. This makes her an artist, but also a designer, and most of all an artisan. The scaffolding, the structures that bind the seemingly organic material together in her works do remind, on the one hand, of the pikes and hooked ropes in Hieronymus Bosch’s theological frenzies; on the other hand, it is also a tacking thread. It is something that keeps together mysterious materials as soft and shapeless as ancient textiles. Is she preserving them? Is she slowing their decay? Or is she crafting the sinews and the organs and the vessels of a new creation? What if it’s somehow both, like a metaphysical salvage? Perhaps the bodies are not dead, only sleeping.
The show features a video, sharing the same title. Not only the eye of the artist is involved, but her hands and the rest of her senses do play a crucial role in this installation.
Time and Death are once again like waves crashing on the shore: you can hear them too, as Daniela’s hands dissolve a weird fabric in an even weirder-looking bath. The sense of oddity and displacement is reinforced by the juxtaposition of digital and analogical layers of recording to achieve a liminal monster: not so much in the horror sense, but according to the Latin etymology of “monstrum”, a wonder, something to be warned about (the same root is in the english verb “demonstrate”).
Daniela Cueva’s exploration goes indeed beyond paper and colors, as she has been working on the artistic and communicative potentialities of novel organic materials, such as the discarded coils of bacteria that she grew herself in her studio. Time, and the death of the microorganisms produce a material that the artist – half weaver and half sculptor – may use, until time (again) brings about the death (sic!) of the organic artwork… unless the artist decides to bring about its dissolution/decomposition as part of the performance itself.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes, 1:9-10)
Daniela Cueva‘s show “Obsidian Edge” is on display at One Trick Pony gallery at 1051 S Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019 until July the 17th.
I am not a big fan of flying. First, I’m sort of heavy set and each time I sit in an airplane I wonder if they got even smaller or I gained more weight (and I usually delude myself into thinking it’s a bit of both). Second, I don’t do well with turbulence: I am rationally aware and persuaded that they won’t cause the plane to crash and that they are a little bit like driving on a bumpy country road at dusk with poor headlights, still my body doesn’t like them. For a couple of years, even a gentle rumble would make my body brace for a Tower-of-Terror-style drop: not having flown for a year and a half, from October 2019 till March 2021 kind of eased that feeling – my body did a bit of a reset. More importantly, I love to drive. I love my car. I love to stop, I love to own my itinerary and be able to make last minute stops and detours.
And yet, I love airports. I especially love LAX. At night, we stand on the Esplanade at look into the North and see the flashing red lights of the surrounding structures. For us, that is the connection with the rest of the world, especially with Europe. That’s where family and friends come from, and return to their homes. To me, it’s like a Stargate.
I especially love picking up people at airports. I smell the excess fuel dumped by incoming aircrafts. I hear the the tourists crossing each other, some arriving, some departing, trolleyed around by the nightmarish car-rental shuttles. I rub against the Stargate, feel its overwhelming potential to take me anywhere and I politely decline: “No thank you, I’m just picking up”.
The light, the clouds, and the mood were just perfect when I picked up Anne-Claire last Thursday, and I was really glad my nimble Fujifilm X100V was at my side on the passenger seat.
I’ll try to keep this short, as a postcard. My first batch of postcards have arrived!
I don’t see them simply as postcards: to me, they are mini-artworks. If you are old (or hipster) enough, you will recognize the inspiration. Notice the editing, the kitsch lettering, the color palettes, the iconic views from the air and the rounded white bezel surrounding the image: I tried to recreate the feeling of the “golden age” of postcards.
I place such age at the apex of mass tourism, just before the appearance of low-cost flights (when trips became too frequent and too short to allow for postcards). In other words, postcards belong to summer holidays. Most of my childhood spanned over the Nineties. I learnt to write in the fall of 1992. In the summer of 1993, I started scribbling my first postcards.
Before the appearance of smartphones, tablets and the ubiquitous data connection, time was a different experience altogether. Vacations were a peculiar mental space in which boredom was welcome, and we garnished it with games, books, naps, and postcard-writing sessions. We would send postcards to our grandparents, to aunts and uncles, and to a carefully curated handful of schoolmates. Some were just a greeting and kisses, others were short novels packing as much information as a thin handwriting could inscribe in a couple of square inches – paying a sacred attention not to trespass into the holy field of the recipient.
Maybe it’s because, in Southern California, hardly a day goes by without someone saying that “we live in a postcard”. Maybe it’s the forced immobility of the past year, which made us long to travel and recall all of the special experiences surrounding our journeys that we would so easily take for granted. And maybe it’s my drone work, producing several aerial landscapes that kept my mind running back to the dozens of postcards I had sent as a kid.
Anyway, here’s my postcards!
These postcards are for sale at $2.50 each, or 10 for $20, mix and match (any selection you want, one of each, 10 of one, 5 and 5…). If it’s convenient to you, I am happy to add US (36 cents) and international stamps ($1.20) with no markup.
Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get them ready for you! I have most of these designs in stock. If you’re local, we can meet. Otherwise, shipping is an option.
Please come back to this page periodically, as I will keep uploading new designs as I create and have them printed!
Update July 26, 2021: Two new designs arriving next week! The Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes, and a dreamy sunset view of Redondo Beach!
French philosopher Roland Barthes, in his 1980 book Camera Lucida, sets off his reflections by focusing on the relationship between photography and death. Portraits, he thought, are like revenants, and like ghosts, but they don’t even need their subjects to be deceased to be such. Certainly, if the person portrayed in the photograph has passed in the meanwhile, the effect is all the stronger.
This slightly macabre preamble was just to introduce how, like a bat in the night, photography has its place around death. That’s what a friend and I worked on last week as we went to Los Angeles shooting for…
The first cemetery we headed to was the Hollywood Forever, right behind the Paramount Studios (6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles). It was founded in 1899, towards the end of the neoclassical revival that had reshaped the understanding of cemeteries all along the nineteenth century. This vision of cemeteries, epitomized in the United States by the Gettysburg National Cemetery, drew its inspiration from the Kerameikos, the main burial ground in ancient Athens: the greek idea of a cemetery was a place of communion between the living and the dead, a beautiful garden in which to stroll and brood, letting one’s mind be inspired by the wisdom of the forefathers.
The Greek’s relationship with death was much different than the Christian one: if it’s true that the afterlife was considered as an unexciting, mildly depressed and mostly melancholic region of our universe, it’s also true that – unless one had committed particular atrocities such as murdering a family member or a guest – the underworld was not a lieu of torment, as opposed to the Christian Hell, or even Purgatory. Unbothered by damnation and salvation, the Greeks could wander in the cemetery and be inspired by those who came before about how to make their life worth living, and especially worth telling (and this obviously connects with the beauty and unique decoration of one’s tomb).
I could ramble for much longer on the philosophical, theological, and sociological implications of graveyards, but I would overstay my welcome in your attention and it would definitely be eccentric to our interest: just know that after the Christian-dominated conception of the graveyard as a place to bury the dead and to pray for them and hasten their way to Heaven, and after the distate for cemeteries of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, the Romantic passion for classical Greece and Rome saw fit to reappropriate the vision of the cemetery as a place of beauty, made for aimless wanderings and recollection in tranquillity. After more than two millennia, cemeteries became once again places to hang out, and to be honest I think an ancient Athenian would be less scandalized at the sight of a Yoga class by Douglas Fairbanks’ monument than many of our contemporaries.
First, cemeteries are really interesting on a compositional level. Difference cemeteries display different kinds of tombs, some are more eclectic while other present a more uniform architecture. Composing the image in a cemetery is a beautiful challenge.
Second, cemeteries offer great storytelling opportunities. There are many lines you can exploit: one of my favorites is the duality between the living and the dead, which can be interpreted either by connecting dots inside and outside the perimeter of the graveyard (as in the case of the Hollywood sign overlooking the cemetery, or in the curios alinement of the Griffith J. Griffith memorial and the Observatory in the background).
Another interesting way of exploring and resolving the life/death duality is to focus on the wildlife that cheerfully inhabits most cemeteries, in this case mostly amounting to birds and squirrels. Whenever I look at the first image, I think that Mesrobian must have been a really good person.
Third, many cemeteries include indoor mausoleums and other enclosed spaces. These force you to explore different kinds of composition and editing to exploit the architecture, the decor, and the way light plays around in those purposely dim chambers.
Last, but not least, when you visit a cemetery such as the Hollywood Forever or the Père Lachaise in Paris, you you will be looking for the last earthly home of some of the stars that will burn forever bright in your imagination. This is where your culture and your personal taste will play out, because we’re all on the same Earth but we all look at different Heavens.
The “stargazing” part was particularly rewarding at the second cemetery we visited, the Westwood Memorial Park on 1218 Glendon Avenue. Beware, this one is a little hard to find, as it is nested between high-rises and parkings so you won’t see it from the street where your navigator leads you to. Trust your GPS, park, and walk to the memorial. The weather had turned gloomy, but the overall lack of esthetic charm (compared to the Hollywood Forever) is compensated by the fame of its residents. It’s almost easier to single out who you do not know than who you do. With all due respect, it is a fun experience: many things will make you go “Ha!”, for instance seeing that Hugh Hefner and Marylin Monroe rest side by side, and many of the epitaphs will make you smile, smirk, or giggle out loud.
Aside from the revealing suspicion, aroused by the Westwood Memorial, that we won’t be equal under the grass, it was very rewarding to visit cemeteries. It was rewarding from an artistic perspective, it was a great study and exercise, and it was revealing from a human perspective, too. It makes you wonder while you are there, and it makes you wander while you are home editing your photographs, and the very editing is like a mirror of your thoughts about everything you took in.
What was my takeaway? I saw many beautiful tombs, and I read many epitaphs. Many were solemn, many were solemn and personal (I could not help wondering at many graves who said the person would be forever remembered, but I had no idea who they were), and some were definitely witty – and I appreciated these a lot because I’m a funny guy. But the one that resonated the most with me was Dean Martin’s, at Westwood Memorial. It was so simple and so perfect, because not only it summed up everything we had seen. It also summed up everything life is about, and also everything photography is about.
Everything we do, it’s because everybody loves somebody sometime, and my sometime is now.
The wind had offered such a display of gracious brutality a couple of days ago. And we all wondered before it, and rightfully so. It reminded us of Nature and her unmediated might. Made us feel mostly elated but a little scared at the same time. Kept us up at night and gave us a reason to exit our shelters to go and see.
In Kant’s words, it was sublime. A vision that cannot be grasped by our senses, that transcends them and leaves us in awe.
I went back to the beach yesterday, and it was the most depressing walk ever. There were a few more people strolling and jogging, and the seagulls were looking at us in an unmistakably spiteful way. As I got closer to the shore, I understood why. The shore was a vast landfill of small trash, coughed up by the wind and stormy sea, so that they can breathe a little before they take them back in.
Countless plastic straws, and masks (because the pandemic is sure as hell teaching us to take better care of the Planet), and bottle caps, and plastic wrappings, and very specific items such as the plastic frames used at the dry cleaner to reinforce buttons.
My heart was pining. I was raised Catholic and I felt guilty. To quote the Brothers Karamazov, I felt guilty of everything before everyone. Guilty of our duplicity, our chameleonic ability to turn an admiring eye on the beauty and a blind one on the unnecessary desecration we daily perform. We are the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
I have little hope that art can change the word by depicting the brutality it means to decry. I also think, though, that art can change the world and it can do so by becoming poetic, by abstracting and idealizing, by honing its expressions until razor sharp to cut through our indifference. I gave it a chance.