Emeryville Art

Decades ago, Emeryville’s industrial (and toxic) environment attracted impoverished squatters to its abandoned warehouses. Punk bands, metal workers and makers of mudflat sculptures expressed the anarchic vibe of this fringe city at the tracks, nestled between the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley and Oakland. Now booming with upscale lofts, biotech firms and Pixar Animation Studios, Emeryville continues artmaking, with work more suited for the gallery than the swamp.

The 31st Annual Emeryville Arts Exhibition, presented by the City of Emeryville, displays high quality art while remaining inclusive, featuring both professionals and hobbyists.  It celebrates an array of media: paintings, jewelry, stonework, live performance. It offers a range of style, and creatively harmonizes the eclecticism within a new donated space each year. Idiosyncratic gems, alongside traditional forms, appear in this neighborhood exhibit, featuring members of the local artist cooperative, Emeryville residents and employees. Several artists show up year after year.

Shadi Shamsavari performed her impressionist, autobiographical life story Chit Chat Project: An Artist’s Quest last Sunday afternoon, a tale of a conservative upbringing in India and its survival. Recorded elements layered with live storytelling invited us into her sensual world. It was a work-in-progress and I wanted her to close the act with a complete song, to bring us deeper in. Foremost a songwriter, her haunting music was delivered in bits, teasing us to want more.

In sum, the Annual Emeryville Arts Exhibition elevates the voices and identity of Emeryville, splaying the colors of this understated community.

Most works are for sale. The Exhibit closes Oct 29. 11am-6pm daily. 1475 66th Street, Emeryville. No charge.

Above:

Untitled: Fraternal Twins by Richard Elliot, hand dyed hog gut (sausage casings), 2016 

Fli-Back by Jeffrey Hantman, mixed media on wood, 2016

 

 

Rocket Opera

Above:  Writer David Cox, Soprano Rachel Levin, and Baritone John Smalley

Writer/composer/video artist David Cox, with Art Director Molly Hankwitz and a talented cast of singers and musicians have created Rocket Opera, a rock operetta that musically examines the history of space exploration, specifically during the 20th Century superpower Space Race. The operetta presents three acts titled: Cosmonauts on the Moon, Lunar Modules, and First Women in Space. Each act appeared separately at Other Cinema between 2014 and 2016, and together would excel as a full opera.  The production marries ambition and underground ethos as a carefully studied, grass roots display of mixed genre extravaganza.

The first act, Cosmonauts on the Moon, discusses the former Soviet Union’s failed mission to the moon, a casualty of political manipulations that strained the mission before it was technically mature. Lunar Modules describes details of the development of the US Apollo 11 rocket and its lunar module that landed on the moon in 1969, thanks in part to software engineer Margaret Hamilton. First Women in Space compares stories of Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova and American space pioneer Sally Ride. As a whole, the opera covers historical territory in a way that is coherent, entertaining and metaphorical.

David Cox states:

Both sides lost astronauts and cosmonauts to terrible oxygen-fueled fires, both experienced massive, fatal explosions and both sides faced the terror of the unknown beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The USA and USSR were, through their enmity, unable to share fully anything that might genuinely assist what might be called a truly global [international] scientific space project. Space Programs were framed as singular, national, geopolitical events with heavy military overtones.

Valentina_Tereshkovavalentina1

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space

755593main_ride

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space

Musically, the operetta slides between moody art rock, 60s psychodelia and jazz. It features songs with titles such as Institutional Inertia and Flames Appear, all delivered with heavenly, classically-trained vocals against a backdrop of fiery video montage. It would thrive in a full production, with more gestural shape, blocking, and a bigger stage. After all, what would be a more suitable topic for the epic scale of opera than two competitive superpowers vying for landmark discoveries in the astral realm?

Check out this in-depth interview of David Cox: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/rocket-opera-pays-homage-to-women-of-the-space-race

Stage Credits

Rocket Opera: An Operetta in 3 Parts by David Cox.

Live musicians:

The Performers:
Rachel Levin (Soprano): Valentina Tereshkova
Ania Samborska (Soprano): Soviet Ambassador, Sally Ride
John Smalley (Baritone): Pentagon Spokesperson, Sergei Korolev
Simon Cox: The Voice of Reason

Percussion: Jonathan Parnell
Wind Instruments: Zachary Fischer
Guitars: Jono Jones
Keyboards: David Cox

Art Direction: Molly B. Hankwitz,
Props: Simon Cox
Libretto, Music Compositions: David Cox
Music Arrangements: Jono Jones
Additional Music Composition: John Smalley, Jono Jones

URL for the opera:

http://www.rocketopera.net

 

Acts and Intermissions

San Francisco Mission District’s Other Cinema featured film experimentalist Abigail Child last Saturday night, with her new 57 minute film Acts and Intermissions.  It was preceded by her 2004 short The Future Is Behind You. Child’s work blooms from the soils of the academic experimental film world, crafted with an East Coast sensibility: studious, meticulous, theory-based, and low-budget. Her films display a unique mastery of both form and content, graced with delicate editing, and colored by whispering sound designs which are all her own.

The Future Is Behind You, a work of sheer archival beauty, fabricates a film story of a Jewish family’s displacement and murder, interpreted from scraps of German home movies from the 1930’s. It delivers history from the inside out, bringing nuance to a familiar story of holocaust. Child interrogates the footage with repetition, zooms, slow motion, and flipflopping screen direction, foregrounding moments of laughter over impending terror. The daily joys of two sisters provide a filter — sifting historical events in bits and pieces, treating history as a moving, incomplete process, centralized by real lives.

Arts and Intermissions uses similar techniques from the point of view of famed anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940). The film challenges the viewer by creating an impressionist painting of her life, an assemblage of dots, with heavy use of onscreen text, drawn from Goldman’s letters and diaries. Child uses Emma Goldman to make a film that is not quite about Emma Goldman, but about cycles of political resistance in the last century and a half. The style undermines expectations of traditional historical biography, and may better coalesce if you study the basic facts of Goldman’s life before seeing it. When I asked the filmmaker about her choice to include only a handful of images of Emma Goldman, Child replied that she was trying to “disperse [Emma] into the present.”

Indeed, remarkable early-20th century protest footage interlaces with recent scenes of mass resistance. The film also includes contemporary scenes of workers in a yarn factory. These surreal shots of beautiful mess and mechanization, establish the film’s ground in a Marxist viewpoint. Another recent biographical documentary,  I Am Not Your Negro, about author James Baldwin, similarly interweaves images of past and present. (See my February 12th blog post)  The days of the traditional documentary, with its objectifying, distanced historical perspective, seem to be over. These films suggest there’s no longer space to simply observe. However we choose to act, history is living us, and we are participants.

The End of Journalism

Monologuist Mike Daisey premieres two new works for Shotgun Player’s Blast Theater Festival through February 26. He sits at a table, with a glass of water and notes on yellow paper, then launches into a two hour polemic on the history of journalism, intertwined with personal stories and observations. The piece is pure meta. It’s storytelling about storytelling.  He critiques the larger scandal of the rise of a reality show president, and mentions his own media scandals in passing. He refers to the title of his own show as “clickbait” and structures his verbal tirade around the metaphor of a dying friend. The trajectory of thought is so nuanced and acute, we find ourselves inside the mirror looking out, astonished, as he peels apart the onion of America’s journalistic traditions.

Daisey, a theater artist, understands how theater works. He scrutinizes how journalism perpetuates itself through various theatrical devices, and how it constructs what he deems “the myth of objectivity”.  The myth began after the invention of the printing press, he says, and persisted and reinforced itself through the developments of radio and TV. It obeyed strict, unspoken codes for which voices carried news and how, and consolidated power along the way.

However, because of journalism’s fundamentally unquestioned status for most of the 20th century, it became vulnerable to the invasive rot of Fox News, a network that deliberately told untruths and mixed up opinion and fact. Because mainstream media failed to question its own mythic underpinnings, journalism lost credibility and its hold on a certain audience. Daisey traces its fall, blow by blow.  He asks, has it burned down yet or are we still burning? When do we reach base level?  I am eager to see part two: This is Not Normal, and perhaps find out.

Tickets to The End of Journalism (February 15-19) and This is Not Normal (February 22-26) here.

James Baldwin in I Am Not Your Negro

The documentary I am Not Your Negro resurrects the exquisite humanity of author James Baldwin, as it deconstructs the history of racism in America. His pained perspective, as a self-declared witness of the civil rights era, strips bare the nation’s ugly history of slavery, segregation and the successive assassinations of America’s best black leaders:  Medgar Evans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. These three men were Baldwin’s close friends and all died within five years of each other. Drawing from Baldwin’s unfinished book, Remember This House, the film describes these friendships and their loss from a personal perspective.

Directed by Haitian Raoul Peck, the film does not delve into details. Its factual scope is basic and familiar. However, it uses Baldwin’s written and spoken words to dissect the cultural complexity of race relations, particularly as it conscribes the black man. It relies heavily on archival newsreel footage, but also interweaves Hollywood’s treatment of race through the decades.  Movie clips range from 1950’s seal tight white Doris Day to interracial fare such as Imitation of Life (1934) and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967), and express a bizarre dissonance in how race functions from various points of view.

b-notyournegro-s650

The film’s most radical contribution happens to be James Baldwin himself, who defies stereotype as a gay intellectual ex-patriot returning home to Harlem from the literary comforts of Paris. With stark clarity, Baldwin describes the psychology of racism and renounces it, without negating its tragic power.

I am not a nigger, I’m a man.  But if you think I’m a nigger, then it means you need it.  And you got to find out why.  And the future of the country depends on that.

James Baldwin also declared:

 The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.

I am Not Your Negro is not simply a historical documentary, for the present bleeds into it.  Footage of recent events — Black Lives Matters protesters, police brutality, and violence in Ferguson, MO — are offered without comment. It leaves us viewers high and dry, uncomfortably awake. Awake to the reality that white supremacy now inhabits the White House, and to an unknown future fraught with racial unease.

See the trailer here.

The Eagle Huntress

Bring your preteen daughters to this uplifting, feminist tale about Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl who outmasters the town elders as she commands her tamed eagle to swoop in competition and capture foxes in the snowy backcountry. Both otherworldly and accessible, The Eagle Huntress takes us to remote northwestern Mongolia, to the ancient tradition of eagle hunting, where the Kazakh people tame wild eagles to hunt for food and fur. Over centuries, eagle hunting developed into an art form, with dramatic competitions proving eagle speed, obeisance and hunting prowess.

The film contains almost no plot, but this does not diminish the experience.  Its style combines exceptionally vivid wildlife photography with observational ethnography, while emotionally functioning as a childhood fantasy. The beauty of this fantasy is its grounding in reality, a heartfelt sharing of an ancient culture and a celebration of family ties and the passing on of tradition. The unique subject, the gorgeous dance between human and bird, and the warm performances by native actors captivate and refresh the mind.

theeaglehuntress-mv-5

Actors Aisholpan Nurgaiv and Rhys Nurgaiv give warm and inspired performances.

Playing at an independent movie theater near you.  Watch the trailer here.