The Monastery Festival 2022

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Close to the border of Netherlands, the small German town of Goch lies, hugged by the Rhine that cuts through North Rhine-Westphalia. Since 2018, the grounds of Graefenthal Abbey in Goch have hosted the Monastery festival, made possible by the support of The Gardens of Babylon family. The family have welcomed strangers from all over the world to enter their dreamscape-like festivals for a reason that remains ancient and integral to human experience.

The seeking of ambition and the doldrums of worries come to a close in the gardens of Babylon. It is not a ‘break’ from everyday existence, but more of a consolidation, a reminder of the limits of experience. The beginning of this ritual is marked by the collective call for inwardness, a meditation that sets the intention, sets a new rhythm to time. It is now the richness of the individual that enters the space, finding a like-minded background in the ancient abbey grounds.



Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Festival at the Monastery

The music begins. Musicians have been invited from across the globe to interpret the space. For four days, when summer is in full force of life, the sounds echo. Scattered throughout the festival space are zones dedicated to forms of creation; meditative practices, markets of curiosities, and places for nothing but to enjoy and remember the pleasures of idleness. The festival wants to remind its goers about curiosity, and the ability of this curiosity to enable connection with others, to their surroundings, and with themselves.

The musicians attract the crowd; there is no doubt. The real meaning of the place will slowly permeate them throughout their stay. Each musician is invited personally by the family, who work to concert a disparate but conducive soundscape for the viewer to tune in and out of throughout the day. The main acts, however, are the non-stop line-up of DJs which carry the festival from open to close.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Monastery Festival

This year, Miami based Ella Romand will be headlining the Monastery festival, bringing her mixture of deep house blended with the influence of her roots in Brazilian music. A trained classical pianist who made the shift to electronic music with its focus on moving melody lines and tensions of release. Her unique sound has made her resident DJ in several clubs around south Florida. A seasoned performer, as well as traveler, having spun across the Americas.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Ella Romand

Ella Romand

It is acts like these which number amongst the DJs brought forth by the Gardens of Babylon family. They seek to uplift and bring together by sound, sounds perhaps foreign, but none the less masterful. It is with novelty that the monastery festival addresses the ear, lays quiet the outside world, and releases the inward eye.   

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This year’s Monastery Festival takes place between 28 July 2022 – 1 August 2022 at Kloster Graefenthal in the town of Goch, directly on the border of the Netherlands and Germany.

The Carl Kruse Arts Blog Homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other posts by Fraser Hibbitt include a memorial to Vangelis, short reflections on Kraftwerk, and Segovia and the guitar.
Carl Kruse can also be found on Medium

In Memoriam: Vangelis

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Blog

The Greek composer and musician Evangelos Papathanassiou passed away in Paris recently. Better known as Vangelis, the award-winning musician and beloved film-score composer. Obituaries and the programs of his life abounded against the fact. A career of over fifty years, and not one that could be characterized easily; Vangelis floated through genres, as he roamed from place to place, picking up and discarding forms in the search for the sound he is now remembered for.

Papathanassiou began his musical career in his home country, forming the band Forminx in the early 60s. A rock-n-roll band that was through by the mid 60’s. With the political turmoil of the 1967 Greek Coup, Papathanassiou debarked to Paris in search of the new, and he found it in the Prog-rock band Aphrodite’s Child. Finding success with the band would ultimately lead to its dissolution as Papathanassiou began to abhor the structured program of show business, admitting that “you have to do something like that in the beginning for showbiz, but after you start doing the same thing everyday you can’t continue.” Now having solidified what music meant to him, an adventure, a kind of freedom to create, Papathanassiou settled into an apartment in Marble Arch, London, where he would emerge as Vangelis, creator of the poetic synth albums at his own expense.

Vangelis

In 1980, Vangelis was approached by Hugh Hudson to make the film-score of the movie Chariots of Fire. This, in Vangelis’ words, ‘very humble, low-budget film’ won him an academy award, and set a precedent in film-scoring. The incongruous synth in a movie set in 1924 – Ridley Scott’s comment: “It was off the mark, but worked like a son of a bitch.” It was this film that earned Vangelis the score for Scott’s Blade Runner, another perfect encapsulation, but this time of a Philip K. Dick inspired dystopia. It would have appeared that Vangelis had found his alcove, and the Hollywood scene would be waiting for his arrival; he did not take the bait. Vangelis only scored several films following his success, and again, the same reason which had resolved Aphrodite’s Child directed his actions: the stifling formula of success.

“I think music is much more interesting, and much more rich than to lock yourself in one kind of area”, said Vangelis, and this is the true sentiment that spans his long, adventurous career. Running after awards, or pandering to expectation, could not dwell amicably with Vangelis. The balance between ‘true’ creativity and success is a precarious thing, and one that often means disabling the former for the latter. Vangelis is an example of the opposite. He sat comfortably with music for music’s sake, and this extended from something intrinsic in his beliefs. Not a man to talk openly about his personal life, he rather aimed discourse towards music with a capital M. Music, for Vangelis, existed before humanity existed. In conjunction with humanity, music was a complex of the universe, of humanity’s metaphysical duration; obscure, infinite and absorbing.

It is no wonder that Vangelis’ sound echoes these very feelings; hints and suggestions of something large, something otherworldly. Music as remembrance, our channel to this metaphysical plane. Whether willingly or not, Vangelis’ life seemed to follow this kind of unsettled suggestiveness. He roamed, and possibly felt most at home in the roaming, rather than the stability of one place and one time, just as his music rhymed the disparate, way-ward, realms of the inner mind with the cosmic stuff that shapes the universe. 

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The Carl Kruse Arts Blog Homepage is here.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Fraser Hibbitt include Comic Kids, the Museum of Old and New Art, and Thinking About Realism.
The blog’s last post was on the San Berillo District in Sicily.
Also find Carl Kruse on Soundcloud.

The San Berillo District in Sicily

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Blog

 Hidden from the great palaces of Corso Sicilia, Italy, in the heart of the historic center of Catania stands the San Berillo district, a neighborhood that has been wounded, emptied, rebuilt, never completed. We discovered it by chance, my boyfriend and I, wandering around the city of Catania and immersing ourselves in its most hidden arteries, we found ourselves in a crossroads of flowery streets, colored walls, inventive sculptures, but above all construction sites and buildings barred and decrepit. When I first saw it, I thought of an African jungle that blooms on the ruins, flowers that are born from reinforced concrete.

The San Berillo district is the shelter of the marginalized of Catania, of those who find neither a home nor a sign of belonging in the good life and are reduced to looking for a bed where they find it, to earn money as best they can. Here, since the early fifties — following the unfinished evisceration, if not in the scandal — prostitutes, homeless people, and migrants live and work.

San Berillo is a historic district, born from the ashes of the Valdinoto earthquake of 1693, but it is also a failure of urban planning, the result of which has been the persistence and worsening of marginalization, collapses, banishments, and of new occupations.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - San Berillo District

Yet San Berillo, in the second half of the 19th century, was one of the most populous districts of Catania. The port laborers, the station workers, the sulfur miners of the factories lived there; even, between the two wars, it expanded, even more, hosting shops, theaters, and meeting houses. But life in the streets of San Berillo has never known urban planning regulations, and that is why the typical smell of the neighborhood, for years, has been that of open-air sewers.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - MOre San Berillo district

In the fifties, the Catania city council launched an urban plan whose intent was to provide the city with a single artery, formed by Corso Sicilia and Corso Martiri Della Libertà, which should have led from the station to the center. This plan, certainly innovative, involved the almost total elimination of the neighborhood. Thus, the 30,000 “deportees of San Berillo” were transferred to the western suburbs, that is, to the residential area of ​​the city then under construction, San Leone, which the inhabitants still call “New San Berillo”.

The task of urban regeneration, considered necessary and urgent, was entrusted to ISTICA, a private company in which the Christian Democrats, the Banco di Sicilia, small local economic  powers, and the General Real Estate Company of the Vatican pushed. It began in 1957, and was soon defined as “the largest speculative-financial operation ever carried out in Catania”, the works were interrupted ten years later, amid scandals and rumors. In the same years, we witness a further social phenomenon, the birth of the suburbs: the expropriated owners are transferred to Nesima, about 20 minutes from the historic center, and go to live in neat and airy houses.

Carl Kruse Blog - Another image of San Berillo

 Since then, almost nothing has changed. There are four streets left of the Old San Berillo, a few gutted buildings, prostitutes, transsexuals, and migrants. For years, Catanian and Senegalese, Catholics and Muslims, Nigerian and Colombian prostitutes have lived side by side, near a school of the Koran, a bicycle workshop run by the village boys. There lives Flavia, the “crazy flower girl”, who filled the streets with flowers, hung them from hanging cables like laundry, we also find them among the nets of the walls. There lives Francesco Grasso, just over 60 years old, known by all as “Franchina”, one of the most sensitive and active souls in the area. A trans woman who has been walking these streets in high heels since she was twenty-three. It is Franchina who gives one of the most poetic definitions to this neighborhood: “If it were a state it would be anarchist, if it had a flag it would be the one with the rainbow if it were a factory it would churn out sins, if it were a district it would be called San Berillo”.

Franchina, Ambra, and Ornella are just some of the women who indulge themselves in the neighborhood, and whom Angelo Scandurra, a poet from Catania, defines as “fairies”. A large component of the prostitutes working in San Berillo is made up of transvestites and transsexuals, often coming from uncomfortable situations such as homophobia in the family, discrimination in the workplace, the need to earn a living. Over time, the neighborhood has become a reference point for those who decide to undertake the change of sex, often too easily able to obtain hormones and other substances that can lead to even serious psychophysical imbalances.

 This year, Franchina wrote an open letter to the Municipality of Catania: “We are people like everyone else and you cannot cancel us from this space because it belongs to us and we belong to it, even if we do not we are always the rightful owners. Over the long years, these houses and their walls have been modeled, modified, and matured together with us. ” Franchina writes, with an open heart. “You can also raze the houses and buildings in the neighborhood but this would not be regeneration. You will find us in your condominiums, under the house, on the streets of the cities, creating more unrest and poverty. We are willing, if you cooperate, to give us shared rules for peaceful coexistence with all the inhabitants, those already present and those who will arrive in the future. “

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Here we are in San Berillo
Francesco “Franchina” Grasso in San Berillo

The presence of foreigners in the neighborhood is often considered one of the major obstacles to the redevelopment of the district. In San Berillo live mainly Senegalese migrants and their children, many have been here for three generations. They are among the few who have decided to live in dilapidated houses, together with those who have not found accommodation elsewhere, with those who do not have a fixed salary.

There are not a few artists who have been interested in San Berillo, who have told the truth that lies behind their stories. What do they have in common? Perhaps the sense of emptiness that leaves the neighborhood, which sails into the depths of Catania like a wreck that no one wants to remember, inhabited by people no one wants to have near. Perhaps the desire to restore life and dignity to those forgotten streets, to people who are not recognized as people, and to show the beauty of the naked and raw truth to make it appreciated even by those who have never known a life of hardship.

There is Turi Zinna, a playwright from Catania, who tells the story of the evisceration, in his “Ballad for San Berillo”. There is Goliarda Sapienza, a writer born and raised in the old neighborhood, who tells her story in “The art of joy”, her book. There is Salvatore Di Gregorio, a Sicilian photographer, who created the project “Taliami e te fazzu petra” (which in Sicilian dialect means “look at me and I will turn you into stone”) in the arteries of San Berillo, and intends to narrate, through the faces of the inhabitants of the district, their authenticity, their reality, their truth. “I had in mind the myth of the Medusa, a symbol of the Sicilian Trinacria. The intensity of the gazes of the people of San Berillo connected me to the one who transforms you to stone with a single glance. And here comes Taliami e te fazzu petra, which in Sicilian means just that: look at me and I will turn you into stone. ” Di Gregorio told Vice.

Carl Kruse - An IMage From San Berillo, Italy
“Taliami e te fazzu pietra”, photographic project by Salvatore Di Gregorio

I ended up there by chance, among the flowers of San Berillo, and its vitality caught me almost unprepared, it hit me, it marked me. Walking through the paths, I felt the load that the district has gone through, it exuded from its walls. This neighborhood, which has built itself, has welcomed anyone who has looked at the world and realized they didn’t look like it at all. The story that remains engraved on the colored stones cannot be wiped out by a simple redevelopment of the neighborhood: it is in its inhabitants, who have become its protagonists, who have modeled themselves and continue to shape its appearance, who have filled its streets with life, with love, with beauty. San Berillo is a different neighborhood, of course, it is a neighborhood that is not easy to digest, and for many it is often better to remain hidden, but it couldn’t be more authentic than it is.

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The Carl Kruse Arts Blog homepage.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog include The Beats, Bowie’s Alter Ego, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Marina Abramovic.

“Comic Kids:” Teaching At-Risk Youth About Art

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Blog

It is positively clear that art sustains and nourishes something deep in our minds. It is such an obvious statement that it may appear as a platitude, or, perhaps even worse, appear as a given fact that one need not bother about; art will be there housed in museums and quaint galleries, we need not bother about wondering why it is so preciously preserved. If we get the chance, then we may light on something we like, what the eye likes, and that is a pleasurable moment. It is not certain that the pleasurable moment extends any further than the gallery; perhaps a name, a year, and if there are plaques of explanation, an art movement lingers in the mind.


Is this aesthetic pleasure the thing that nourished the mind? This is a defining feature for some, and no doubt a fine feature; an aesthetic compass is perhaps linked to that something which is being nourished. However, active participation in art, in creating and feeling, draws closer to that something. As the recent development in Art therapy seems to indicate, you do not have to create to a gallery standard. In the therapeutic sense, there is something restorative about expression, a visible and delicate expression of the self which art enables.


Art opens up the means for expression. The countless movements and periods in art history tell us something about representation, about the expressive means of making sense of the world around ourselves. Unfortunately, many do not have access to, or the means to acquire, a dynamic and engaging understanding of art. During the pandemic, with galleries and museums forced to close, many homes were likewise forced to neglect the study of art as more pressing matters needed attending to.


Comic Kids’ is a non-profit organization helping to teach at-risk youths about art. It was set up in Miami right as the pandemic was coming to fruition in 2020. The brains behind the idea, husband and wife, Reed and Kat Barrow-Horth, had already established and maintained themselves in the area with their art dealing company, Robin Rile Fine Art. The duo talks about ‘sending the elevator back down’; or, giving back to the community which has enabled them to pursue their passion of art; a rare and wonderful thing that would not have been possible if not for the receptivity of the area.

Comic Kids.
Source: comickids.org


The idea was not induced by the pandemic, but the pandemic did lead Comic Kids to become versatile with its program, namely, it had to, as so many schools and institutes had to, become virtual. This, in fact, has given them a much farther reach. How they have gone about introducing complex art concepts to the youth is proving to be a commendable kind of pedagogy. It was never ‘from above’, that is to say, the children’s aesthetic sense was not imposed upon, rather it started from a position that they could relate to, something they had a positive association with: cartoon and comic book characters.

Learning how to draw a cartoon character, sometimes a few simple steps of the right lines in the right place, has a transformative effect: it inculcates an attention to how art works; makes the learner perceptive to the range of potentiality in the drawn line, and promotes a confidence in front of the blank canvas. These rudiments in place, the children were now in the position to understand difference in style and expression.

Next came the creation of a class called ‘Art History + Cartoons’. The form of the cartoon was applied to the various art figures and movements of history. This subtle shift gives an immediate understanding into the history of art; far better a method in understanding Cubism than seeing a room full of abstraction. By seeing the difference, they see what representative issues are being raised; seeing difference also makes the eye susceptible to expressive cues.

And an understanding of this kind does not end in the classroom. It extends into the appreciation of the everyday, into the architecture of space and color that surrounds our lives, and into the expression and understanding of the protean emotion that exists within. The “Comic Kids” initiative promotes this humanitarian education which is a difficult language to become intimate with, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The promise that learning art keeps is the ability to act, and think, creatively in the world. A foundational knowledge in the way artists throughout the generations have reacted to their experience of the world teaches that there are always multiple and overlapping ways of viewing experience; it is an analogy that can be comprehended when once rendered visible through the history of, say, the representation of a wine-jug; or, drawing, and recognizing, your favorite cartoon character in a multitude of guises.

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This Carl Kruse Blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
The blog’s last two articles were: What Does Art Cost -With Yury Kharchenko and
Performance Art – SIX VIEWPOINTS
Other articles by Fraser Hibbitt include Segovia and the Guitar and the Art of Atari.
Carl Kruse is also on Buzzfeed.

What Does Art Cost -With Yury Kharchenko

by Carl Kruse

On January 8, 2022 the Deutschlandfunk Kultur hyperlink – radio program invited our artist friend Yury Kharchenko to discuss the cost of art, both from a material and figurative perspective.  The program was hosted by Michael Köhler and translated from German to English by Carl Kruse, who is responsible for any errors or omissions.

What Does Art Cost?


Michael Köhler (00:00)  Today we present the German-Russian painter Yury Kharchenko.  He completed his studies at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 2008 and since then has been painting large-format oil paintings and has a studio in Berlin, with another in the Ruhr area, in Oberhausen (Germany). After figurative works on personalities such as Borges, Kafka and even Rimbaud, his most recent group of works deals with images of commemorative culture, with characters from the comic world like Scrooge McDuck, Spiderman or American cartoon series, such as characters from the 90’s like Beavis and Butthead. These pose in bright colors, partly decorated with pornography, in front of scenery reminiscent of concentration camps. In addition, Kharchenko has been experimenting with groups of colored Star of David-like wallpaper patterns. These paintings, rich in impertinence, deal with Jewish identity and the endangerment of memory in a shrill spectacle world. In our series “What Does Art Cost?” I first ask the artist quite directly about his costs.

Michael Kohler



Kharchenko (01:06) So normally the costs for the studio are of course material, these are always the running costs and many trips to exhibitions or to visit curators. These are costs apart from the normal cost of living, so that you can function physically as an artist.

Michael Köhler (01:28) What is the artist’s income?

Kharchenko (01:31) Now that’s a question! There are artists who are just starting out and maybe they’ll earn something, I don’t know. 12,000 euros per year? Maybe less. And then there are very different segments of the market. There are artists who earn what do I know, 40,000 a year. And then there are artists who make 100 and more than millions a year. It’s a broad spectrum. But most of them are probably more in the 12 to 20,000 euro per year range.

Michael Köhler (02:04) But unlike some, they don’t have a teaching assignment or curatorial activity on the side, or that they’re at an academy or give courses. So you have ancillary income like that?

Kharchenko (02:17) I have no extra income. I’ve been doing this alone for a long time through art.

Yury Kharchenko

Michael Köhler (02:23) You are a visual artist and studied at the Düsseldorf Academy. It is no secret. You were also in Markus Lüpertz’s class. Now that sounds good, but then you have to get by in life. How do you do that? Basically, you have to sell if you make a living from it.

Kharchenko (02:44) It’s quite normal that after the academy, which was almost 14 years ago for me, you somehow start to get into the art business. In the beginning it is difficult and then over the years the contacts accumulate and the prices rise. And at some point you just make a good living from it. Well, unless you somehow made it through your own work and through the contacts you have.

Michael Köhler (03:17) We made an appointment in Cologne. You are in transit from Berlin via Dortmund. You also have a studio in the Ruhr area. You travel on to a collector. In a preliminary talk, you told me that Corona wasn’t actually such a bad year for you, but perhaps it was not a good year for your collectors. Is that right?

Kharchenko (03:36) No, that’s not quite right. For me personally, Corona was not a bad year. That’s right. But I haven’t noticed that something has changed for the collectors. So maybe they were even more interested and didn’t tell me that they suffered any disadvantages from Corona. So they didn’t feel any change perhaps.

Michael Köhler (04:05) I would like to move on to the figurative meaning in the second part of our conversation, because what costs something has to do not only with the material cost, but with what it is worth to you, what makes it precious. As a painter, as a neo-expressive painter, I would say, you also have sensitive issues. I hear you were born in Moscow in the mid 1980s and you are of Jewish origin. Jewish themes play a big role for you. How much does art cost? Do you stay true to your theme or do you follow the wind? What I mean to say is, is it sometimes difficult to stay true to one’s subject, or has that never been a question for you?

Kharchenko (04:50) It’s a tough question and not that easy to answer. Many say they stay true to their theme. But in the end it’s not so easy to judge, because you’re always in a context. And even if you think you are 100% loyal, you are in a context of society. And one can only say that there are people who completely submit to the market. Then there are people who do contradictory, controversial issues that are more elusive to the market today because the market is more decorative. And there are the people for me who are more true to themselves, who don’t paint decorative pictures, who always paint the same pictures for decades, just to stamp themselves with the market. And of course all of us humans are tied to financial things. But for me, the more I worked on my topics, the more demand there was. And I was lucky that I didn’t bump into the people that collectors came across because of my work.

Kharchenko (06:05) But yes, I also switch from one style to another as is my mood or mind. My current atmosphere, my interests. The collectors follow, so to speak, and find it interesting. What do I do next year without subjecting a certain trend to a style and stamping that for years?

Michael Köhler (06:33) You’re on the road with a big role right now. Your most recent pictures deal with the difficult relationship between the culture of remembrance in Germany. It’s a lot about Jewish issues. It’s also about what I think you call the market for culture of remembrance and commemoration. That means you have found your topic and are staying true to it.

Kharchenko (06:58) That’s not really my 100% issue. Yes, let’s put it this way, if you calculate mathematically, then it’s maybe 25 percent of my work to date. I have this topic about persistence. Because it has something to do with me, with the history of the people, the Jews. And I now feel that I have reached a certain point, that this topic will also gradually be abandoned, because other things are also of interest to me at the moment. For example, the question of hope or the question of the good in humanity. Especially now that we have had so much corona problems, so much destruction in society that I want to move away from these issues like Holocaust processing and so on to the issues of the beauty of the good man. What role does the good in people play? This is also a very interesting topic, which is just beginning to concern me.

Michael Köhler (08:09) Perhaps one last time on the tiresome topic, but you say that you are not trained to do cost control during your studies. Life has to teach you that, so to speak. Has there ever been a moment when you said it’s all too much for me, I’ll abolish my studio or maybe even vice versa, that you say I could imagine founding a third one. Or maybe not a studio at all, but an apartment in Paris or something.

Kharchenko (08:33) Well, at the very beginning, after graduation, of course, every aspiring artist probably has problems when trying to support themselves. And of course there is constant stress with the financial situation. How do I do this? Just like a maybe pubescent teenager who projects life and asks himself is he worth enough to get this and that? And so is an artist. And of course there are the doubts that accompany it. But of course, if you’re stubbornly stubborn about your work for years, then you end up thinking should I get a second or third studio or whatever, or live and work somewhere else. Those were thoughts. I’m more or less focused on two locations and try to work regularly in these two locations.

Michael Köhler (09:33) The visual artist, the painter Yury Kharchenko in our series What does art cost? Some of his paintings are exhibited in German museums and this year there will also be a solo exhibition of his in Niebüll.

END TRANSCRIPT

About Deutschlandfunk Kultur – A part of the public Deutschland Radio family in Germany.  Its main focus is on culture, arts, science and is renown for its plays on air and documentaries. Its home is at the former Radio in American Sector (RIAS) in the Schöneberg section of Berlin (Germany).

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The Carl Kruse Arts Blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other blog articles on Yury Kharchenko are here and also here, and over here.
Carl Kruse is also active on the TOR literary network.

Performance Art – SIX VIEWPOINTS

by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

I arrive in the room. Other students are milling around, some stretching in the blinding winter light stretching in from the tall windows on the far side of the room, others laughing in little clusters, some silently penning down notes in blank-paged cahiers.

We are still new to one another. We do not yet know each other’s gaits or humor. Regardless – the mood is high and we greet one another jovially and warmly, like old friends.

A woman arrives a few minutes after myself. Her face is obscured by a thin blue surgical mask, and she has a mustard yellow bobble hat on. All I can see are her eyes. She takes off her coat and places it tenderly over the back of a chair, then beckons us all over to her. She has a gentle Spanish accent, and her tone itself is soft. The students and I come to sit in a semi-circle around her, and the woman begins speaking. We listen, and smile beneath our masks, but we do not yet know what is to come.

The woman, whom we discover is Isabel Sanchez, introduces the term Viewpoints into the room. We toy with the word, placing our own pre-learned attributes and meanings to it, then let it drop as Isabel continues to speak. At one point, Isabel suddenly points at a line on the floor before her. The line is one of wear and tear, likely created by the sliding foot of a dancer or actor. Isabel lies down and begins caressing the line, speaking of its beauty and wonder, of how fascinating and unseen this line previously was, of how she could not believe she had never noticed such a line before. We laugh at this spectacle, at once befuddled and intrigued by Isabel’s attentive and overt curiosity.

Isabel brings herself back to sitting, then gasps and points at Giulio, one of the other students. She remarks on the extraordinary form that has been produced by the creases on his jumper, and by the complexity and magnificence of the shape that his body has produced by sitting as he is, with his legs outstretched in front of him. Isabel jumps up and goes over to Giulio, then asks him how he managed to create such a beautiful thing so effortlessly, and inquires as to whether he was indeed trained at Harvard, so astonishing was his shape. We laugh at Isabel, and at Giulio’s shy charm.  

This was our introduction to Viewpoints, a postmodern theory that we engaged with for four weeks. That is to say, we trained with Isabel in Viewpoints for four weeks, but, at least for myself, this training lives on, for it is itself infinite.

Mary Overlie, the founder of the Six Viewpoints (often known simply as ‘Viewpoints’), was a deconstructing postmodern theater practitioner who lived from January 15th 1946 until June 5th 2020. She was the woman who taught our teacher Isabel Sanchez. Mary was not known in the sense of fame or celebrity; she was unafraid of obscurity in her work. She preferred to let her work shine above herself, as this enabled her greater creativity in her practice. I marvel at this humility, especially considering the conflict that Mary encountered when Anne Bogart initially took the title ‘Viewpoints’ and attributed it to her own work. Isabel told us, during those too-short four weeks, that this was the one thing that really upset Mary during their time working together. It was a relief when Anne finally released the name Viewpoints from her work and acknowledged Mary’s precedent in the Viewpoints practice.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Mary Overlie

Mary Overlie

“Observe the ingredients, the materials of performance, contemplate the particles.

Once you find them, train yourself to listen, allow them to become your teachers,

embrace them as profound partners. Allow them to create.”

For many years, Mary attempted to simplify and fully encompass Viewpoints as a complete practice, a practice that could hold and feed actor, audience, and the materials simultaneously. In 1998, a national Viewpoints conference was held in New York, where Mary succeeded in articulating a basic and highly functional postmodern art training. Her Viewpoints, though they can indeed be employed as a methodology in dance, are predominantly centred around theatre.

Mary was born in Terry, Montana. She spent much of her youth with her neighbors: Robert and Gennie Deweese, who were notable modernist painters in the Montana contemporary arts community. Mary would fall asleep listening to conversations about innovations in the art world, and, somehow, these words landed so deeply within Mary that they inspired a profound interest in the materials of performance and art that would eventually lead to her working in such establishments as The Whitney Museum, Mabou Mines Theater Company, and The Experimental Theater Wing of the Tisch School of the Arts. Instrumental in Mary’s ultimate creation of the Six Viewpoints was Yvonne Rainer, an American experimental artist especially prominent in the field of dance. Yvonne herself was inspired by the procedures of chance illustrated in the work of John Cage and Merce Cunningham (whom she trained with for eight years in the 1960s). Yvonne’s work was, in simple terms (as I have not the space with which to articulate the sheer breadth and honesty of her work in this article), a blend of quotidian pedestrian movement, such as walking and standing, with aspects of classical dance. Mary was besotted by Yvonne and followed her work until the end of her life. To more concisely describe the nature of Yvonne’s work, one might look to her ‘No Manifesto’:

NO to spectacle.

No to virtuosity.

No to transformations and magic and make-believe.

No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.

No to the heroic.

No to the anti-heroic.

No to trash imagery.

No to involvement of performer or spectator.

No to style.

No to camp.

No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.

No to eccentricity.

No to moving or being moved.

As you will see, these rejections of the expected nature of performance have some similarities with the doctrine of the Viewpoints (though I hesitate to use such a dogmatic term to describe the Viewpoints approach).

According to The Six Viewpoints website, Viewpoints is:

‘a study that establishes and expands the base of performance by inquiring into the vocabulary of the basic materials that are found in the creation of all art. The Viewpoints theory involves three intertwined sections:

The SSTEMS, an interrogation of the materials; Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Story.

The Bridge, a set of nine philosophical interrogations into the nature of performance.

The Practice Manual, a set of practical exercises that lead the artist into a dialogue with their work process.’

Using these approaches, the artist can exponentially expand their creative processes from a deeply horizontal standpoint which rejects the hierarchical structure of Classical and Modernist art forms. Most notably, Viewpoints work aims to destruct the ‘creator/originator’ of preceding methods of art creation in favor of the ‘observer/participant’ which the artist is ultimately aiming for in their practice of Viewpoints. The Viewpoints do not wish to erase the history of art, nor to condemn other art forms for their hierarchical nature, but the Viewpoints do wish to shift the perspective of the performer by starting from a point of careful and respectful deconstruction (separating the whole (theatre) into its essential parts/materials) with the eventual objective of reifying these materials with greater clarity. This, the Viewpoints proposes, is truly postmodern.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Dance Students

Students at the Alvaro Prats Bertomeu studio in Spain, practice Viewpoints theory

I think that, at least for myself, the term ‘postmodern’ has been so carelessly abused throughout the 21st Century that it almost lost its meaning. Isabel herself told us of a show she went to see which dubbed itself ‘postmodern’, but which was inherently hierarchical in its artistic proposal; there were bright lights and booming music coupled with an obvious ‘protagonist’ situated center stage for the majority of the performance. Even I have been known to throw around the term ‘postmodern’ when referring to the evolution of advertising, or in relation to various cultural phenomenon that I have been exposed to, such as the platform of TikTok and its enabling of fast fashion. These things are not postmodern, I now realize. Postmodernism is a wholly specific term which refers to a disparate method of artistic practice which is a great departure from anything we have yet seen in the world of art. It is inclusive, non-hierarchical (with regard to those that practice it, those who observe it, and the materials which feed it), and fundamentally anarchical. This does not mean that the work is within discipline and strict guidelines; freedom does not mean that one can do what one wants without thinking. The Six Viewpoints website suggests that:

‘this work does not have a pre-existing idea of what theater is, how it should be created, what it should say or how it should say it. In entering this work the artist finds that they take possession of the stage and are anchored in its realities free of the opinions of others about how to make theater.

[…]

The simplicity of The Six Viewpoints is based on one on one contact with the basic materials. This approach aligns itself with the eastern practices that rely on the student to find their own truth as part of the understanding encompassing all of life. In this work there is no teacher, no authority to pronounce achievement or failure beyond understanding that any part is a part of the whole.’

It was oftentimes difficult to engage with this practice during my time with Isabel. Some days, I would come into class and find myself unable to focus fully on the SSTEMS and what they were saying to me. It is difficult to let go of oneself, of one’s ego, of ones ‘creator/originator’ when these are the sole elements of theatre that one is initially ordered to create with. The SSTEMS, to clarify, are the materials that the Viewpoints artist has a dialogue with in their practice. These are: Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Story (or Logic). There are many separate aspects of these SSTEMS, for example Space can be deconstructed into Architecture, Direction, Location, Trajectory. This is a minimalist, conceptual art, wherein all performers are particles making up the whole. These particles are interdependent and co-dependent, but not independent. These is no ego in the postmodern practice of Viewpoints. This is perhaps due to the influence of Transcendental Meditation and Buddhism on Mary throughout her life. In the practice, the performer does not have the aim of CREATING a product. The performer may be writing a dance in space, but their work is improvisational in nature and rejects the self in order to achieve the truth of the essential nature of things. The practice is one of experiencing and perceiving which ultimately leads to a higher level of consciousness. In Viewpoints, the act of waiting can CREATE art. The performer does NOT create art, it lands on them and they experience it.

It is difficult to write about Viewpoints, for writing about this practice cannot possibly convey the experience of finally noticing the material of Time when standing in a room facing another particle on the other side of that room. How can I articulate the true nature of Time with words? How can I communicate the feeling of the material Space TELLING me where and how to move? How can I express the gentleness of the materials, how they hold and care for me as a performer, how they lead me to places I never even conceived of? In writing this article, I fear that I am intellectualising Viewpoints beyond recognition, when this is not at all my aim. I fear even that, upon reading my article, Isabel might point out errors in my terminology, in my interpretation of the Viewpoints, in the unsubtlety with which I have written about this beautiful and indescribable practice. I will be forever grateful to Isabel for bringing Viewpoints into my life. It has certainly been a transformative journey, and one which I will continue to pursue for the rest of my days.

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Find the blog home at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include: Metropolis and Reflections on Montmarte.
Also check out Hazel’s article focusing on Stanislavski’s take on acting over on this other Carl Kruse Blog.
The blog’s last post was on Yury Kharchenko.
Find Carl Kruse on Goodreads.

Upcoming Kharchenko Retrospective at The Kunstverein Krefeld

by Carl Kruse

From March 25 through May 1, 2022, the Kunstverein Krefeld in Germany will hold a retrospective of the works of Russian-German artist (and friend of our blog) Yury Kharchenko. This solo exhibit will focus on two phases of Kharchenko’s work: the first on his so-called Auschwitz paintings, which see superhero figures, such as Superman and Wonder Woman at the gates of Auschwitz; the second on his series of house and flower paintings.

Kharchenko was born in Moscow in 1986 and emigrated with his Jewish family in 1998 to the Dortmund Ruhr region of Germany. For the last 12 years he has made Berlin his home.

Kharchenko explores his Jewish identity with paintings reflecting his family history and the anti-semitism experienced in Germany. He has painted images of his relative Herschel Grynszpan, portraits of Jewish personalities with some association to Germany (and which he feels a connection), such as Freud, Einstein, Kafka and Alfred Flechtheim, as well as other more recent personalities, like Amy Winehouse.

All of this culminates in his most recent Auschwitz paintings, where Disney characters such as Scrooge McDuck and Goofy, action heros like Superman and Batman, characters from cartoon series such as Beavis and Butthead are pictured in front of the Auschwitz gates and the infamous sign — “Arbeit Macht Frei.” In doing so, Kharchenko wrestles with the issue of the utopia of heroism (why didn’t any super hero stop the holocaust?) and at the same time points to the current decline of the culture of holocaust remembrance.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Scrooge
Scrooge McDuck defends his stash of money in front of Auschwitz

Kharchenko’s most recent paintings are those of flowers, depicting large portraits of sunken plants, stems with buds, and unfurled roses. The theme of flowers has become a new cycle for Kharchenko, where he sees a connection to nature and the plasticity, metamorphosis, sensitivity and urge hidden within it to live and unfold, and also to pass away and to revive.  His focus on flower buds brings to mind a life not yet unfolded, but perhaps about to unfold.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - The Rose

The Rose, oil on canvas, by Yury Kharchenko, January 2022


While his Auschwitz paintings are an existential confrontation with the processing of the horror of the 20th century, his latest images speak of the urge to live and the unfolding of life in the shadow of the world’s omnipresent abyss.

The side by side exhibition of Kharchenko’s Auschwitz paintings juxtaposed with his flower images might inspire some thought with viewers.

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The Carl Kruse Arts Blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other blog articles on Yury Kharchenko are here and also here.
The blog’s last article was on Metropolis.
Also find Carl Kruse on Vator.

Metropolis

by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The stage is set. Three pyramids built up of myriad buildings and angles forge forth unto the screen. Spotlights dance in symmetrical lines, lighting up sections of the structures like a stage. The buildings blur into three black pieces of machinery plunging up and down, then these blur and a montage begins showing cogs and valves and compressors and axles whirring around and turning and grinding. The screen dissolves and we are shown a clock with numbers from 1-10. The hour of 10 is about to strike. Another image of cogs churning covers the screen. The second-hand ticks forward and finally hits the hour. The image switches to another scene where a jumble of pipes sits amongst a cityscape, this time ta view of the ‘Below’ – the worker’s city (the first city was that of the above-ground). These pipes begin bursting with clouds of steam from every hole. The screen turns black, reading the words ‘Shift Change.’

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Opening scene of METROPOLIS

A new scene. Crowds of workers clothed in black overalls stand in rigid lines behind a gate to the left of the screen, and, to the right, another crowd of workers stands in front of a separate gate. Each gate lifts, and the workers on the left walk forwards to begin their shift. The workers on the right walk towards the other gate to rest briefly before they must work again. These men move like puppets, mechanically swaying side to side in unison as they shuffle. Their heads are bowed, and each man is indistinguishable from the next. They are the tools of the machine, the people who hold up the city from deep below the earth’s surface while the rich dine and drink and dance and merry away the hours. This is the introduction to Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis.

Carl Kruse Blog ars lumens - Worker shift change Metropolis

Workers change shift. METROPOLIS


It had been some time since I had watched a silent film when I came around to watching Metropolis. Though to call such a film ‘silent’ seems to diminish the visual and philosophical noise that perpetuates the entire 153 minutes it runs for. Furthermore, the film is near-constantly accompanied by the haunting militaristic soundtrack of Gottfried Huppertz, so to call this movie silent is somewhat inaccurate in all senses of the word. The last silent film I had watched prior to Metropolis was The Artist, Michel Hazanvicius’ 2011 part-talkie (whereupon sparing dialogue is used in an otherwise silent movie) black-and-white picture made in the style of a 1920s Hollywood silent film, full of romance and hilarity and warmth – a world away from Lang’s dystopia.

I recently learned that I have been accepted for an MA Acting degree program at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, during which I will have the opportunity to experiment with different theatrical techniques from various acting theorists, predominantly those working during the twentieth century. Among these myriad approaches to learning the art of acting, there is one theorist who I am most excited to discover: Jacques Lecoq. Lecoq worked primarily in the realm of physical theatre (using movement to tell stories, as opposed to words). His method involves the use of six different types of mask – the neutral mask, larval mask, expressive mask, commedia mask, half mask, and finally the clown’s eponymous red nose – to encourage his students to act from a base of ‘newness’ or ‘unknowing’, as the mask works as a blank canvas upon which an actor can express themselves playfully and openly. The final stage of mask work, the red nose, is the stage at which the student may finally discover their own unique ‘clown’, because it allows them to finally use their face to express their emotions and thus to communicate through facial AND physical mime.

Carl Kruse Ars Lumens - Metropolis poster

Original poster for METROPOLIS, 1927.

The reason that I am bringing up this method is because I note similarities between the acting in German expressionist films, such as Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari – the 1920 silent horror directed by Robert Wiene – and the techniques used by Lecoq. Most of the emotion and action in Metropolis is explained by dramatic movement and facial expressions, along with the occasional use of mouthing and captions, though these are limited. In a time where language seems to be the most prominent device used by contemporary film to guide and explain a storyline, it is refreshing and fascinating to watch a film that relies on the skill and versatility of its actor’s mime to develop and carry a storyline. Maria – the love interest of protagonist Freder and also the ‘saint’ of the underground workers, who prophesizes the arrival of a ‘mediator’ who will unite the ruling and working classes – has her face ‘taken’ and transposed onto the face of a robot by the dictator of the city (Joh Fredersen, Freder’s father) in order to quell the possibility of a rebellion by the workers. Maria is a mesmerizing character, because her actor – Brigitte Helm – takes on both the role of the innocent Saint Maria and the robot, or The Machine Man. Helm’s captivating use of body contortion and facial expressions makes her equally credible in both roles; the robot is highly sexualized, with heavy eye makeup and a malicious, crazed grin, while Maria is meek, near-bare-faced, and gentle.

Carl Kruse ars lumens - maria and robot, Metropolis
The transformation of Maria into the robot. METROPOLIS

Watching Helm work made me want to discover more about the Expressionist film movement, and to learn how I could learn to use my body and face as tools upon which to create stories and words without ever opening my mouth to speak. I have always relied on language throughout my acting career to date, though this might sound like an obvious claim to make. For most acting jobs, one is required to learn a script and is then told how best to move in order to create meaning from this script. I would generally consider myself to be a method actor; when learning to play a character, I find my thoughts and feelings begin to become one with the part I am to play, and even sometimes implementing aspects of these characters into my ‘real’ life. When learning the script for Measure for Measure (Shakespeare’s 1604 dark comedy), I quickly understood the advantage I had over some of the other actors in that I understood what Shakespeare was saying, whereas those from a less-literary background (I studied Literature for my Undergraduate degree) found more difficulty in interpreting the early modern vernacular of the play. But when I look back now, I think that what may have seemed to be an advantage – the ability to dissect and interpret Shakespeare’s work from a linguistic point of view – might have impeded my ability to freely embrace and embody my role as Isabella. I placed too much importance on what I was saying, and not enough on how I could say just as much by using movement and facial expressions. I was complimented on my performance, and I do believe that I did justice to Isabella’s character, but I find it interesting to think back on the methods I used to approach my role and to consider how I could have bettered my interpretation.

In the 1920s, countries were beginning to experiment with new techniques and styles of cinema, partly due to the poor economic states of many European countries after World War II. Many directors started to create dystopias and science fiction works to illustrate the changes that were occurring around them in technology, authority, fashion, art, and writing. Some of the earliest Expressionist (art which employs a distortion of reality to express the ideas and emotions of its creator) film creators were forced to be innovative in their approach to film-making due to the limited budgets they had to play with. This led to such techniques as painted shadows (see The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari) and paper set-designs (Metropolis) which create a sense of distortion and unease due to the oddity of the images they produce. In Metropolis, the images of the city are terrifyingly oppressive due to their harsh angles and oddly inaccurate shadows. The trend in these films was a rejection of realism and an emphasis on the possibilities of the future and whatever shapes, textures, and emotions the director might have believed the future would materialise in.

German Expressionism was cut short after the 1930s, but its impact was long-lasting and Nazi films made use of the tropes of Expressionism to create anti-Semitic propaganda. Later on, directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Tim Burton, and Ridley Scott would use techniques in their films influenced by the Expressionist film movement. The acting in German Expressionist cinema was just as impactful in the cinematic world as the sets and styles of the films themselves. During the filming of Metropolis, Lang forced his actors into near-perilous circumstances in order to increase the veracity of their performances. When, near the end of the film, Maria (Brigitte Helm) as The Machine Man is burned at the stake, Lang insisted on using actual fire to burn the detritus beneath her tied-up body. This purportedly led to Helm’s dress catching fire. Prior to this moment, Maria is forcefully dragged by her hair by another actor (Grot, the man who works the ‘heart’ machine which keeps the city running), which she said was ‘[not] fun at all’ in a later interview. Lang wanted to create an environment whereby the actors would be forced to act more genuinely in their roles, and despite the controversy of such techniques, it certainly did lead to an astounding performance by all of the actors in the film. The suffering, anger, distress, and panic of the characters in the film is almost haunting in its sincerity, and almost all these emotions are conveyed to us without the use of any dialogue.

Human language has evolved so far as to develop the unprecedented ability to use words to form abstract thoughts about the future, to recall past events, and to create new ideas in the present. How wonderful it is that we have the capability to produce innovative works of fiction using our complex grasp of language and our knowledge of literary history. In theatre and film, however, I think that language can sometimes impedes an actor’s ability to freely embrace their art because they find themselves too focused on perfectly regurgitating lines as opposed to really feeling what those lines actually mean. Metropolis was, for me, a perfect study on how powerful physical acting can be, and how easily one can follow a narrative without the need for dialogue. This form of theatrical expression seems intrinsic to humans; children, while they might lack the linguistic ability to communicate freely with other humans, learn to navigate their world by reading the faces and bodies of people around them, and by taking in stories through picture books and objects around them. We need only look at a young child’s face to understand if they’re happy, hungry, uncomfortable, distressed, or tired. If we look to one of the most popular children’s television shows, Pingu, we see that it uses a fictional dialect to tell its stories, yet we have no problem understanding its narratives because we can use the visual cues it offers as well as the tonal implications of the language it employs.

Metropolis ends on a happy note, whereupon the ‘mediator’, Freder Fredersen, joins together the ‘head’ (the ruling class) with the ‘hands’ (the working class) using the ‘heart’. Trumpets blare an uplifting final hoorah as the workers walk up the steps to the cathedral in a pyramid formation and watch as the head and hands shake hands. A black screen covers this happy scene with the words ‘THE END’.

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The home page of this Carl Kruse blog is at https:carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel include Reflections on Montmartre, the Legacy of the Satyr, and the World of Wearable Art.
Also find Carl Kruse on the Princeton academia site.

Short Reflection on Kraftwerk

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Four men, a measured distance apart, standing disinterestedly over four synthetic sound systems. There is a small crowd seated in front of them. The sound that permeates the room comes from the barely moving men, and it is one of melodic and harmonic simplicity. It is entirely electronic apart from the short vocal phrases.

Carl Kruse Art blog - Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk. Photo by Peter Boettcher

This is the sound of Kraftwerk, one of the pioneering electronic music groups arising out of Düsseldorf, Germany in the later 60s. The music they produced would help kickstart electronic music across the world. When measured with the other popular music of their day, it is a striking juxtaposition. 60s, 70s, we think of the high-energy performances of blues influenced rock, expressive jazz and spiritual psychedelia bands; Kraftwerk seems terse and objective by comparison.

It is an entirely different strain of artistic thought. Let’s go back to the second decade of the twentieth century and into the city of Weimar. This is where the German art school, Bauhaus, was founded. A staple of Modernist thinking, Bauhaus grounded itself on an idea of design; designing in accord with functionality; an experiment in trying to join mass production with aesthetics. It was a meditation upon modernity, the experience of modern life.

Artwork that came out of Bauhaus was geometric and abstract; their architecture, functional for its purpose alone – not for lavish expression. Function and purpose, Bauhaus’s work was an image of the ideal modernist city (Bauhaus was founded eight years before Metropolis came out). It is a subsuming idea, one that seeks to interconnect art and the object; art and society. This aesthetic was diametrically opposed to a traditional view of beauty that had been evolving along lines laid out since the Renaissance: this was a modern beauty, new, and expressive by its sparsity.  

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Building that housed the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany

Beauty had to be delineated in a different way. Technology was rapidly changing the experience of living, especially city living. Technology would also grant new ways to be connected. However, the Utopian modernist city is not without its flaws. It’s no surprise that modernity was fraught with an aggressive anxiety; humanity as a machine, humanity as an abstraction, flies in the face of our spiritually nourished past and, even, sense of selfhood.   

Returning to Kraftwerk, then, we find a continuation of the Bauhausian aesthetic; much of their music centers around functional city living. ‘Fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn’; sparse lyrics joined with the simplicity of their pleasing melodies. Robotic pop, a logical following of Bauhausian thinking – a term Kraftwerk begun to use to describe their music. Their image as a group of robots blurs the line between their life as musicians and their functionality as musicians; robots built to serve the public by creating these sounds. A quote from early EDM musician and producer, Richard Burgess, comes to mind: “computer programmed to perfection for your listening pleasure”.

Again, this line of thought is not without its anxiety. It is perhaps this underlying stress that gives their music its allure. The celebration of technology and modern living, despite the interconnectivity that they provide, co-aligns with a growing sense of alienation from vital human contact. The two sides balance out in the gesture of the four performers standing straight over their synthesizers, working out the sound of modernity.

Of course, electronic music spread quickly into many different directions, avenues, and sentiments. Kraftwerk’s influence, however, ranges the entire spectrum; the consoling melodic line of modern living has echoed into the twenty-first century with relative ease. Unlike the common musician celebrity, Kraftwerk maintains an eccentric reclusiveness – perhaps better to control their image. In some way, it is fitting that this should be so. As their influence and music permeates world-wide, they stay relatively, personally, unknown; the music’s functionality has masked the performer.

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This Carl Kruse blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Former articles by Fraser Hibbitt include those on Segovia and the Art of Atari.
For a more in depth look at electronic music, including an ongoing exhibit in Düsseldorf, Germany focusing on the genre have a look at the other Carl Kruse blog article on electronic music.
Catch Carl Kruse and his music on Soundcloud.

Segovia and the Guitar

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The seventy-four-year-old maestro sits plump in a large wicker chair. His gut ovals as he looks out from his balcony towards the Mediterranean Sea. His home is large upon the hill, overlooking an olive grove which blinks out the Andalusian heat. Close by is Granada, the spiritual birth place of Andres Segovia.  

“This will be the first time in thirty-five years that I have spent a single summer in one place” – not pensively, but as if harboring a certain emotional depth, he slowly walks along the balcony where a young shepherd dog jumps up to greet him. The man offers his forearm for the dog to playfully wrap its jaws around. The balcony extends along the perimeter of the house, larger than the man expected: “when they sent me the plans, I was very busy, I picked what I thought to be the larger, not looking at the scale; I was not expecting this monster”.

In this summer of rest, casually strolling through the murmuring sound of water that envelops Granada – the city cut into a mountain with the blend of Moorish intricacy and the tiles of houses which bloom in the sun – Segovia muses on how a mere boy could have left his life here: “Destiny only” he emphasizes.  

Segovia was around eight when he took an interest in music, taking lessons in both the piano and violin. His experience with his teachers, whom he called ‘mediocre’, even at that age, as the story goes, reveals a characteristic of Segovia that never strayed far from him: an un-denying sense that the musician had to live the music.

It was when he heard average guitar players, be it on the street or in the bars of Granada, that he became fixed with what he called its ‘melancholy’ nature. Melancholy was a distinct representation for Segovia, and the word should not be misread as ‘depression’. The feeling seemed to incite in him, intuitively, a sensitivity to what the guitar was capable of. Thus, distancing himself from the ‘mediocrity’ of his local teachers, he became both student and teacher, working towards a closer connection with the instrument.

The guitar became a way of dialoguing with the heart, much like the prose-poem of Juan Jimenez, Platero y Yo, which Segovia admired. Platero y Yo tells of the eponymous Donkey, who serves as a constant companion and listener to the poet’s observations and confessions. The poet believes Platero can understand all that is said to him by the fact of his constancy, his tenderness, and his innocence. Like Platero, the guitar for Segovia seemed to transcribe the inner world into a living statement.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Segovia, Platero and I

Cover art work to Segovia’s 1963 “Platero y Yo” in English, “Platero and I.”

Segovia’s passion and skill lead him to an aspiration of situating the guitar amongst the canon of concert instruments (piano, violin etc.). Guitar was then considered not above a parlor performance, despite the contemporary efforts, and tours, of Miguel Llobet and Francisco Tarrega. They were among the classical guitarists Segovia respected, and although rumored to be an adequate flamenco player, and an admirer of Flamenco culture, Segovia saw the guitar as a conduit for classical compositions and distanced himself from the folk-influenced Flamenco.

It was obvious to Segovia that, despite his Spanish contemporaries, the guitar needed rescuing and securing; not only that, it needed to be passionately understood as an instrument: “I had to rescue the guitar twice: first from the noisy hands of the Flamenco players, and secondly from the devoted incompetence that was given to the guitar in the nineteenth century”. The first rescue involved Segovia’s self-taught precision in playing, and the second meant scouring through, and transcribing, pieces for the guitar which would show off its slumbering, enchanting dynamics.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, he had traveled to Europe and then to South America giving performances of a revitalized repertoire that increasingly drew the guitar into focus: a short man, left leg slightly raised, and cradled in his lap, the varying strains of a wooden guitar. This kind of guitar had only taken its form since the mid-nineteenth century. The luthier Antonio de Torres had perfected the modern guitar. However, in the first few decades of the twentieth century, Segovia was cradling another name: Ramirez.

Before his rise to fame, Segovia had met the luthier responsible for the sound, Jose Ramirez. Although dressed lavishly, as Segovia tells us, like a dandy, he was poor. He was in Madrid, playing in Tarrega’s city. After striking up a friendship with Ramirez and performing for him, Ramirez handed him his most diligently crafted guitar. Thinking he wanted to hear him play it, he did so. After the piece was played, Ramirez refused to take it back. “but I have no money” Segovia explained. “I know”, spoke Ramirez, “pay me back in another way, play that music around the world”.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Jose Ramirez

Luthier Jose Ramirez, whose guitars are still played the world over.

Segovia’s fulfillment of the promise awakened more possibilities in the luthier’s craft. The guitar’s awakening, especially in the concert hall, gave impetus to greater developments in the instrument: to make the guitar ring louder; to emphasize the intricacies of the dynamics which existed within the hollow body. It was a sustained effort amongst luthiers to concert new techniques for expression, and undeniably helped to shape the evolution of the guitar.

Much of what we take for granted on, and about, the guitar is realized in Segovia’s mission to obtain respect and admiration for the guitar. He speaks of the guitar as possessing all of the orchestra, only in minute forms. Tonality can differ greatly according to where the right hand is placed; it can imitate brass or the cello, beckoning attention or intimacy; and, it is polyphonic. The master of the guitar needs to control these dynamics to evoke the quality of what the guitar is.

The problem was, according to Segovia, is that those who had composed for guitar in the past did not understand the intricacy of the instrument. It was only Fernando Sor at the beginning of the nineteenth century and Francisco Tarrega at the end thereof. Segovia felt himself responsible to transcribe the music of great composers, to show the guitar could not only replicate the concert instruments, but evoke beauty in a new way. This led him to Bach, Albeniz, Granados, Handel and countless others. Increasing the repertoire exposed the guitar as an incredibly versatile and expressive instrument. Segovia and his guitar were serving as a conduit for the music of the past and present.

Segovia’s sensitivity towards the guitar as a medium of melancholy, of beauty, led him to found his own distinctive performance style. Although, in the beginning, the students of Tarrega thought him idiosyncratic at best, they would ultimately be silenced by what became known as the ‘Segovia hush’: amazement, respect, and awareness of grace.

Thus established, Segovia pushed further and began to ask contemporary composers to write for the guitar. Manuel Falla, Alexandre Tansman, Castlenuovo-Tedesco, Manuel Ponce, and many others took up the challenge. Writing for any instrument, of course, means intimately knowing the range and dynamics of that instrument. This call to the contemporaries led not only to an increased repertoire, but a heightened focus on what the guitar could do – each testing the performative style of Segovia and expanding his vision of musicality. Some virtuosos, so enthused by Segovia, took it upon themselves to write for him unasked, here we note the famous 12 Etudes by Villa-Llobos.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Composers
Italian composer Castelnuovo-Tedesco a favorite of the Carl Kruse Arts Blog and of Segovia 🙂

Segovia’s eight decades of performing permeates through the legacy of the guitar, and music itself. He was a source for many new compositions, and he was a translator of old into the new. Segovia certainly had a vision for what the guitar should transmit: Latin-based, Baroque, and Romantic pieces. This meant modern atonal, experimental pieces written expressly for Segovia were denied entry; a purist often functions by restrictions. Always happy to steal concert goers away from The Beatles, often lamenting the rise of the electric guitar, Segovia functioned as a counter to much of the popular music of the twentieth century.

Even so, the spectacle of Segovia produced a sustained image of the guitar’s inherent melancholy. Just as his obliviousness to check the scale of the house which was being built for him, his work spawned a web of influence too large for him to realise. His personal affectations were, for the next generation, something to either improve upon or rebel against. This could mean new ways of utilising the guitar or excepting new pieces into the repertoire. Either way, the guitar keeps moving; the vision of its beauty still stands.

When asked, in 1967, if he knew when he was going to retire, he responded with the enigmatic line: “Depending upon my health, yes, I will have to retire someday, but I am not to be retired”. We are brought into a state of reverie by this. Is it by listening to the guitar, we remember something of what Segovia lived for? Something of that melancholy, that intimate and wholly human expressiveness which permeated so much of his work? Or that Segovia will continue existing as his repertoire and music continued to be played, and in all his offspring in whatever form who continue to explore the strange complexity of the guitar, who feel something akin to what the maestro felt when he said “to play the guitar is to dream with music”?

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The blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Fraser Hibbitt include the Art Of Atari and Realism.
The blog’s last post was on the Beat Generation.
Carl Kruse and his music are on Soundcloud.