Anselm Kiefer Digs the Dirt

August 21, 2011

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow
A Documentary Film by Sophie Fiennes

It’s great fun to watch Anselm Kiefer work. It’s also sometimes heart-stopping, as when he patters around in flip-flops while he and assistants smash large panes of glass into piles of shards. Or when, sans goggles, mask, or gloves, he wields a powerful, long-handled blowtorch, melting lead in a cauldron while standing precariously atop the steep slope of a giant pile of dirt.

Watching him work is the best part of Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, a documentary by Sophie Fiennes, who followed Kiefer around his vast art-making complex outside of Barjac, France, shortly before he decamped to Paris in 2008. In fact, the amount of installation-work he was doing at a point apparently close to his departure suggests a whole dimension of performance art designed to be filmed.

Kiefer moved to Barjac from Germany in 1993, and made a lot of art—at one point he casually mentions “112 lorries full” of art already trucked away, presumably to galleries, museums and private sales. But, he says in the film, he plans to leave a lot in Barjac, too—some kind of sculpture or painting in every room or house, of which there are many. Some appear to be freestanding sheds, small outbuildings with doors through which you can peer at a painting or installation. Others are bare suggestions of houses: cobbled together from pieces of cast cement in varying sizes, they are stacked one atop the other, so many mad leaning towers across the landscape.


Read on

Jerusalem: the Play by Jez Butterworth

August 5, 2011

Do we  believe that Johnny “Rooster” Byron is having sex with Phaedra, the 15-year-old girl he’s sheltering from the stepfather who has apparently been sexually abusing her? And, if we do, how come we don’t think Johnny’s abusing her, too? Or do we?

These questions go to the heart of what makes this play so interesting and disturbing—and the answer is only partly that Mark Rylance embodies Johnny as such a vivid life force that we might almost forgive him anything.

Painted Wooden Roof Boss from Rochester Cathedral, Kent (Medieval)

Read on

Welcome to Beyond the Zeitgeist

August 5, 2011

Zeitgeist: The spirit of the present time.

Simply by being, you embody it—until the zeitgeist moves on, and you find yourself wired into previous versions.

Unless all zeitgeists continue to flow, separate currents in the same stream, so that anyone can swim in any one at will. In that case, welcome to this one.

Signe Hammer

Sole Author of All Posts on This Site

Report from the Surgical Trenches: Total Shoulder Replacement in NYC

August 5, 2011

July 2, 2011; 10 Days Post-Op

Having had my initial follow-up visit with the surgeon and seen the x-rays, I can now say that I underwent successful surgery on Wednesday, June 22 and am the proud possessor (bearer? wearer?) of a titanium and polyethylene left-shoulder joint, plus a plastic ID card to show TSA screeners should I set off their security alarms. Read on

Voyage to the Center of the Earth: Georges Méliès and the Chilean Miners’ Rescue

October 17, 2010

When it looked pretty certain that all the miners would be rescued, I began to notice details—irresistibly, the clunky, even comical details. Like the rescue rig. Twenty-first century technology had been necessary to contact the trapped and nearly starving men, to calculate and prepare the “rescue diet” that brought them back to health and sustained them for 52 more days, to drill the rescue shaft and, finally, to enable all of us to watch the entire rescue operation both above and below ground. Yet, from the outside, the rescue itself seemed to be carried out with, basically, 19th-century technology: a metal cage, a winch and a lot of steel cable. Although probably the steel cable would be 20th-century. But the basic principles, I think, go back to Archimedes and his lever:

The rig looks like an illustration out of an old physics book: Read on

Outside-in, in Mexico

November 25, 2009

In Mexico, the outside doesn’t stay there. In New York, the outside is pretty much like the inside—manmade. Unless you go to Central Park. But that’s manmade, too. And very well-behaved. We do get the odd mosquito, and a fly or two may invade our apartments. Even, on occasion, a tiny spider. Roaches don’t count. They’re inside creatures. So, really, are rats and mice. Central Park has plenty of those, too.

Mexico is different. Even a gringo-ridden town like San Miguel. Read more

Paving the Callejon

May 11, 2009

Valvino and his family are paving the callejon. His sons Oscar and Rolando are men enough for real work, swinging the pick or sledgehammer, pushing a full-sized wheelbarrow full of cobblestones or cement. Various small grandsons share a child-sized wheelbarrow and have a go with the pick whenever anyone is willing to indulge them. Valvino’s wife sometimes comes out in the afternoon to kibitz, as do his two daughters, one of whom brings her own small daughter. A couple of friends stop by to work or hang out. Ian, who grew up with Valvino’s oldest son, Antonio, and is now in law school, kibitzes, too; his parents live on the callejon. Antonio himself comes by on weekends to pitch in, bringing his two small children to watch.

Road Crew at Work

Road Crew at Work

As I write this in the office of the casita I rent from my friend Sue, the excited chatter of children cuts through the deeper tones of the men, with a woman’s voice chiming in occasionally. Then all is silent but the thud of the sledgehammer. Read on

Welcome to Beyond the Zeitgeist in Mexico

May 10, 2009

Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time – and place.

Beyond the Zeitgeist started as a New York City arts-and-language blog—random acts of culture from beyond the Zeitgeist.

After a hiatus, the blog relocated to San Miguel de Allende, a Central Mexico mountain town inhabited by a considerable (about 10% of the total) population of gringos—Mexican for “Americans.” Random acts of culture here mean culture in the broadest, or anthropological sense—anything that goes on, or the way things are. (From time to time we may report on the arts, but as likely as not from an anthropological, as opposed to a critical, perspective.)

Written by a gringa in Mexico, this blog is doubly beyond the Zeitgeist. And yet—the Zeitgeist is always the present time and place. So we can and do inhabit, legitimately, the spirit of our present situation.

Play It As It Lays

January 8, 2009

“Palestinians try to dig out the remains of a security force officer from Hamas as he lays in the rubble following an Israeli missile strike on a building in Gaza City.”

The Huffington Post muffed it in this Dec. 28 photo caption*: that dead security officer lies in the rubble (although we hope not still). But Joan Didion got it right in the title of her 1970 novel (which I’ve borrowed for this post). Read on…

Uptown Oasis Caught in the Madoff Debacle

December 26, 2008

The New York Psychoanalytic Institute is not where you’d expect to go to hear jazz licks or banjo riffs, but on two consecutive Saturday afternoons in December the third floor rocked. Or, at least, reverberated. The venue was The Philoctetes Center for The Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination—a long name that has sheltered a multitude of different events, from poetry readings to films to “round tables”, free-ranging discussions by experts on anything from New York dance in the 1960’s, to the art and craft of magic, to cell biology and cancer, to the history of violin-making.

And music. Before the bad news, the good: an appreciation of those two events. On the 14th, three “world-renowned jazz artists and long-time collaborators”, pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress, and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, got together to explore “Jazz Improvisation: The Art of the Ballad”. This was about playing slow and moody, what Bloom described as “breath[ing] together slowly, with the bass at the bottom.” Hersch, doing his best with an upright piano, spoke of the “shape of the [ballad] beat, softer and wider, with the piano as percussion”. Gess said that with ballads he “became aware of wide open spaces….the tone is important, because you don’t have the overt rhythm”. Read on…