Monday, 5 December 2016

Post for crit group December 5th

Dear crit group friends,
So this last month I have been mainly in the studio painting and I recorded two sound pieces.

But I also had a conversation with my advisor Andrew regarding the video. That is why I would like to ask you for feedback regarding all my different pieces:

I would like to ask for your help in regards to reworking my video. I had a conversation with Andrew about it.  I totally understand what he means when he says it is too episodic and I need to make it more mine, by thinking about my layers that I use in painting.  He suggested that I make 4 to 5 shorter videos in which I experiment with that layering. At the moment I can think of the two scenes, one at the very beginning and one at the end of my video. While I speak and read the poems of Paul Celan and Primo Levi I show either images of the war today in Syria (where other ethnic minorities are being killed) or I show the burning refugee homes in Germany.
So I am overlaying the experiences of the past onto the world of today. So I was thinking of isolating these two scenes and reworking them but at the moment I am kind of stuck of how in a different way I could possibly rework my video and work with the idea of layering. Is there a way I can put two films on top of each other, overlay those images? How? If you have any suggestion for me I would be extremely thankful. If you want to see the last version of the video, here is a link:, the password is ti16

Here it comes, yes I am asking you for feedback to my paintings!!!! In contrast to my monthly blogs where I will show all the steps to get to my compositions, I think it is less confusing for you all if I just post the finished paintings.

As you can tell, I have been painting and experimenting a lot with this new series of 4 paintings. I am trying to figure out where to go while I want to go away from my strict overlaying of two maps. So at the moment I am looking for other ways to talk about those maps, but I want to go looser and abstract those maps more. So in a way I have been playing with putting structure (order) against chaos. Well here is what I have. The two paintings that I am the happiest with are structure IV and III.

Structure IV, 40 by 60 inches

Structure II, 36 by 36 inches

Structure III, 40 by 60 inches

Structure I , 35 by 36 inches

Sound 1
I created two new sound pieces. In these two pieces I am overlaying voices. Two different identities:

Sound 1: I have asked Fareed, the Syrian artist from Homs who is a refugee in Berlin to send me a recording of his voice, of a poem in Arabic.
Then I wrote a poem in German, that talks about me welcoming him to Berlin. About his lost home country and his new home, it is about the city and about finding refuge. Berlin giving him shelter from the war. What does ‘Heimat’ (home country) represent etc. I know that this is not so much about understanding every word what is said, I guess is more about the pattern of languages and someone arriving in a new country in which a different language is spoken. Overlaying identities, such as I have done in the past.

Here is the text of the poem in German, I somehow feel its power would be diminished if I translated it into English but of course I could do that over the Christmas holidays…..
Poem for my friend from Syria

was bist du?/
was stellst du dar?/
Ich heisse dich willkommen/
lieber Fareed/
in meiner Stadt/in Berlin/
soll sie fuer dich sein/
vor dem Grauen des Krieges/
solltst du von deinem Trauma/
 das dich des Nachts nicht schlafen laesst/
Deine Erinnerung an den Terror/
den Krieg/
in deinem Land/
Was ist uebrig nun von deiner Heimat?/
und das sinnlose Toeten nimmt kein Ende/
Wird es je zuende sein?/
Gibt es jemals ein zurueck?/
Homs/Deine Stadt ist zerstoert/
Kann Berlin dir jemals eine Heimat sein?
Die Menschen/
sind kalt/
sie heissen dich nicht willkommen/
Sie sagen sie haben Angst/
vor Ueberfremdung/
alles nur dummes Zeug /
im Angesicht der Qualen Deines Volkes/
Wann wird es je zuende sein?/
Wann wirst du/Fareed/
Deine Tochter/ Deine Soehne/Deine Frau/jemals wiedersehen?
Wird es eine Rueckkehr geben/ nach Homs?
Ich fuehle Deine Einsamkeit/
hier in meiner Stadt/Berlin/
Die Kaelte/
die Naesse/
die in jeden Knochen zieht/
und uns laehmt/
Du wanderst durch die dir fremde Stadt/
ohne Ziel/
meine Heimat/
Die Stadt hat viele Narben/
viele Gesichter/
gepraegt von vielen Regimes/ von Kriegen/
von der Teilung und den Herrschaften der Macht.
Berlin hat auch viele gute Jahre gesehen/
traegt besondere Erinnerungen/
viel Leid natuerlich auch/
Doch/kann dort/ wo Menschen/ wie heute in deinem Land/
verfolgt wurden und gedehmuetigt wurden/
jemals das Licht wieder vorherrschen?
Wir/die Menschen dieser Stadt/Berlin/muessen es entzuenden/
Sei willkommen/Fareed/mein Freund

Sound 2: Berlin voices
Here, I used the beautiful voices of Fareed, Malvina, Bill, Louis and my own voice. 5 people who all were in Berlin at the same time, 5 different voices and languages on top of each other….. languages as patterns, different identities layered on top of each other…


  1. 1st of 4

    Hi Ira,

    [apparently--who knew?-- I tend to write a lot in my feedback, so much so that your blog comment section won't allow me to post all of it. So I'm chopping up my feedback into sections...]

    I love how you're working in these 3 very different media, but w/your focus on connections & "layering" running through all of them.

    Re: "Black Milk of Daybreak"--

    I think Andrew makes some very good points here. I think there are 2 ways you could go with the video. One is to run w/Andrew's suggestion and separate it into distinct pieces. I think this could work quite well if, say, you showed them in a room interspersed w/your paintings. And people could put on headphones to hear the different individual video "episodes", with the paintings scattered about, and perhaps your sound piece playing throughout the gallery room. (Of course, I might be suggesting all this because it's very similar to what I'm thinking of doing w/video & photographs & sound--so, maybe once again I'm projecting my own impulses onto your work. I hope not; it just seems to me the sound piece, the paintings, and the video(s) all combine to create a strong, interconnected, multifaceted environment.)

    A 2nd way to go with the video, however, would be to think of it as less an explicit "art piece" and more as a documentary for the masses. Of course it will still be artistic--you wouldn't be able to make it otherwise--but I'm thinking that if you were to make it a single documentary to be seen on youtube by thousands of people, that would make a lot of sense. The interviews are so strong; they should be distributed out there for a broad audience, I think. In the end, I suppose it comes down to audience & intent--what's your ultimate goal? To create artful videos to be shown mainly to an audience of gallery goers and art consumers? Or is the subject important enough that the video be approached more as an artful act of documentary aimed at the so-called masses? While there could be some overlap, I think ultimately your intended audience in this case can't help but inform the final work. (I'm personally drawn to Andrew's suggestion--and yet, I want many many people to see & hear those interviews).

    I'm not sure layering is the answer in the video--showing the Syrian and German footage overlapping. That might weaken the power of those stark images. I think juxtaposition & intercuts would work best--shifting back and forth between parts of the scenes you wish to compare. Your paintings (I'll get to them in a minute) demand layering, because the work exists in a single, shared space. But with video the temporal progression does the work. So through cross-cuts, intercuts, jump cutting, juxtaposing in different ways--maybe even split screens--I think you could pull these couplings into close proximity without necessarily imposing one image on top of the other. Although that might be effective with brief fade ins & outs as you transition between them.

  2. 2 of 4, cont.

    I have one big question regarding the overall intent of the film, which would be more of an issue if you were going to continue to keep it a single stand alone "art documentary" kind of piece. If the goal in part is to show how the evils of the reich & fascism, etc, are alive & well in the present--what with the rallies in Germany, and the near genocidal obliteration of civilians in the Syrian war--is there any reason to limit the footage to just those two? I get the connection--but I can also see other atrocities woven in here as well. In other words, unless the Syrian war echoes the holocaust in certain unique ways that aren't applicable to other current wars & atrocities & political movements today, I'm not sure I see why these 2 circumstances are being juxtaposed without references to other related situations. For ex, when you show the present day Nazis and the like rallying in Berlin, this ties directly to this most recent obscenity in the Washington DC: . And now that we're seeing so many forms of ultra-conservative nationalist, anti-immigrationist sentiments gaining ground in the US and throughout Europe (the defeat of Norbert Hofer in Austria being a nice exception--go Austria!) it seems that your focus in this video, if you wanted to expand it some, would logically include references to all that. Otherwise, it risks presenting Syria as perhaps an isolated phenomenon of sorts. I guess I just see Syria as a particularly visible example of what's brewing in so many other places.

    (A not too unrelated side note: if you haven't seen it, please watch 13th which is a documentary on netflix now, if you haven't seen it. It's one of the most powerful films I've seen in a long time, and also one of the most artfully done documentaries too in terms of composition, editing, graphics. I think it's really fairly connected to what you're showing--it's just that in the US, instead of using barrel bombs to wipe out civilians, we've been incredibly successful at erasing African Americans via our incredibly efficient incarceration effects that were designed to enslave black people and keep them from having a political voice.)

    Anyway, I think the interview w/your friend is incredibly powerful. I'd still like to see that--whether in a longer video or by itself--distributed as widely as possible.

    A little thought: I'd suggest pulling up the volume on your voice reciting the poem (which is perfect--your reading of the poem is spot on--it doesn't come across as affected or overly dramatic, which is the occupational hazard of poets everywhere!) and drop down the music; the music competes w/your voice in places, whereas your voice should be center stage w/the music in the wings. I think that musical score will work better as an atmospheric backdrop, not an equal partner w/your reading of the poem.

  3. 3 of 4, cont.

    As for the paintings, I find them charged and captivating. I went back and looked at these 4 or 5 times before writing this. I like how the literal maps and designs are very much key to your own inspiration, but for us viewers, or at least me, I wouldn't have any awareness of the map motif were it not for your commentary or the titles of other works. I like too how the works show a hyperactive blasting away and out of whatever submerged preliminary design might've been used as a base. And the bold, bright, sometimes almost neon colors that burst through are startling, and nicely at odds with the grimmer maps and histories you've been referencing. (I don't know if you literally had drawings of maps initially underneath these paintings, but even if not, the fact you've been doing that in previous work is still sort of connected here.)

    If these are expressions of your own interests in order vs chaos, I find it interesting that in some ways the order--the grids and designs and views of maps and territories seen from above & which constitute orderly maps--are, in previous works, depictions of holocaust sites. And so the order conveyed in those maps is all about chaos, horror, and madness. Whereas your own exuberant & explosive abstraction--the pinks, yellows, and oranges erupting out of (or being drawn into) the centers of some of these canvases, seems exhilarating, a kind of escape. Ironically, what initially comes across as "chaos" in these pieces, might be the more sane (if not "orderly") gestures, whereas the grids and map lines & blueprints that are in the back of your mind might be where the real pathology, the real chaos, lies.

    For what it's worth, I think Structure I is the most finished and complete of all 4, and the reason for that is the sense of space within it. The layering, to use your term, is such that there seems to me far more depth of field here, more distance between the "surface" forms--the orange & lime window frames in severe perspective & the stringly yellow squiggle--and the organic atmospheric fuschia, purple, and dark gray-blue forms that to me read as if in the far background. Almost as if we were 30,000 feet up, and those latter components were on the surface of the ground way, way down there, while these angular geometric shapes are whirling about up here in the sky. Maybe this is why Structure I clicks for me in some ways whereas I feel Structure IV & III--which in some ways appeal to my own personal color preferences more--are slightly flatter, and maybe wanting a bit more of that depth? For instance, when I keep looking at Structure IV, my eyes keep getting pulled into the pale, muted, [caucasion] "flesh"-toned brush strokes in the upper middle of the canvas. The rest of the composition has that deep depth of field I'm drawn to, or at least for whatever conditioned to look for, but these neutral pinks have the effect in this section of the canvas of flattening the space somewhat. And something similar happens for me in Structure III where the uniform gray/off-white cloud swirls occupy nearly the entirety of the composition. The neon orang and yellows break through to the surface, but I find myself wanting more of the tones and forms I read as being in the background (glimpses of olive and fine black lines) to be visible. I read this image as if those swirling gray cloud forms have moved into the middle distance, and as a result are calling too much attention to themselves. Are a bit too bossy and not allowing the foreground and background signs to speak up enough.

    Of course, my comments here say more about my own mode of reading painting, and preoccupation with space, than your work, so take all that w/a grain of salt. (I also just reread parts of Frank Stella's fantastic book Working Space, so I'm lately looking at painting through his lens I suppose.)

  4. 4 of 4, cont

    Structure II is very different from the other three and perhaps the most literal. It very much calls to mind seeing a landscape from thousands of feet above--the square & rectangular forms seem very much echoes of buildings, plots, neighborhoods--whereas the pale blue in the upper right hand reads to me as aerial explosions, and the fuzzier fuschia smears as smoke wisps. As if we're in a plane looking down at the ground far below moments after ordnance has been exploded. It's also a much more somber piece for me because of those flat grays that dominate the composition. Maybe it's because I sense the bright colors--that absolutely lovely tiny orange square in the bottom left--trying to assert themselves, but the weight of the gray is just too much. Whereas in the other three the bright colors (and window motifs, no less) practically break through the fourth wall of the canvas surface.

    And of course my thinking of bombs and civilizations turned to abstract rubble are no doubt influenced by the accompanying video.

    As for the sound piece, I think it's perfect as is. I love what you've done here, and I like that it doesn't have English in it; it would be enough to, were you to have this piped into a gallery, have small cards or slips of paper with the poem translation available for people to read.

    (One last note: I disagree that translating the work into English, or any other language, would diminish the work. Yes, a lot gets lost, but other meanings and nuances are gained in the process as well. In this way I view translation not as a watering down or reduction of the original, but a chance to have a dialogue with the original with another version that can do new things. Like conjoined identical twins, but each one having their own singular personalities. Here's a piece by Jerome Rothenberg on what he calls "total translation". It's about how, where more overtly literal attempts to translate native american works into English failed, he sought "alternative" ways that would get closer to the feel and mood and tone of their work, if not conducted in an overtly, defiantly "literal" manner.

    Speaking of Rothenberg, you might find him worth checking out (he has translated Celan too). I haven't read this book yet but want to:

    And this:

    Well, there's a ton of stuff out there by him.

    Okay, enough of my yammering. I really enjoyed thinking & writing about your work this morning....


  5. Hello Ira,

    I was unable to play the 1st sound piece - file corrupt?

    Anyway, as I listened to the second sound piece it occurred to me that the way you edited these overlapping voices could be a guide to editing your video?

    The video could be more chaotic, where the viewer is unaware of what time period, what country, or what viewpoint they are in? I don't think you necessarily need to overlay the images in the video but you could experiment with very fast cuts from clip to clip. Maybe that would be a way to convey the confusion of the scene and the way that we as a public are trying to piece together this story - from little bits of information filtering in from various sources. Perhaps you could even slow down the poem to run on top of the whole thing?

  6. Hi Ira -
    I have a draft email in the works in response to your post (which I thought I had already posted here, but I don't see it...) Anyway, before I get back to that (tonight I hope) I wanted to bring to your attention a video artist you might be interested in looking at, as she does very interesting things collaging and manipulating video on multiple layers.

    I came across Hong-An Truong’s work by way of The Drawing Center’s Open Sessions Viewing Program List of past Artists.
    You can see a post about her with links on my blog:

    More soon!



  7. Hi Ira. part1

    I don’t know this is the direction you want to go with your film. Once again, you are the one who has control over.
    I am putting some thoughts, ideas in.

    video & sounds
    I watched the movie “ Stories We Tell” (2013) by Sarah Polley.
    It is the story about her family, her mother, and her.
    "In this inspired, genre-twisting new film, Oscar (R)-nominated writer/director Sarah Polley discovers that the truth depends on who's telling it. Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. She playfully interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, eliciting refreshingly candid, yet mostly contradictory, answers to the same questions….”

    It was quite fascinating to see the story unfold not by the single point of view, but many family and friends around her mother told the story about her from their own point of views. It was working very well for me.

    Then, made me thinking about why. The story telling is compelling when I can connect to the people in the story. In this movie, it was Sarah Polley’s mother: Dian. She died from cancer when Sarah was 11 year old. I got hooked because my mother is dead, too. I can’t interview her. To tell the story about someone who is no longer here through other people is interesting to me. I thought about doing for myself. I am relating to Sarah.

  8. part 2
    One other point, I want to mention is to have the story with multi dimensional takes. I was reminded about this condition of current political situation in the U.S. today at the dharma talk during my zen meditation session. Chodo ( teacher ) talked about no. 12th koan from “Gateless Gate” the Zuigan Calls His Own Master
    The Gateless Gate, by Ekai, called Mu-mon, tr. Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps [1934], at
    12. Zuigan Calls His Own Master
    Zuigan called out to himself every day: "Master."
    Then he answered himself: "Yes, sir."
    And after that he added: "Become sober."
    Again he answered: "Yes, sir."
    "And after that," he continued, "do not be deceived by others."
    "Yes, sir; yes, sir," he answered.

    Mumon's comment: Old Zuigan sells out and buys himself. He is opening a puppet show. He uses one mask to call "Master" and another that answers the master. Another mask says "Sober up" and another, "Do not be cheated by others." If anyone clings to any of his masks, he is mistaken, yet if he imitates Zuigan, he will make himself fox-like.

    Some Zen students do not realize the true man in a mask
    Because they recognize ego-soul.
    Ego-soul is the seed of birth and death,
    And foolish people call it the true man.

    Not to inject more harm in the society. Using hatred to attach hatred is not the answer. It is quite difficult to take in. And, I love to have talks about this with you when you come to NYC.

  9. part 3.
    I was happy to hear Fareed speaking in Arabic. The sound pieces with his voice and your voice, I wanted to hear only one voice at a time. Arabic is such a musical language. And, needed to be heard solo to appreciate the tones, rhythms, and pause (silence). And your response in German, I also wanted to hear in solo. In the world music and some Jazz improvisation, there are “call and response” forms.
    I wonder not layering, but giving the call and response forms.

    What I want to feel in your film is your personal connection to this story. I might wrote this on the last feedback, but I want to know how you got to know Fareed. For me, Syrian refugee crisis is a knowledge, but not my connection to my immediate reality. I saw “Welcome Refugee” sign in Neuk├Âlln in Berlin last summer. It was still not direct experience for me. Now, I heard you are working with Canadian government for bringing more Syrian refugee into Canada. I bravo your active participation with that.

    If your film bring out more about your story with Fareed and other Syrian refugee, that will pull me in more.
    Also, your background, German, and relation to Nazi is another piece, you can bring into the film. I have a feeling that is your starting point and the reason why you are making this film. I know all the pieces in the film is linked with you. You know it. But, we don’t.

    I hope I can see your paintings in person in the Winter Residency. By seeing this on my 15 inch monitor, I have to use lots of imagination and guessing...
    I like the "Structure II” the most. As you might know me by now, I like the space which is not filled. "Structure III”, I want you to go more extreme so that all the maps are buried in the chaos.