Wednesday, October 31, 2012

David Behrman and Okkyung Lee: collaborative improvisations performed at the Graham Foundation, Chicago

Pictured is “back to the future” David Behrman (b. 1937, Salzburg, Austria) adjusting his set up before performing his “View Finder”  (guitar and electronics) and “Freeze Dip”  (violin and electronics). The  concert took place last Saturday night, October 27 at the Graham Foundation in Chicago.

This exceptional musical performance was part of the Lampo performance series. It was an excellent opportunity and rare privilege to listen and see the collaborative improvisations performed by David Behrman and Okkyung Lee. Collectively the performance pieces were strangely beautiful by conveying a sense of ambiguity and mystery. Perhaps the music is best described the way Mikhail Baryshnikov described Merce Cunningham’s dance performances—as “a kind of organized chaos.”

Lampo’s promotional copy for the event mentions:
The music, which cellist Okkyung Lee premiered with the TILT brass ensemble, mixes and alternates the sounds of one or several acoustic instruments with computer-enhanced and computer-generated ones, in an unfolding sequence of situations, some very free, some lightly-notated. 
David Behrman has been active as a composer and artist since the 1960s and has created many works for performance as well as sound installations. Most of his music has involved homemade electronics and computer-controlled music systems that operate interactively with collaborating performers. 
In 1966 he founded the Sonic Arts Union with Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma. Working at Columbia Records in the late 60s, he produced the “ usic of Our Time” series of new music recordings, which presented works by Cage, Oliveros, Lucier, Reich, Riley, Pousseur and other influential composers. He has had a long association with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as composer and performer and has created music for several of the Company's repertory pieces. 
Both musicians live in New York. The concert was presented in partnership with the Graham Foundation; organized in cooperation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Department of Sound. 

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

California Proposition 34

Pictured are two posters from a series of four produced by artist, activist, and peacemaker John August Swanson in support of California’s Proposition 34, abolishing the death penalty in that state.

Each poster represents depictions of the Crucifixion of Jesus, with a message of transformation and hope.

Capital punishment is an issue that provokes strong opinions on both sides of the issue — empathizing with the grieving families of victims on the one hand while seeing the need for the fair treatment of those on death row and questioning the taking of another life, on the other.

Here in the Midwest I’m proud to say the state of Iowa does not have the death penalty. Several years ago (and to his credit) the former governor of Illinois, George Ryan instituted a moratorium on the death penalty after his administration became aware of how horribly flawed the justice system was for death row inmates.

We are all imperfect and our systems are blemished too. Jesus did say that the first person who is absolutely perfect can throw the first stone. John 7:53-8:11 NIV

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

John A. Swanson’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” c.1970 screen print collage

John August Swanson from Los Angeles was a guest artist at Dordt College on Wednesday and Thursday October 10–11. John spent time discussing his work with students and staff. In this photograph Swanson talks about one of his earliest works “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” which is a screen printed collage from c.1970. This particular print on display is from the collection of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. By the way, John is wearing the “Fear Is The Opposite Of Faith” T-shirt from Sojourners. 

It was a great privilege to have John on campus for a couple of days.

Much of Swanson’s body of work as well as his early prints are lyrical expressions advocating fairness, justice, and equality. As John states:

When I was starting my work as an artist from 1968 to 1975, I was influenced by political ideas and movements, and the songs and speeches of the 1960s and 70s. I created a series of works similar to newspapers—collages of lettering, artwork, and photos, an “exploding newspaper.
Using my knowledge of photography, and working in darkrooms, I overexposed photographs to simplify them, and create stark solarized images, which I felt complimented the lettering [that I drew by hand or carved from rubber erasers]. I combined the lettering, photos and rubberstamp images with texts that were meaningful to me: the words of the writer, James Agee; the poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti; and the labor leader, Cèsar Chávez; as well as song lyrics.
The title of the print comes from classic literature, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The publication was a collaboration between writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans. The book chronicles the lives of three sharecropper tenant families in Alabama in 1936, during the Great Depression.

For Swanson’s poster it’s very striking how he mixes and assembles typographic styles and images and portrays the book title followed by the passage, which is reproduced below in boldface. Agee, writing on a summer night, prefaced the words found in the poster saying:
A man and a woman are drawn together upon a bed and there is a child and there are children: … 
Moreover, these flexions are taking place every where, like a simultaneous motion of all the waves of the water of the world: and these are the classic patterns, and this is the weaving, of human living: of whose fabric each individual is a part: and of all parts of this fabric let this be borne in mind: 
Each is intimately connected with the bottom and extremest reach of time: Each is composed of substances identical with the substance of all that surrounds him, both the common objects of his disregard, and the hot centers of stars:  
All that each person is, and experiences, and shall never experience, in body and in mind, all these things are differing expressions of himself and of one root, and are identical: and not one of these things nor one of these persons is ever quite to be duplicated, nor replaced, nor has it ever quite had precedent: but each is a new and incommunicably tender life, wounded in every breath, and almost as hardly killed as easily wounded: sustaining, for a while, without defense, the enormous assaults of the universe: 
So that how it can be that a stone, a plant, a star, can take on the burden of being; and how it is that a child can take on the burden of breathing; and how through so long a continuation and cumulation of the burden of each moment one on another, does any creature bear to exist, and not break utterly to fragments of nothing: these are matters too dreadful and fortitudes too gigantic to meditate long and not forever to worship. (1)
  1. Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. New York: Ballantine Books, 1960 / Fourth Printing 1972. 53-54. Print.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On display at Dordt College, John August Swanson’s art brings stories to life

SIOUX CENTER, IA – The Dordt College Department of Art and Design presents the Richard and Helen DeVos Collection of The Art of John August Swanson, an exhibit of original, hand-pulled serigraphs by Los Angles based master printmaker John Swanson. The collection will be on display in the Dordt College Campus Center Art Gallery from October 10 to December 1.

A master printmaker of serigraphs, lithographs, and etchings, Swanson’s art is about “bringing stories to life.” His creative vision reflects the gift of storytelling he inherited from his Mexican mother and Swedish father. Influenced by the imagery of Persian and medieval miniatures, the tradition of Orthodox iconography, Swedish and Latin American folk art, as well as Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists, Swanson’s beautiful narrative art explores human values, cultural and religious roots, and his ongoing quest for self-discovery through the visual.

Using up to 89 color stencils to print one serigraph, John expertly utilizes his medium to create rich, images that are filled with great beauty, mystery, and meaning. The serigraphs are unique examples of how art can visually preach the Word and offer creative insight into biblical stories and their meanings. His art brings these familiar stories to life in new and inspiring ways as visual parables of our everyday lives.

Swanson draws viewers into stories that show how everyday lives are filled with God’s love and presence. His work shows that the sacred permeates the ordinary.

In addition, some of Swanson’s earliest screen prints and posters will be on display in the Ribbens Academic Complex lobby and hallway near the Dordt College art department. These early pieces show the strong influence of Corita Kent, a mentor of Swanson’s who is highly respected for her colorful calligraphy and silk screens.

The public is also invited to attend the opening of the DeVos Collection Exhibition and Gallery Tour hosted by John Swanson on Wednesday, October 10, at 7:30 p.m.

On Thursday, October 11, from 4 to 5 p.m. Janaan Manternach of Dubuque Iowa will present “The Art and Vision of John August Swanson.” Manternach is a collector of Swanson’s work and, with her deceased husband Carl J. Pfeifer, founded Life, Love, Joy, Associates and has written numerous religious education textbooks, columns, articles, and books.

Then again on Thursday evening, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Swanson will present “Seeing the Sacred in the Ordinary.” Both events will be held in SB101.

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