We often encounter fountains in public places. Baroque structures with elaborate river gods and assorted monsters, placed in the heart of a city, attract attention and wonder. In his blog Quadralectic Architecture, Marten Kuilman comments: “The fountain is the messenger of the universe. Water acts as a mirror with an endless reflection and its movement prevents any type of stagnant contemplation.”
Kuilman describes four kinds of fountains: 1) the Arcadian, use of a water feature in garden design to inspire a spirit of tranquility and holiness, 2) monumental: grandiose structures that mark a place of community, as well as referencing gods and other figures of power and influence, 3) practical, many fountains served to provide drinking water for town dwellers, 4) playful, the fountain as a place to stimulate and refresh, disrupting the usual business-oriented attitude of many city dwellers. In Fellini’s film, La Dolce Vita, Sylvia played by Anita Edberg is a mesmerizing enchantress, wild for spontaneous adventure and full of unquenchable energy that the adoring and world-weary Marcello is dumbfounded by, even as she leads him into the waters of the Trevi Fountain, a moment of great romantic possibility and absurd deviance that ends in frustration and exhaustion.
The playfulness of fountains could have a disruptive quality, as when in 1917 Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal for inclusion in an art exhibition under the title, “Fountain.” Duchamp’s work was famously rejected; sparking a controversy with lingering questions about originality and context in the world of art. In her work Streams, 1975, contemporary Greek artist Athena Tacha, noted for her environmental sculpture, creates a delightful sense of cascading water simply by placing boulders at irregular points on a steep incline of public stairs in Oberlin, Ohio. A similar set of dancing stairs, without the rocks, and arranged as an amphitheatre, was designed by Tacha for the Muhammad Ali Centre in Louisville, KY in 2008.
deKooning collages the mouth from this Camel cigarette ad to his 1950 painting Woman.
While researching artists who use collage, I was intrigued to see how American Abstract Expressionist Willem deKooning incorporated elements from ads into his paintings. The addition of a mass-reproduced smile (from a rather grotesque cigarette ad) makes the face in the painting above a little more mask-like. The intrusion of a foreign element complicates the charming spontaneity of the figure, as realism and abstraction collide in a jarring hybrid image.
I challenged myself to make my own smile collage. This is what I came up with.
Ed McKean. Smile, 2012
Could an abstract construction be a face? A mask? Or are the colours and forms just happy to be together? Hope this collage makes you smile.
Remix, collage, mash-up. Retelling stories. People love stories to the point where they do something terrible to stories. They turn them into products. Commercial stories tend to be glossy and predictable, which to my mind is the opposite of what a story is. A story should be a little messy, and keep changing, growing, surprising.
I found the birth footage in an anthropological film. I thought what if this were framed in a different way? What if we saw this birth not as social studies, but as science fiction? That’s why I show it as a film within a film, following footage from Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
A language lesson from Michel Thomas is used throughout the film. To me, language is the ultimate mash-up. I love Michel Thomas’s approach. His tapes aren’t language drills so much as seductions and hypnotisms. You listen to foreign sounds and you absorb without even realizing it. Looking at art is a lot like learning a foreign language. You feel on the outside of something bewildering, something that communicates but the only way to get it is through habit and immersion.
There’s something absurd about the way the voice-over of the language lesson interacts with the images. It’s the loneliness of technology. I tried to imagine what if a person listening to a language lesson over and over began to fixate on the voice as if it were speaking to her personally, as if it were giving her advice on how to live her life. Magical thinking. William Gibson calls it apophenia or faulty pattern recognition.
The film was partly inspired by Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition. The challenge I set myself is to try to merge drama, documentary and animation footage. To see them not as separate fields, but as interacting forces. Drama, believability, imagination.