Monday, February 7, 2011

Linked world: Egypt, Zapatistas, Google Art Project

By Barry Johnson

Historian Simon Schama gives us an historical look at the protection (and destruction) of cultural treasures during revolutionary times, specifically in regard to the incredible store of Egyptian antiquities at risk in Cairo right now:
"Paradoxically, though, it’s exactly during times of revolutionary upheaval that the fate of antiquities – their redundancy or their indispensability to the future – gets most hotly contested. Partly that’s because when civil authority dissolves, the temptation to plunder is usually irresistible; and partly because all revolutions have at least an iconoclastic streak in them. The glee of desecration, of smashing the taboo, is inseparable from the adrenalin rush of other kinds of liberation."
That sounds plausible, but it's interesting that in Egypt, both pro- and anti-Mubarak forces, not to mention the army, are attempting to portray themselves as protectors of the Egyptian cultural legacy. The looting of antiquities comes from a different place than taboo smashing, I'd hypothesize.

Speaking of revolutions, Christopher Knight reviews a new show at UCLA's Hammer Museum, or rather an installation in that group show by multi-media artist Charles Gaines. Gaines has assembled four manifestos of various sorts (the International Socialist Congress, the Situationist International, the Black Panther Party, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) from popular uprisings. He displays these on four screens in scrolling video text and accompanies the words with music that he's composed.
"Gaines has composed a musical score for each manifesto. He translated the texts into musical notation using letters of the alphabet that correspond to musical notes. The scores appear as framed, five-foot-tall sheet music, carefully drawn in pencil and installed around the room."
It's difficult to make this sound like anything but a formalist exercise,  but Knight argues that it's powerful:  "Against the courageous background of noisy tumult on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, being experienced elsewhere around the world as bursts of text across computer monitors and smart-phones and chaotic images on television screens, Gaines' imposing, impressive video-music strikes a deep and powerful chord."

Speaking of Los Angeles,  we found the new season of the LA Philharmonic, under Gustav Dudamel, inspiring.

And speaking of inspiring, we leave you with the Google Art Project and the New York Times account of the search engine giant's attempt to create a "universal" virtual museum. Will Google manage to assemble the new Library of Alexandria AND its fine art equivalent? And what are the consequences of this digital centralization? I have no idea. But even this small sample can lure the casual viewer into its web for hours.

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