Arabic Movie (Eyal Sagui-Bizawe)

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The Jewish Studies Program at Syracuse was delighted to host last night a screening of Arabic Movie (2015) and conversation with filmmaker Eyal Saguui-Bizawe. The movie explores the institution of the Friday afternoon “ceremony” of watching what was called “Arabic film,” i.e. Arabic language movies, primarily Egyptian cinema, shown on Israel’s state television during the 1970s and 1980s. The movie addresses the porous cultural borders, a special place of Arabic culture in Israel, and perhaps the place of Israel in the Middle East. Arabic Movie is steeped in multiple layers of affect and nostalgia –[1] the richly saturated and pining musical emotionalism, the facial and gestural expression in classical Egyptian cinema, [2] the deep feeling that registers on the part of the older Israeli viewers who appear in the film, particularly those who came to Israel from Egypt and other Arab speaking countries; there is a deep emotion that registers on the face, on the faces that tear up watching these movies and listening with their beautiful soundtracks, and [3] then finally upon our feelings as viewers of the film watching the on-screen viewers watching “Arabic movies” and thinking of possibilities of contact that break down or get past toxic cultural stereotypes that determine the barrier set up by the friend/enemy distinction. Arabic Movie is itself an “Arabic movie,” i.e. a primarily Hebrew-language Egyptian Israeli movie that is itself steeped in the warm ambience of the original films as they are remembered in the imagination and then carried forward in their re-watching.

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Eco Toilet (New York Visitor Center)

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I’m being childish, to be sure, but the toilets at the New York State Southern Tier Visitor Center on rt. 81 just south of Binghamton are a technological wonder. The first time I was startled. Where’s the water? It’s a latrine with a foam cleaning system.

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Opera & Landscape (David Hockney)

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A musical painter or a painter of music, David Hockney painted landscapes and operatic sets –and they are glorious. The first painting that I have posted above is a view on a drive on the hilly Pacific Highway with Los Angeles in the close distance. The second is one of the so-called V.N. paintings, which relate to the artist’s interest in opera. Exhibited in the same gallery at the Hockney retrospective at the Met, they convey at different scale the same spatial dynamism of giddy, colorful motion and the intensification of speed and sound. These are very different from the geometric angularity that shape the swimming pools, municipal buildings, and social relations in the paintings meant to capture Beverley Hill. In particular, the landscape that I’m posting here depicts drives that Hockney carefully organized for friends through the hills, synchronized with works by Wagner. With the city grid there in the back, each swerve up close on the hilly road, surrounded by saturated color, was timed deliberately to coincide with just that dramatic operatic hight point. The carefully arranged bright segments of the landscape undulate. The N.V. paintings suggest that the scenes out in the country are mental landscapes.  What unites them all is what, a sense of home?

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(Water on Skin) Sensation (David Hockney)

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Invested in the anti-aesthetic, people committed to modern and contemporary art, including art critics, often struggle with optimism, pleasure, and beauty. In the case of David Hockney, that is to miss the point and overlook what the aritst shares with more pessimistic painters from his same milieu of postwar British figurative painters like Kitaj and Francis Bacon, another gay artist who stands out as polar opposite to Hockney. As for Hockney’s work, you can see now a large collection of it at a major retrospective at the Met.

About this ambivalence regarding Hockney, here is the great Roberta Smith at the NYT, taking with one hand only to give with the other.

“No, Mr. Hockney, at 80, is not Jasper Johns or Gerhard Richter. But he has his own greatness, which flows from openly following his own desires — including his attraction to other men — while rigorously exploring the ways art and life feed each other, visually and emotionally. Full disclosure, forthright joy and forward motion are the dynamos of his art, which in my book at least, gives him an edge over Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.”

Note here the comparison between Hockney and Bacon, which is the difference between pleasure and pain.

At the same time, this review here by Andrea Scott at the New Yorker reminded me of Deleuze writing about sensation in Bacon’s art:

“How acrylic can be thinned to soak into canvas and mimic the blue translucence of water, or how it can be brushed onto a surface in undulating cream-and-gray strokes to convey the plushness of a shag rug underfoot. Sensations—visual, tactile, emotional—are the heart of his project.”

I don’t know terribly much about the scholarship on Hockney apart from general impressions, much of which remain under-interpreted and under-theorized. There has to be more to it than “Americans take showers all the time,” as Hockney once said in the mid 1970s.

I am sure that Deleuze could be of some help here in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, and also Levinas writing in Totality and Infinity about enjoyment and Kant of course, writing in the Critique of Judgment about beauty There is no social conscience here, no moral or political edge. With Hockney, art starts and stops with a more or less stable corporeal sensation. Pleasure and pain are different kinds of sensation, but they are sensation nonetheless. In this body of work, like water on skin in a warm space, the materiality of thin acrylic soaks into a physical surface, creating effects and affects that are translucent.

But what is one supposed to make of the black plant, whose location is central in the bright and aqueous scene, Man Taking Shower in Beverly Hills (1964)?

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The Tikvah Fund is Dangerous To Israeli Society

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The Tikvah Fund is still doing damage, mostly in Israel nowadays. Consider this from a recent article at Ynet, which you can read here“I think the New Israel Fund is less dangerous to Israeli society and solidarity than the Tikvah Fund. It’s a harsh statement, but I do believe that the New Israel Fund helps bring the moderate voices in society closer. The Tikvah Fund, on the other hand, deepens the divide, thereby weakening solidarity, which is hard to come by as it is in Israel today.” The speaker isn’t your classic leftist, but a skullcap-wearing settler from Gush Etzion, poet Eliaz Cohen, who is speaking out against the Tikvah Fund and its various organs.

They continue to promote the view that the Tikvah Fund promotes no special agenda, just “Jewish ideas,” as per this statement:  “Alongside the support for our academic center, most of the Tikvah Fund’s budget is allocated to the operation of our academic programs and to the production of our publications. In the past, we have supported a variety of programs at other institutions, to promote the study of important ideas, and by no means to promote any ‘specific message’.”

 

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Steamy Tomb (Michelangelo)

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Here’s a quick sketch by Michelangelo on paper for a tomb. The bodies are built into the structure of the building. Their languid pose and the misty atmospherics of the sketch give the whole thing the appearance of a bathhouse.

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(Palimpsest) Page & Figures (Michelangelo)

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For his unfinished sketches for studies, Michelangelo drew each figure one by one. But ultimately the figures are only as interesting as their organization on the page. For the studies, he used the same page to sketch figures next to and sometimes even over each other. This crowding and grouping give to the page as a whole something of its casual intimacy or the quick, busy, lively, and delicate look of a palimpsest.

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