Cultureteca 21.02.16

Cultureteca 61

Kendrick Lamar Heads 58th Annual Grammy Awards

Owing to Presidents Day and the long weekend, the 58th Annual Grammy Awards were held on Monday night from the Staples Center in Los Angeles in a change from the ceremony’s usual Sunday slot. Otherwise the Grammys remains firmly stuck in a mire of inert presentation, inane collaborative performances, and excessive and increasingly irrelevant categorisation, with this year’s iteration inevitably further spoiled by Lady Gaga’s typically overbearing tribute to David Bowie.

Kendrick Lamar went into the ceremony with eleven nominations, the second most in the history of the awards after the twelve Michael Jackson received back in 1984 during the era of Thriller. He came away with five wins, the most on the night, To Pimp a Butterfly losing out to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for Album of the Year, but Kendrick providing the only memorable performance of the show by way of a three-song medley, which he began shackled in chains and confined in a prison before coming to depict some of the shades and contours of Africa. Kendrick played ‘The Blacker the Berry’ and ‘Alright’ before debuting a new track, later stating across a Grammy interview conducted with Andreas Hale:

‘I got a chamber of material from the album that I was in love where sample clearances or something as simple as a deadline kept it off the album. But I think probably close to ten songs that I’m in love with that I’ll still play and still perform that didn’t make the cut.’

Amid energetic performances from The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, and Bonnie Raitt and a peculiar live advert-cum-music video by Gwen Stefani, Taylor Swift used her Album of the Year victory speech to take what might be a well warranted swipe at Kanye West over the lyrics to his The Life of Pablo track ‘Famous’, provided this latest stirring of sentiment isn’t simply a hoax or publicity stunt. Swift won three Grammys in total, in the process becoming the first female artist to win Album of the Year twice; Alabama Shakes also won three awards, including Best Alternative Music Album for Sound & Color; Ed Sheeran emerged with two awards, seizing Song of the Year for ‘Thinking Out Loud’; ‘Uptown Funk’ snatched Record of the Year on behalf of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars; and Meghan Trainor was vaunted as Best New Artist.

Still as the Grammys persists with an insipid LL Cool J at the helm, straddling uncomfortably the line of art with legs splayed between musty traditionalism and crisp commercialism, fewer people appear to be watching on: 24.95 million viewed the ceremony on CBS this year, a drop of 9.4% from 2015 and the lowest figure since 2009.

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Kanye West Tweets on TLOP, Re-issues Black Yeezy 350

Still busy with the release of The Life of Pablo after his efforts late last week in the realms of fashion and sketch comedy, Kanye West abstained from the 58th Annual Grammy Awards on Monday. But he took to Twitter to make a number of characteristically bold statements and suggestions, among them revealing that he, Kendrick Lamar, and Young Thug each have forty unreleased songs which could eventually find their respective ways to Tidal; asserting that The Life of Pablo will never be for sale in general or available to stream via Apple Music; and making the case for white publications to cease commenting on black music.

Meanwhile the credits for The Life of Pablo became available in full via Kanye’s website. And a few days later, Friday saw the re-release of the Yeezy 350 Boost in its all-black colourway, black adidas Primeknit atop a black boost sole with a pull tab on the heel in red stitching.

Yeezy Boost 350 Black

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Prado Withdraws Downgraded Works from Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of Genius

As Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of Genius opened at Het Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch last weekend, it did so without two of the panels which had been promised by the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. For the landmark exhibition in Bosch’s hometown, devised to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, museum director Charles de Mooij managed to agree loans for twenty of Bosch’s twenty-five extant paintings, offering institutions like the Prado in Madrid, the Louvre in Paris, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington the yield of information gathered over six years by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project. De Mooj believes that the collection of paintings he has brought together in Den Bosch – allied to nineteen of Bosch’s twenty-five surviving drawings – will never again be assembled in one place.

But in the case of the Prado, the extensive work carried out by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project – which involved the innovative use of infrared and X-ray technology – has proven as much a curse as a blessing. The Cure of Folly (also known as Cutting the Stone) and The Temptation of St. Anthony, both in the Prado’s permanent collection, were meant to be part of Visions of Genius, but were withdrawn because the project’s research team has downgraded their attribution, declaring them the creations of Bosch’s workshop or followers rather than Bosch himself.

The research team’s findings were made available to the Prado back in November, shortly after another disagreement concerning The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. The Bosch Research and Conservation Project downgraded this painting, which also hangs in the Prado, along with the version of Christ Carrying the Cross in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, while upgrading the status of a drawing of hell hitherto owned by a private collector. The Prado responded by asserting the authenticity of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.

The Prado has still loaned the Haywain Triptych for Visions of Genius. But speaking on Tuesday of The Cure of Folly and The Temptation of St. Anthony – which were to be displayed at Het Noordbrabants until 8 May, before returning to Madrid for the Prado’s own Bosch centenary exhibition – Charles de Mooij confirmed:

‘The loan requests for the other two works proved to be at a very late stage unsuccessful but they will be able to be seen in the Prado exhibition later this year. The reason why the works in question were in the end not loaned to the Noordbrabants Museum is for the Prado to answer.’

Hieronymus Bosch - The Cure of Folly 2

Later in the week, the Prado’s answer was to suggest that Het Noorbrabant’s decision to display the two works as not by Bosch breaks an agreement, and ‘also suggests that the Museo del Prado accepts and authorises the proposed attributions’. The Prado evidently believes itself in the possession of authentic works by Bosch, or is at least keen to maintain the attributions ahead of their upcoming exhibit.

The full findings of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project will be published across two volumes later this year. While the result appears to be fewer panels which we can definitively attribute to Hieronymus Bosch, the research team have credited him with a small Temptation of St. Anthony in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which had previously been considered the work of a follower. But when it comes to The Cure of Folly, based on X-rays of the painting which have revealed its underdrawing, the project states:

‘Bosch’s characteristic way of working, with its continuous exploration and adjustment of the composition, is all but absent here. The underdrawing likewise differs sharply in terms of both style and material from those in other paintings from the Bosch group.’

And concerning the Prado’s Temptation of St. Anthony, the project says it is ‘definitely not by Bosch himself’, continuing:

‘Although the painting’s atmosphere and subject matter were undoubtedly inspired by Bosch’s work, it differs from his art in virtually every other respect, including its composition, depth effects, style and technique.’

Hieronymus Bosch - The Temptation of St Anthony 2

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California Officials and Pope Francis Comment on Contraception

Contraception-related news came in spurts on Thursday, as officials in California rejected a proposal that would have forced all porn actors to wear condoms in order to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease. The California state Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Standards Board, made up of seven members, saw only three vote in favour of the proposal, when a majority of four was required for its successful passage. Two members of the board voted against, with one member absent and the final board position currently unfilled.

Porn representatives argued stoutly in recent weeks that the proposal would either destroy their industry or force it underground, thereby opening porn up to the criminal element and eliminating those safeguards already in place. Currently porn actors in the state must be tested every fourteen days for sexually transmitted diseases.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has lobbied for years in an attempt to bring workplace standards in porn in line with those which adhere in other businesses. The 21-page proposal submitted by the foundation which the Standards Board rejected on Thursday called for engineering controls ‘such as condoms’ to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and other diseases. But many within the porn industry contend that the use of condoms results in declining views. And they worried that the proposal would pave the way towards dental dams and even goggles, to prevent blood-borne pathogens entering the body through the eyes. Goggles and dental dams would surely decimate any widespread interest in oral sex. Yet condoms are already required for porn films made in Los Angeles County under legislation approved by voters in 2012, and Californians will vote on whether to extend that requirement across the state in November.

Condoms in Porn 1

Meanwhile on the papal plane on his return to Rome from Mexico, Pope Francis indicated that women exposed to the Zika virus may be permitted to use contraception in accord with the Catholic Church. While reiterating the Church’s stance that abortion is an ‘absolute evil’, he suggested that ‘avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil’ and in some cases may be ‘the lesser evil’, citing by way of example a dispensation purportedly issued by Pope Paul VI, which is said to have allowed Catholic nuns serving in the Belgian Congo in the 1960s to take birth control pills when faced with the threat of rape.

Pope Francis’ example has been contested: the story about Pope Paul VI’s dispensation is thought to be little more than urban legend, with a limited basis in fact. But Popes are fond of suggestive moralising by way of oblique examples. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI stated that contraception can be, ‘in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality’. Becoming more specific, he said:

‘those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity.’

Earlier on Thursday the Vatican had ruled out easing its stance on abortion with regard to the Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitos and has been linked to 4,000 cases of microcephaly – where an underdeveloped brain results in a smaller than normal head – among infants in Brazil and other parts of South America. The Vatican said, ‘Not only is increased access to abortion and abortifacients an illegitimate response to this crisis, but since it terminates the life of a child it is fundamentally not preventative’.

Pope Francis’s visit to Mexico proved bumpy in so far as he shouted at members of the crowd after being jostled in the city of Morelia. But on the plane ride home he was in expansive mood, criticising Donald Trump when asked about the Republican presidential candidate, saying ‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian’. Trump responded by calling the Pope ‘disgraceful’ for questioning his faith, embellishing his point with some hyperbole about the Vatican as ‘ISIS’s ultimate trophy’.

Pope Francis 1

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Sonár Reykjavik 2016

Based at Harpa concert hall, with five stages ranging into the depths of the venue’s underground car park, a capacity of 3,500 guests, and an international conference devised to hone and provide opportunities for emerging talent, Sónar Reykjavik 2016 took place between 18-20 February. An intimate occasion in relation to Sónar’s big three days in Barcelona every June, Sónar Reykjavik shares a focus on cutting-edge electronic music. The headline acts this year included Oneohtrix Point Never, Holly Herndon, Squarepusher, Angel Haze, Hudson Mohawke, Boys Noize, !!!, Koreless, and Annie Mac.

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Steve Martin Makes Momentary Return to Stand-Up Opening for Jerry Seinfeld at the Beacon Theatre

Opening Jerry Seinfeld’s show on Thursday night – the second set of the comedian’s year-long, monthly residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York City – Steve Martin made a brief return to stand-up after an absence of thirty-five years. Appearing on stage for around ten minutes accompanied by his banjo, Martin began ‘Thank you. Jerry couldn’t make it tonight – have a safe ride home!’, before explaining ‘Actually, I’m here tonight because of that old showbiz saying: Never lose a bet to Jerry’, apparently a reference to last year’s episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, in which Seinfeld and Martin discussed opening lines, the surreal heights of Martin’s comedic success in the 1970s, and his abrupt departure from stand-up in 1981.

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Umberto Eco, Novelist and Semiotician, Dies Aged Eight-Four

Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist and semiotician, died on Friday after a two-year bout with pancreatic cancer. Beginning his academic career in the realm of medieval aesthetics, with a series of works which would later be translated as The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (1956), Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (1959), and The Middle Ages of James Joyce (1965), Eco began to turn his developing theories of semiotics to literary criticism, coining the term ‘open text’ to describe the way in which good literature allows for multiple meanings rather than insisting on one narrow interpretative thread.

Following The Open Work in 1962, Eco published a wide-ranging body of non-fiction drawing upon the field of semiotics, from The Absent Structure (1968) and A Theory of Semiotics (1975) to The Search for the Perfect Language (1993) and Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition (1997). In 1971 he co-founded the leading semiotic journal Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici. And in 1975 he became a full professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna – founded in 1088, the oldest institution in the world – remaining with the university until his death.

But it was Eco’s first novel, Il nome della Rossa (The Name of the Rose), published in 1980 and translated into English in 1983, which brought the writer international renown. Set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327, the detective mystery finds monks engaged in a murderous struggle over a long-lost treatise on comedy by Aristotle, and figures Jorge Luis Borges in addition to a wealth of Christian heresies and sects. The Name of the Rose went on to sell more than 10 million copies in around thirty languages, and led to a Hollywood adaptation in 1986 directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.

Born on 5 January 1932, in the industrial town and railway hub of Alessandria in northwest Italy, Eco completed his thesis on Thomas Aquinas at the University of Turin. He and his wife, Renate Ramge, an art teacher, divided their time between apartments in Milan, where they reportedly kept a 30,000-volume library, and Rimini, where they lived in a 17th century palazzo once owned by the Jesuits and near the Adriatic Sea. His fiction from Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) to The Prague Cemetery (2010) typically combined pot-boiling intrigue with recondite philosophy and historical themes. His most recent non-fiction texts include The Infinity of Lists (2009) and The Book of Legendary Lands (2013), while his final novel Numero Zero was published in 2015.

Umberto Eco* * *

Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture at Vancouver Art Gallery

On Saturday the exhibition Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture opened at Vancouver Art Gallery. Spreading to cover all of the gallery’s available floorspace, and scanning across artistic disciplines to place the photomontage of Hannah Höch, the pop art of Andy Warhol, and the neo-expressionism of Jean-Michel Basquiat alongside the Modernist poetry of T.S. Eliot, the indeterminate compositions of John Cage, and the pulp cinema of Quentin Tarantino – to name just a few of the exhibition’s assorted figures – the endeavour is to show the cultural period from 1912 to the present day as one of mutual influence and indiscriminate materiality:

‘From the moment that Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque undertook the revolutionary gesture of adding a rectangle of floral wallpaper, a newspaper headline or a scrap of sheet music to their compositions, they initiated an immediate and fundamental shift in European art. 

The resulting explosion of mashup strategies employed across media and movements offers the clearest evidence of the relevance of this process to the growth of visual culture during the 20th century. From Marcel Duchamp to Jean-Luc Godard, Liz Magor to Isa Genzken, artists of diverse disciplines have adopted and reworked this creative strategy. Taking over all four floors of the Vancouver Art Gallery, this groundbreaking exhibition will offer an international survey of mashup culture, documenting the emergence and evolution of a mode of creativity that has grown to become the dominant form of cultural production in the early 21st century.’

Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture is divided into four sections, one for each floor. Descending from the fourth floor, ‘Early 20th Century: Collage, Montage, and Readymade at the Birth of Modern Culture (Pablo Picasso to Hannah Höch)’ is followed in turn by ‘The Post-War: Cut, Copy, and Quotation in the Age of Mass Media (Andy Warhol to Dara Birnbaum)’, ‘Late 20th Century: Splicing, Sampling, and the Street in the Age of Appropriation (Keith Haring to Barbara Kruger)’, and ‘The Digital Age: Hacking, Remix, and the Archive in the Age of Post-Production (DJ Spooky to Hito Steyerl)’.

A selection from the work of local artist Elizabeth Zvonar accompanies the exhibition in the gallery’s Offsite space, located at the base of the Shangri-La Hotel ‘in the heart of urban Vancouver’. The catalogue for Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture comes as a 352-page full-colour hardcover, published by Vancouver Art Gallery and Black Dog Publishing. The exhibition will run in its entirety until 15 May, with the upper two floors remaining intact until 12 June.

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The 66th Annual Berlin International Film Festival

Berlinale 2016, the 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival, was held from 11-21 February. A screening of the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! opened the event, in a year when the international jury was headed by Meryl Streep, with the remainder of the judging panel made up of the German actor Lars Eidinger, British film critic Nick James, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, British actor Clive Owen, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher, and Polish filmmaker Małgorzata Szumowska.

Among the prizes selected by the international jury, Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi – a documentary which contrasts the everyday life of villagers on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa with the island’s position as an entry point for the European migrant crisis – won the Golden Bear for Best Film. Smrt u Sarajevu (Death in Sarajevo) by Denis Tanovic won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) by Lav Diaz won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize ‘for a feature film that opens new perspectives’. And there were acting awards for Trine Dyrholm and Majd Mastoura, while Mia-Hansen Love was given the Best Director nod for L’avenir (Things to Come).

The Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement was presented to the German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who presided over the Berlinale international jury back in 1990. In other categories, the Best First Feature Award went to Mohamed Ben Attia for Inhebbek Hedi. And the Golden Bear for Best Short Film was awarded to Balada de um Batráquio (Batrachian’s Ballad), a depiction of the Romani in Portugal by Leonor Teles.