Tag Archives: sculpture

Traveling in Europe: Amsterdam Part II

To see my album of Amsterdam pictures, click on the first picture.

Europe 2011: Amsterdam
canals, Amsterdam, houseboats, culture, the Netherlands

One of Amsterdam's many canals

Amsterdam is one of the uber culture spots of Europe, thronging with people getting away for a weekend, going some place to party, or checking out the art. Through the couchsurfing site I realized how immersed gay culture is there (most of the hosts listed on the site were gay). But oddly I didn’t see a lot of gay men. You might wonder how I would know but I’ve been around a lot of gay people all my life, have friends of various persuasions and as a result have developed fairly good “gaydar.” But they were there somewhere.

There were a lot of people; those hanging out in the coffee shops, where you can smoke pot (but only in the shops, not on the streets), those there to see the historic sites, and those shopping. Shopping also includes the infamous, but shrinking red light district. Some cleanup action of Amsterdam’s council has shrunk the area over the years. I stumbled upon the edge of it and ironically, one side of the street was the oude kerk (old church) while the other held the large picture windows where the scantily clad girls all work. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see one white woman but then I might have been in the wrong “section.” I have no pictures of the windows because I believe it rude to gawk and photograph these women.

Amsterdam also has oodles of museums, such as a doorknob museum, maritime museum and an eyeglass museum. Because I’m one of those people who stick my nose close to a painting to figure out the uses of color and the type of brushstrokes, as well as reading all the details about the artist’s life or the history of the time, it takes me a lot longer to go through a museum or art gallery than your average Joe. I really look. It’s a combo of my art college background and my eye for details and textures.  So when those guidebooks say you can do three museums in a day, they’re not talking to me.

 

Amsterdam, art, sculpture, travel, Rijksmuseum

An exterior detail of the Rijksmuseum.

I did hit the Rijksmuseum, a monster in and of itself. Almost all of it was surrounded by fencing and undergoing massive renovations. Only the section on the Dutch Masters was open, yet that took me three-four hours. Very few museums allow pictures, so that huge influx of historical art is only stored (somewhere) in my memory. I also took in the Van Gogh museum and this was one of the top three of my trip. I should also mention that getting Holland’s heritage pass (for about 44 Euros for a year) is well worth it for visiting museums and galleries. After three venues it saved me money.

The museum was extensive and detailed. There were write-ups on Van Gogh’s life, his influences, his work and his travels. We sometimes only know of the few oft-published paintings and that he was mad and cut off his ear, but he was much much more than that. He experimented in numerous styles including Chinese and Japanese. He studied art and kept trying different visions; landscapes, still lifes, people.  He copied the old masters and delved into the new ones, and he did it all in ten years. Ten years for a body of work that fills a museum. The show also included artworks by those who had influenced him and those he influenced. A truly amazing, well thought out homage to one of Holland’s more recent greats.

Stedelijk Museum, art, sculpture, Amsterdam, architecture

Exterior detail of the Stedelijk.

I also went into the Stedelijk Museum, which has modern art and an interesting show on font design. I kind of zipped through it because I was more interested in the older styles of art, but it was quite extensive with everything from mixed media, film to functional design forms and poster art.

I also went to the oude and nieuwe kerks (old and new churches) each built over several centuries and gothic in design. The oude kerk was begun in 1250 and finished in the 1500s. The no-fun Protestants came along at some point and tore down statues and broke stained glassed, making the cathedrals very austere and cavernous. However, at the new church there was a retrospective art show of wedding gowns. Some were just historical gowns through the decades and others involved twirling dresses (with the figure blacked out) on TVs, a giant roll of white fabric representing a wedding train and a suspended gown with one wing torn off , in front of a tomb of a war hero (somehow I’ve lost these pictures). It actually worked because where do wedding dresses fit but in a church?

There is a street market that sells everything from cheese to cheesy hooker style clothes. Since my suitcase decided to die at the beginning of my trip I had to buy another and found a cheap one at the market, but being cheap it barely lasted the three weeks of my vacation. Old cities, like Amsterdam have enough going on that you could just walk around for three days and look at the architecture and design. For me the mass of people had me happy to leave after two days but I’d probably go back again, especially since the crowds were so long I couldn’t get into Anne Franck House.

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Galiano Island

Galiano Island ferry dock

Galiano Island ferry dock

 Last weekend I had the chance to go over to Galiano Island. It’s one of  many Gulf Islands in the San Juan Islands and is a long finger of land. Galiano can be reached by a ferry that takes a little less than an hour. We walked on and paid about $20 for a round trip (prices vary going and coming and depending on the season). And for some reason on the ferry rides in both directions the people who left their car alarms on were always driving BMWs and Audis. Folks, if you’re on a ferry, no one is going to steal your car. There is nowhere to go and if they’re breaking in and you don’t hear the alarm, what’s the point? At least the workers made humorous announcements about the alarms.

Rain was the forecast but Saturday turned into a lovely day, warm and fairly clear. This allowed the deer to come into my friends’ yard and have their lunch of windfall apples. There was the mother and a fawn with a few spots still visible on the coat, as well as a yearling that sometimes got chased away. But they were too happy to chomp away and the mother couldn’t be bothered most of the time.

The fawn still has its spots.

The fawn still has its spots.

We also went off to this property where various pieces of rusting metal, old chairs, metal drums, tanks, motors, etc. were ensnared in abundant blackberry bushes. If we ever needed an impenetrable barrier during a war, this guy could do it. The blackberries were plump and juicy so that over the weekend we had blackberry martinis, ice, strudel and just plain ole berries with peaches.

There are quite a few galleries on the island and we made rounds to three openings over two days. One is a little wood style building, nicely laid out, bright and airy called Insight Art Gallery. I can’t remember its name but it had a display of hand painted glass, some jewellery and the opening show of Ingrid Fawcett’s paintings, which were of Chinese lanterns and flowers. The next gallery was I believe the Island’s Edge Gallery, which had a store and a little courtyard (and really awful wine for the opening) plus the gallery. This gallery had paintings, sculpture, ceramic, etchings and a few other items by different artists. There were some great carved pieces including a unicorn head that would have looked better without the horn and a mermaid. The etchings were my favorite but I can’t remember the artist’s name.

Oceanfront Hotel

Oceanfront Hotel

The Oceanfront Hotel (actually condo suites that open on the water) and Spa also has a gallery and we went to that on Sunday. It had some art outside like homemade bird condos (birdhouses but fanciers), a few sculptures and then an gazebo shaped builP1010079ding with more sculpture and art in it. The grounds were very lovely with a small manmade pond and waterfall, a herb garden with some awesome artichoke plants, and a small tranquil Japanese style pond with a big goldfish.

I’ve only been to Galiano once before and we drove up the length of the island. It’s is a wooded island with fir and cedar trees, and some sequoia, and various cabins right up to fancy houses. The population is around 3000 in the summer. The beaches are often sandstone and rocky, which makes for interesting rock formations but there seems to be limited sandy beach. There are many gulf islands and small rock outcroppings that can be seen from different vantage points. I found it peaceful and a nice pastoral getaway. At some point I’ll probably go over again to hang out and do some writing.

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Machine Animals and Giants

Nantes, Machine de L'ile, machine animals, Jules Vernes

The Sea Diver is about 30 feet tall and was looking for his lost niece. Photo by misterstf flickr

I seriously want to go to Nantes. Where is that? Good question. I didn’t know until a few months ago but then I’m not the biggest brain on geography, especially if I haven’t been there. When I saw an article on a giant spider that was built there, it piqued my interest. Nantes (pronounced nont)  is a tiny place in France, well, relatively so with a population of about 800,000 and sits on the Loire River. It is famed for being an important historic city in Brittany and being the birthplace of Jules Verne.

Maybe Verne’s fertile bed of great imagination, he who was pretty much the father of science fiction, left a seed of creativity that continues to grow. For Nantes is a place of magic. Giants have been seen on the streets and enormous sea creatures are being born. In fact, these creatures have toured to other cities. Marionettes (first the Little Giantess and of late the Sea Diver) as tall as 9 meters have walked the streets. Elephants, spiders and squids of enormous sizes have also been seen.

These animals are like animatronics and marionettes and most of all, amazing works of art. Made of wood, with moving parts and very lifelike in proportions and expressions (except always larger) they are creations of Royal de Luxe and Les Machines de L’ile. The first is a theatrical group that does street theatre and was first conceived in 1979. The pictures of the giant awaking show the scope of the piece and the crew required to move the marionette through the streets. How does one manipulate the “strings” of a 30-foot puppet? By having scaffolding that is even higher.

These amazing pieces are made of wood for the main sculptural elements but various mechanisms and hydraulics are added for the functionality. The related company, Les Machines de L’ile is a factory in Nantes where the creatures are created. La Machine is the performance company that takes the shows on the road, such as in Japan or London where the giant 50-foot spider, La Princesse, crawled through the streets.

François Delarozière is the main designer of the pieces but it takes a large crew to fabricate each sculpture and of course many people to run it. Royal de Luxe’s people all dress in costume, adding to the out of time and place feel. Weighing in at over two tons for the giant or 40 some tons for the Sultan’s Elephant, these works are not cheap to make. They come in at millions of pounds (or Euros), moneys brought about through different cultural mandates, and free to the public. (Indeed one would have to close their eyes to miss seeing these grandiose creatures.)

Some would call these sculptures steampunk, that genre of science fiction that emulates an earlier period of the Industrial Revolution, often in Victorian times, where brass, levers, pneumatic tubes, punch cards, steam and alternative methods of locomotion are the norm. And indeed, there is an essence of otherworldly or of a bordering time that the pieces bring about. The diver harkens back to Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and is the star of the Estuary Festival, a big thing for Nantes, a long-time shipping port.

Although some critics consider these performance art affairs to be a waste of money I think they are an awesome statement of humankind’s imagination. If we were only to turn our minds to more events of this magnitude and less on how to maim, subjugate or denigrate others, then in truth we would live in a magical world. I would love to see such works as these performed in North America. Jules Verne began reaching into the great unknown of what-if in a different way. The artists of La Machine and Royal de Luxe keep that magic alive.

Royal de Luxe’s Giant in Nantes: http://www.socyberty.com/Folklore/A-Giant-Awakes-in-Nantes.763695

Les Machines de L’Ile: http://www.lesmachines-nantes.fr/english/

Le Princesse in Japan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACH3leVMFIU

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The Rock of Cashel, Ireland

From  my fall 2007 trip to Ireland.
It’s a long way to Tipperary but if you go to Cashel, then you have in fact made it. Cashel (with the accent on the first syllable) was a lovely town (I’ve now officially lost track of the days). It’s small, a mix of medieval and modern and winds slowly up to the mound where the Rock of Cashel is. The castle was built at the highest point. It’s suffered some weather damage over the years from wind (parts blown down, such as the high cross and some crenellations) and rain. The castle is a sprawling place, containing several buildings, and cold. It was a windy enough day there but we could see from all sides, overlooking the town.
I didn’t do as well a job of editing these photos so there are a lot of pictures of fresco details and pillars.

The oldest part of Cashel is more than a thousand years old. We did the site tour , which had a very entertaining guy who gave great insights into the place’s very long history. Viewing over the cemetery, the distant hills show a dip. The tale goes that one day the devil was walking along, in a foul mood and took a big bite out of the hills. That dip is called the Devil’s Bite and when the devil spit out the chomp he took, it made the Rock of Cashel.
 
The oldest part was probably the tower as these are evident in all of the oldest monasteries (as lookouts for the Vikings). Then there was a smallish chapel, made I believe of limestone as that is the composition of the mount as well. The walls and ceiling had been painted in frescoes. Some of the design is still visible with red, blue, yellow and white colors. That was amazing to see, and religious figures and diapering designs were still discernible. This chapel was also unique in its crookedness. When looking through the arched entry it was obvious that it wasn’t in the center of that wall, nor was the arch geometrically even. I bet it was built by unskilled monks and laborers with no architect or only directions passed down the line from one guy to another.
 
There are the little sculpted heads there were also on the Dysert O’Dea doorway. The remains of a broken stone casket was inside. The front has and Urnes style beast on it, which helps date this part of Cashel to 900-1000 CE. Urnes style resembles the famous carved stave churches of Norway, indicating the influence of the time.
 
Ireland is working hard to preserve its heritage and history. Many of the castles are owned by county or country tourism. It’s a long and expensive process but there was evidence of work on Cashel, especially in spots that needed to preserve the building’s integrity.

Brian Boru, and his grandson were some of the early Munster kings that ruled from here. But his grandson gave the castle over to the Bishop of Limerick. This began the long ecclesiastical history of the castle. There was an enclosed museum, which had some religious artifacts, pennannular brooches, and stonework that had been moved in to preserve them.

Another chapel (I don’t know the actual religious names for these different buildings) was redone with a wooden roof (no nails) and plant made pigments painted on the gothic arches and angels that decorated the room. Most castles and churches had wooden roofs as the technique for making the corbelled (or other) stone roofs was complicated and put a lot of weight on the walls. Throughout these buildings there are many square holes in the walls. These are post holes, for floors and stairs. It makes one realize how drafty these stone places would have been.

The town itself was fairly small and we were hardpressed to find a place to eat that night, but ate at the Town Hall, a higher end and very good restaurant. It is so named because it is in the old town hall. We’d had a drink in one of local pub earlier and many of the pubs in this area of Ireland have little hearths and some that burn coal still. We spent several hours at Cashel and then moved on to Limerick.

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Art Olympics

Well shiver my timbers and call me a dumbbell. The other day I talked about “Video Gaming as an Olympic Sport” and facetiously suggested a few new ones including writing a novel and caricature drawing. Well, who knew, but there were once art Olympics, or art contest at the Olympics. Total surprise to me but the founder of the modern Olympics, the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin had a vision which included art.

The artistic competitions were hotly debated and contested, getting off to a rocky start for Sweden in 1912. Only 35 entries were received. The categories for art were: sculpture, architecture, literature, painting and music. Not all categories were filled and gold, silver and bronze medals were not awarded in all. All art pieces could not have been previously published (though there were exceptions for architecture) and all had to relate to sports in some way.

Due to excuses of funding problems or note enough time, the next art Olympics were in 1920, then for the years of 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936 and 1948. The art categories sometimes had subcategories such as prints, paintings and water colors/drawings for the painting section, but it could vary from one Olympics to the next. After the initial entries of 35 pieces in 1912, there were usually over a thousand, and thousands of people viewed the exhibits.

The biggest problem was that the Olympics state that athletes must be of amateur status and it was contended that the artists were professionals. The art Olympics were canceled but the Cultural Olympiad took their place in 1956, showcasing various artistic forms in conjunction with the Olympics. I didn’t know there was a special name for the festivals and to tell the truth I’ve never heard of the Cultural Olympiad. But then I’ve never been to the Olympics and considering the Olympic committee’s penchant for branding, of course there is a Cultural Olympiad.

So, art is no longer an Olympic sport, alas. Video gaming could possibly become one, but I doubt it. But if you’re at all interested in being part of the artistic Olympiad for Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics then you can check it out here: http://www.vancouver2010.com/en/CultureEducation/CulturalOlympiad/ArtistRegistry/Guidelines

And below is a database of all countries, medals and Olympic sports, including the art Olympics should you like to see who won. Nazi Germany won quite a few in 1936 Berlin Olympics. Somehow not a surprise. I’ll still dream of writing haiku, villanelles, sonnets and plays at Olympic speed and wiles.

http://www.databaseolympics.com/games/gamessport.htm?g=10&sp=ART&enum=130

http://www.databaseolympics.com/sport/sporteventlist.htm?sp=ART

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