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MATTEmatters: Sentimental Jamboree

By Marcela Filomena

This edition of matters, I was thinking about how loss shapes human history- a tradition dies out, replaced by newer technology; then rescued in a retro-futurist attempt to capture some sort of perceived authenticity.  Nostalgia's past is idealized and timeless, & what is lost is something that never existed except in memory.  The following entries take techniques or customs that are in a slowly decaying spiral, tumbling headfirst into oblivion, whether it be Chinese shadow puppetry (on the UNESCO's list of intangible heritage that must be preserved), or ice-harvesting

design - It's amazingly difficult to find information on Misha Lee, apart from the magnificent and ethereal images from her undergrad final collection-which started making the rounds of the blogosphere about a year ago.  And I can see why: inspired by Chinese Shadow Puppetry, it also incorporates paper cutting and window art with delicate embroidery.  Each outfit evidences remarkable patience in forming the intricate handiwork- showing mastery of old-world techniques with a modern aesthetic sensibility.  After a full two weeks of assiduously attempting to track her down- eureka! - it turns out she just completed her master's at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, after graduating from Sichuan University.  Her current graduate piece focuses on visual arts rather than clothing, which isn't to say she's left design, as she started her line Chaotique in 2012. 

film - For over fifty years, Baltazar Ushca followed in his father's footsteps, harvesting ice from the spot on Earth closest to the Sun, Ecuador's Mount Chimborazo.  One by one, his brothers and fellow ice pickers stopped mining the ice, finding it increasingly difficult to eke out even a meager living with the advent of commercially produced ice and home freezers.  Still, Baltazar takes his donkeys in hand every few days and walks miles to the mountain, chipping away at glacial waters that have been frozen for millions of years.  He is the last hielero del Chimborazo, and his story is told in an award-winning documentary that demonstrates the very real effects of cultural change in a small, indigenous community- although it wouldn't be hard to extrapolate this story to the world, and find many more examples of displacement.

art - Let's face it, books are going the way of the dodo, Livonian and Martha, the passenger pigeon.  As we turn increasingly towards the Internet and digital forms of communication, the printed word on paper is slowly in the process of disappearing.  Six years into the manic rise of mobile, the purveyors of the written word are desperately scrambling to catch up to the times. Eventually, there will be generations who remember books the same way we remember rotary phones: as kitsch, quaint reminders of the past.  Artists Alicia Martin and Yun-Woo Choi have found a use for all the printed material we'll leave behind, creating massive sculptures that tumble out of buildings or seem to spontaneously materialize like tornadoes.  Martin's series is known as Biografías, and there have been seven site-specific installations so far, each featuring from 5,000 to a handful of books, their leaves rustling in the wind, animating what are essentially dead objects.  Similarly, Yun-Woo Choi uses magazines and newspapers as his medium, also creating gargantuan structures that are intense and beautiful. Choi's work has a researched structure behind it as well, as he bases his sculptures on theoretical physics and a fascination with multiple dimensions.  Both artists use materials that are finite to create works preoccupied with the timeless.

music - Harry Partch was a great challenger of conventions:  he broke with the Western tradition of standard tuning, preferring instead to work within the framework of just intonation, custom-making instruments since traditional ones couldn't play his music.  He saw this change as a return to pre-classical western musical roots, particularly to the traditions of Ancient Greece.  On first listen, Partch's compositions are jarring, as our ears are unaccustomed to listening to mathematical perfection.  More than just music, Partch aimed to purvey an experience, and to this end studied not only ancient Greece, but also Noh, Kabuki, West African dance-theatre and Chinese opera.  Each performance, and alas! there were but a very few, brought together corporeality, dance, theatre, song & instrumentation to create a mystical ritual for modern times.  There is an excellent BBC documentary in terrible res floating around the interwebs- and one can also find footage of both his original instruments and copies being played today.

item - "Destroyed, stolen, rejected, erased, ephemeral.  Some of the most significant artworks of the last 100 years have been lost and can no longer be seen".  The Gallery of Lost Art is an online exhibition that chronicles artworks that have been lost.  The virtual exhibition itself disappears the third of July, after having been online for a full year, revealing the extraordinary and occasionally absurd way in which works by over forty artists across the twentieth century.  De Kooning, Duchamp, Miró, Tracey Emin & Francis Bacon are just a few of the big names in the exhibition, which features an interactive crime scene-like atmosphere. Be sure to visit before the 3rd!