Overheard last evening at the opening of Constructed Identities:
Separated from ourselves tied together by discarded bits and pieces…This is a gallery with tragedy and joy…Disability is just part of being human – it’s not an adjustment. Sighted people are afraid of what they can’t imagine…Be in your body and emotions in whatever way makes you comfortable…
How refreshing to be in a roomful of (very diverse) people surrounded by these entangling sculptures! I also look forward to spending some time in the gallery when it’s a little quieter. (The exhibit runs until July 6.)
Marshall McLuhan wrote Understanding Media in 1964, and 52 years later, we are still struggling to understand. Media literacy is a wicked oxymoron – a contradiction in terms. I often feel baffled, confused, and even overwhelmed.
What happens when my identity is constructed by disconnected random events? I felt this way yesterday when I visited the Constructed Identities exhibit at the Tangled Arts Gallery.
What happens when I make choices freely, and guide my life accordingly? I am learning that people with visible or defined disabilities make great teachers. For this reason, I am looking forward to the upcoming ReelAbilities Film Festival – understanding media in new ways.
Here are links to trailers for the featured films:
A Whole Lott More
The Way He Looks
The Rainbow Kid
Touch Of The Light
Constructed Identities, an exhibit of new works by Persimmon Blackbridge, opens Wednesday at the new Tangled Arts Gallery in Toronto. I attended an artist’s talk and preview last evening, and was moved by the experience. She gives a compelling counter-narrative to many of the messages circulating during Mental Health Week, and the exhibit deserves wider attention.
Readers of this blog will understand why I think the subject of Constructed Identities is so relevant. We so often affix labels to people – often without their consent – and then expect them to conform to our standards of socially-defined sanity. Rather than helping to heal people, we constrict them. How is it possible for folks to give meaning and direction to their lives, when their very identities are imposed on them from outside?
I am grateful when people with defined disabilities come forward and express themselves, as Persimmon has done. She helps to wake the rest of us up. Everyone has disabilities, and it’s the undefined ones – hidden, ignored and denied – that do the most damage.
The opening reception of Constructed Identities is on Wednesday, May 4th, 7-9pm at 401 Richmond St. West. Maybe I’ll see you there.
The Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies were beautifully produced and set new standards for cinematic art. I recently watched them again (on a small screen!) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Having said that, there are many aspects of Jackson’s treatment of the story that are not supported by the Tolkien text. And to some extent, this is fine. Of course it’s necessary to make adjustments when translating a book into a movie. However, it’s unfortunate when key elements of Tolkien’s ethos get distorted, or lost altogether. Some examples:
- The omission of Tom Bombadil. These scenes are critical for understanding the resilience and ingenuity of the hobbits as they face the subsequent challenges of the quest.
- Protracted battle scenes. In the book, the battle for Helm’s Deep is a short episode (13 pages or 3% of the text) while in the movie, it seems to go on forever.
- Hobbits as (anti-) heroes. In the book, the hobbits influence others through a kind of moral persuasion, but they aren’t actually expected to DO much. In the movies, Jackson makes them heroes. (e,g. Pippin drawing Treebeard into the conflict.)
- The Palantir, the Seeing Stone, that which looks far away. In the book, Pippin’s experience of the Palantir is a warning, a test for Gandalf, who quickly gives it to Aragorn for safekeeping. In the movie, Gandalf uses it to learn Sauron’s intentions, which really seems like something that Saruman would do!
Are we losing sight of Tolkien’s message? Reading the books again I am struck by the gentle quality of the text. The magic deeds are understated, with none of the flashy devices featured in the movies. Of course there is violence in the book, but the majority of the text is devoted to describing the web of activities – physical and transcendent – that made it possible to penetrate the darkness and transform it.
Conclusion: if you want to see like Tolkien, you have to read his books.
The World Wide Weave is a travelling fabric art exhibit with contributions from Camphill communities around the world. (The image on the left is from Vietnam; click here to see a wide selection of other images.) The Weave has been enthusiastically received by audiences across Europe, and arrives at the Collier St. United Church in Barrie on April 7th. It runs until April 22. I encourage you to come – it’s a once in-a-lifetime opportunity! While you’re in Barrie, be sure to visit the Camphill Store. (More information)
As well as being a beautiful exhibit in its own right, the Weave is also a demonstration of the power of social art. When a group of people with diverse backgrounds collaborates on a piece of textile art, they are not just weaving physical threads – they are renewing, strengthening and re-shaping the fabric of community life. I believe this exhibit will be inspiring for many!
The brooding Waptia (above left) is one of the fascinating specimens in the Dawn of Life Preview Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. I have been visiting this gallery regularly since it opened, and highly recommend it. It is a staggering experience to see physical evidence of a brooding mother existing half a billion years ago.
In order to deepen my understanding of this topic, I have been studying alternative storylines about the origin of life, many of which can be found in other galleries at the ROM itself. (In fact, the central mission of the ROM is demonstrating the linkages between Nature and Culture.) So I was really happy to hear about the Spirit Dreaming event with the Talisker Players. (See image, above right) This program features artistic renderings of creation myths, inspired by indigenous people from around the world. I plan to attend on Wednesday evening – maybe I’ll see you there!
To conclude this post, here are quotes from the scientist Neil Turok, and the artist William Blake:
The size of the living cell is the geometric mean of these two fundamental lengths: Planck and Hubble. This is the scale of life, the realm we inhabit, and is the scale of maximum complexity in the universe.
– Neil Turok
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Infinity in an hour…
– William Blake, Opening lines from Auguries of Innocence
It was in 1844 that Samuel Morse opened a telegraph line from Washington to Baltimore…In the same year…Soren Kierkegaard published The Concept Of Dread. The Age of Anxiety had begun. (McLuhan, Understanding Media)
In various places, McLuhan mentions 19th century authors who, like Lewis Carroll, greeted the electronic age of space-time with a cheer. In recent weeks, I have been following up with some of these authors, including Edgar Allan Poe and Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance. Their language can often free us from the constraints of the Gutenberg mindset – and from the anxieties we often feel.
An item turned up recently on my Twitter feed which pointed me in a new direction. An Interview with U of T’s Andrea Charise about A Christmas Carol (1843!!!) by Charles Dickens:
…by the end of the book, Scrooge’s re-education involves a new appreciation for what a just economy entails; a society where “profit” is understood in terms of emotional enrichment, not just individual financial gain. Also, I’d say it’s no surprise that Scrooge’s attitude adjustment is a result of his visitation by three ghosts—three supernatural prophets that show Scrooge what profit really means. Dickens uses the poetics of speech (profit/prophet) to bear out the message of the novel itself.
These prophets fill Scrooge with dread, and help him to realize how miserable he really is, in spite of all his wealth. With this crisis, he is ready to greet the world again with a joyful cheer.
172 years later, Dickens’ spirit guides are alive and well – and sorely needed.