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Exhibition in Madrid: The flowers that smell of sex and death | USA

Nabuyoshi Araki once said “flowers smell of death,” but also of sex. As such, they permeate the imagination of the Japanese photographer like symbols of Eros and Thanatos. Death and desire always travel hand in hand for this controversial artist, who grew up in the shadow of the Jyokanji temple, where the victims of the 1913 great fire of Yoshiwara – old Tokyo’s red-light district – lie, in the cradle of Edo culture. As a child, Araki liked to observe the flowers that visitors left on the graves. “The flowers become enriched with life as they approach death,” he wrote in Kakyoku, a monograph dedicated to his floral work. “Their moment of splendor comes just before they perish. When one approaches them, one is enraptured with a sexual spirituality. I can hear a Rondeau.”

Flower Rondeau is the name of one of the photographer’s series of floral works. A hymn to life and death composed of 119 exuberant close-ups, taken between 1997 and 2016, where the first stages of decline and the fragility of various varieties of flowers can be appreciated in their full brilliance. Sumptuous and audacious colors lie in contrast to a dark background where petals, sepals, stigmas and stamens create a “floral sex scene,” in Araki’s words. The collection can be seen at Botánicas, an exhibition at the Pabellón Villanueva at Madrid’s Royal Botanical Gardens that brings together a group of works belonging to the Per Amor a l’Art foundation. “An herbarium of artists,” as described by Vicente Todolí, curator of the exhibition and former director of the Tate Modern. In the exhibition, which can be seen until March 20, 14 artists present stories that give shape to the reality of flowers and plants.

“Art and nature, a perfect symbiosis that offers the visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of photography through botany, and vice versa,” says Todolí. The relationship between the two disciplines dates back to the origins of the photographic medium, when pioneers of photography and botany such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins, brought the fertile association to the wider public.

Karl Blossfeldt. Photoengraving from the portfolio ‘Unformen der Kunst’ (Original Forms of Art), 1928.
Karl Blossfeldt. Photoengraving from the portfolio ‘Unformen der Kunst’ (Original Forms of Art), 1928.Miguel Garcia Carceles

The exhibition takes in a century of photography beginning with the microphotography of Karl Blossfeldt, the German sculptor, teacher and nature enthusiast who, without intending to, through his sober esthetic and poetic refinement, freed photography from its servitude as a mere document. His detailed close-ups, which lay bare the architecture of plants, were designed to serve as a reference point for his students in their work with cast-iron ornamental pieces. Blossfeldt would go on to become a leading figure in the New Objectivity movement that arose in the 1920s, and among whose ranks was Albert Renger-Patzsch, another key proponent of the trend. Through the use of dark, neutral or unfocused backgrounds, Renger-Patzsch’s plant images offer detailed shots that show the point of view of his compatriot and predecessor and the influence of his illustrations on the field of science.

The view of the plant world that Imogen Cunningham offers us exudes sensuality and subtlety. Based on the celebration of form promulgated by the modernist movement, her flowers are understood as esthetic compositions. Plants became the favorite subject of the photographer when her children were growing up and they display a greater erotic charge than her nudes, which undoubtedly went on to inspire the plant work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

‘Botanical Box, 2009-2019,’ by Jochen Lempert.
‘Botanical Box, 2009-2019,’ by Jochen Lempert.

The works in the exhibition are presented in series, different stories that reflect different esthetic approaches and particular universes. “As Olivier Lugon stated, ‘for advocates of the documentary style, photographic art is not considered as a shot, but more of a construction, carried out in stages and resulting both from the projection and re-evaluation of images, as well as from their creation,” writes Nuria Enguita in the catalog that accompanies the exhibition. As such, Pierre Verger’s love of travel and anthropology transports us to an exotic, mystical and unexplored world of suggestive forms in black and white. From there, the baton is taken up by Juan del Junco, whose procedure with landscape contrasts with the fidelity of the discoverers and classifiers of species.

The vast and colorful floral studio portraits of Hans-Peter Feldmann are framed within a kitsch sensibility designed to seduce as much as to repel. The German artist works with appropriated photographs to which he gives new life. “He observes plants through the exaggerated exposure of their visual impact,” notes Carles Ángel Saurí in the catalog. To the extent that the plant motif triggers in the viewer “a desire that ends up turning them into beings manipulated by the esthetic impact of the work.” Both the frontal composition and the objective narrative conspire to make the viewer question whether the flowers are organic or a plastic copy. Part of Feldmann’s series was displayed at the Münster Sculpture Project in 2007, where he had the public bathrooms on the Domplatz square remodeled with the introduction of his floral motifs, in line with Carl André’s dictum that a society that does not provide its citizens with public conveniences is unworthy of public art.

The collages of Alesandra Spranzi stand out, the artist’s empty flowers contrasting with the hegemonic floral representations. Jonas Mekas and Jochen Lemper remind us that nature cannot be captured in a single image. “It cannot be static, for science or for art,” says Enguita. As such, in its purpose of pausing time and allowing that which passes unnoticed to become visible, photography takes us deeper into mystery. By inviting us to see, it inevitably entices us to imagine.

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Welcome back, Samuel Beckett | Culture

The 20th century brought us Stalin, Mao, two world wars, the Holocaust, atomic bombs and a couple more carnages that I would rather not recall. Several million people died as a result, according to the most conservative calculations. Logically, the soul of Europeans was shaken, and it is admirable that we have survived as a species. A Martian would have expected us to commit suicide once and for all with a big nuclear bash.

The battered world conscience led to several new outcomes in terms of human representation. Living with the constant threat of extinction affected artists, who are the ones that truly represent us and not politicians. So the artists began to represent us as they saw us: strange, deformed, shapeless, anomalous, invisible, crippled, stuttering, or simply mute.

We have been more temperate for several years now, and it seems that we are now able to analyze that past, which was called “the avant-garde,” with some calm. Not everywhere, of course, but it is possible in a West that is fading, but which is no longer massacring its slaves. And the effect that this awareness of destruction had on literature was the emergence of a group of immense writers who could no longer represent humans in a luminous and heroic way, so to speak. However, it would be a very bad idea to leave them for dead. Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Faulkner, Bernhard, Manganelli, Benet, Rulfo — throughout the West, a literature took shape during the 20th century in which only the bare form remained with a capacity to simply be. And one of its main writers was Samuel Beckett.

It is a source of joy that this difficult, harsh, dark, but wise literature’s ability to fascinate, moralize and illuminate us has not run dry. And reading these artists is a very convenient way to understand that everything could go dark at any moment. I am currently celebrating the release of a new Spanish translation of Watt, Beckett’s last novel in English, by an affordable publishing house that can reach many students (Cátedra).

The story behind this novel is another novel in itself, well told by the translator José Francisco Fernández in his extensive foreword to the new Spanish version. Beckett wrote it while fleeing from one hideout to another as a member of the Resistance, pursued by the Nazis who were occupying France. In those absurd conditions, Beckett carried his notebooks, in which he was writing and annotating what would finally become the novel Watt, which is the name of the main character, who is as non-existent as Godot, the most famous of Beckett’s characters. Watt has a partner, Mr. Knott, whom he serves in a parody of the old novels of masters and servants that have been immortalized thanks to television series like Upstairs, Downstairs.

Rejected by the publishing world

Although he finished it in 1945, Watt was not published until 1953 after being rejected by almost all English and American publishers, who were very reluctant to recognize that this convulsive and sarcastic prose was a faithful portrait of 20th-century civilization. And once it was published it barely made an impact. It was not until 1968 (what a year!), when it was published in French by the Minuit publishing house, in the author’s version and with the help of the Janvier couple, that enthusiasm for the novel would begin to get some traction. The French powers-that-be recognized themselves in the portrait of the warped, disintegrated human race, described with a lacerating irony that the Irishman created out of nothing.

There were other effects that fascinated those who dominated literary opinion at the time. One of them was the obvious caricature of Descartes, a philosopher whom Beckett always counted among his favorites, and the reference to whom was immediately picked up by the masters of structuralism and deconstruction.

Welcome back, then, to our Beckett, a precise portraitist of terrifying years that could return at any moment.

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The Hat Worn By Napoleon Bonaparte Sold For $2.1 Million At The Auction

A faded felt bicorne hat worn by Napoleon Bonaparte sold for $2.1 million at an auction on of the French emperor’s belongings.

Yes, that’s $2.1 million!!

The signature broad, black hat, one of a handful still in existence that Napoleon wore when he ruled 19th-century France and waged war in Europe, was initially valued at 600,000 to 800,000 euros ($650,000-870,000). It was the centerpiece of Sunday’s auction collected by a French industrialist who died last year.

The Hat Worn By Napoleon Bonaparte Sold For $2.1 Million At The Auction

But the bidding quickly jumped higher and higher until Jean Pierre Osenat, president of the Osenat auction house, designated the winner.

‘’We are at 1.5 million (Euros) for Napoleon’s hat … for this major symbol of the Napoleonic epoch,” he said, as applause rang out in the auction hall. The buyer, whose identity was not released, must pay 28.8% in commissions according to Osenat, bringing the overall cost to 1.9 million euros ($2.1 million).

While other officers customarily wore their bicorne hats with the wings facing front to back, Napoleon wore his with the ends pointing toward his shoulders. The style, known as “en bataille,” or in battle, made it easier for his troops to spot their leader in combat.

The hat on sale was first recovered by Col. Pierre Baillon, a quartermaster under Napoleon, according to the auctioneers. The hat then passed through many hands before industrialist Jean-Louis Noisiez acquired it.

The entrepreneur spent more than a half-century assembling his collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, firearms, swords and coins before his death in 2022.

The sale came days before the release of Ridley Scott’s film Napoleon with Joaquin Phoenix, which is rekindling interest in the controversial French ruler.

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The Call for AI Regulation in Creative Industries

THE VOICE OF EU | Widespread concerns have surged among artists and creatives in various domains – country singers, authors, television showrunners, and musicians – voicing apprehension about the disruptive impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on their professions.

These worries have prompted an urgent plea to the U.S. government for regulatory action to protect their livelihoods from the encroaching threat posed by AI technology.

The Artists’ Plea

A notable rise in appeals to regulate AI has emerged, drawing attention to the potential risks AI poses to creative industries.

Thousands of letters, including those from renowned personalities like Justine Bateman and Lilla Zuckerman, underscore the peril AI models represent to the traditional structure of entertainment businesses.

The alarm extends to the music industry, expressed by acclaimed songwriter Marc Beeson, highlighting AI’s potential to both enhance and jeopardize an essential facet of American artistry.

The Call for AI Regulation in Creative Industries

Copyright Infringement Concerns

The primary contention arises from the unsanctioned use of copyrighted human works as fodder to train AI systems. The concerns about AI ingesting content from the internet without permission or compensation have sparked significant distress among artists and their representative entities.

While copyright laws explicitly protect works of human authorship, the influx of AI-generated content questions the boundaries of human contribution and authorship in an AI-influenced creative process.

The Fair Use Debate

Leading technology entities like Google, Microsoft, and Meta Platforms argue that their utilization of copyrighted materials in AI training aligns with the “fair use” doctrine—a limited use of copyrighted material for transformative purposes.

They claim that AI training isn’t aimed at reproducing individual works but rather discerning patterns across a vast corpus of content, citing precedents like Google’s legal victories in the digitization of books.

The Conflict and Seeking Resolution

Despite court rulings favoring tech companies in interpreting copyright laws regarding AI, voices like Heidi Bond, a former law professor and author, critique this comparison, emphasizing that AI developers often obtain content through unauthorized means.

Shira Perlmutter, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, acknowledges the Copyright Office’s pivotal role in navigating this complex landscape and determining the legitimacy of the fair use defense in the AI context.

The Road Ahead

The outpouring of concern from creative professionals and industry stakeholders emphasizes the urgency for regulatory frameworks to safeguard creative works while acknowledging the evolving role of AI in content creation.

The Copyright Office’s meticulous review of over 9,700 public comments seeks to strike a balance between innovation and the protection of creative rights in an AI-driven era. As the discussion continues, the convergence of legal precedents and ethical considerations remains a focal point for shaping the future landscape of AI in creative industries.

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— By Darren Wilson, Team

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