Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cromo-Mania! at the Boston Athenaeum

by Drew Martin
The term museum denotes a place or temple dedicated to the muses. In a parallel universe the institution that cradles history, humanity and aesthetics is the Athenaeum, which refers to the temple of Athena, daughter of Zeus and the virgin goddess of reason, intelligent activity, arts and literature.

I counted 27 clubs, cultural centers, museums and performance halls around the world that refer to themselves as an Athenaeum; 16 of which are in the United States. Compare this to ICOM's (International Council of Museums) estimate of 55,000 museums in 202 countries, and the ALA's (American Library Association) estimate of 121,785 libraries in the United States.

Last week I visited The Boston Athenaeum, which was founded in 1807 and is considered the birthplace of public libraries and museums in the United States. The Athenaeum has a wonderful exhibition in the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery through mid-January titled: Chromo-Mania! The Art of Chromolithography in Boston, 1840 -1910.

According to the press release, the term chromo-mania "was first coined in the 1860s to ridicule America's insatiable appetite for chromolithographs, a new technology as ubiquitous and popluar as the iPod is today."

This printing printing process requires separate stones for color separation. L. Prang and Company's pictures of ceramics in the exhibition are so crisp and detailed that you would swear you are looking at color photography. A framed K’ang-Hsi Vase Decorated in Colors from 1897 is hung above a massive book that shows the mind-boggling progression of how the image is created with 27 stones.

Chromolithography worked its way into the art world through reproductions and was the modern look of advertisements at the time. What I found most interesting, however, was its importance to a scientific community that valued drawing not only for a way to transcribe the magic of nature but considered it essential to the art of observation. Chromolithography was able to convey the nuances of color found in the natural world at a time when scientists complained about the "great errors" of black and white prints.

Pictured here are plates from William Sharp's lithographic series for John Fiske Allen's tome Victoria Regia: The Great Water Lily of America

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Here: Lost in Love

by Drew Martin
I recently watched Here, which is a wonderful film that explores the crossroads and landscapes of human relationships, and how travel brings and takes away loved ones.

The movie follows Will Shepard, a satellite-mapping engineer from Northern California who is "ground-truthing" his way around Armenia on a cartography contract. He meets Gadarine Najarian, a young Armenian photographer who, after living abroad, has reluctantly returned to her family and homeland. The relationship between Will and Gadarine is unremarkable, if not commonplace between young travellers from different backgrounds. This romantic serendipity has been played out in films such as Once and Before Sunrise. That being said, this is a realistic bond and the actors were cast well and perform well.

What sets this film apart is the exploration of Armenia and the layering of metaphor of maps and images of the land. When Will and Gadarine go off the path for an intimate swim in a tucked away canyon, she tells him to leave this place off the map.

Will and Gadarine are modern incarnations of ancient, timeless characters. Will is digital and of the sky, always looking upwards and seeking validation from the satellite gods who leave him cryptic messages on his computer about whether or not his work is of value. Gadarine is analog and of the Earth, taking pictures of children and places from the perspective of a woman on the ground. She shoots 35mm film, as well as Polaroid for instant feedback. In the final scene, Gadarine awakes to an empty bed after Will has been called back to San Francisco. In the dim light she finds and open map of the region, which is peppered with her photographs, notes and mementos that Will has placed there. It is a union of this couple; the aerial god-like view of her land, made mortal with details of their time together. It says that a map is only a map, and while their relationship started with a joke that each other was a spy, and led to criticism that Will's work would open the area up to politicians and mafia, the detail one really seeks in an area is of humanity, not topographical precision.

Here also plays nicely with time. Will is on a schedule but is constantly challenged by earthly things: human interactions, love and car problems. Gadarine's sense of time is off. In one early scene she wakes up and asks her brother what time it is. He looks at three clocks on the coffee table next to her and reads their faces: "6:32, 4:08, 22:12. Take you pick." Perhaps it is a comment about things not functioning in Armenia, or at least not being defined by time, but this works as a metaphor for Gadarine trying to get readjusted to the pace of Armenia, equating time zones with culture zones. It is also a symbol of her biological clock. Most women her age, like a friend she and Will visit, are married with children. Meeting at a certain time, and waiting are explored as matters of trust, jealousy and respect.

Click Here to watch the trailer.