Tiller

Today I learned some strange things and I want to share them with you

two Posts about

art

  1. At university I was fascinated by the wordless film Baraka, which features incredible shots of humanity and nature from around the world, sometimes in slow motion and timelapse, in an experience that’s humbling and beautiful.

    One of the scenes features kecak, a Balinese Hindu ritual. Around a hundred men, dressed only in loincloths, sit in formation: sometimes a semicircle, sometimes facing each other in ranks. They chant and move in unison, directed by one leader, in a mesmerising display, all the while chanting “chak-chak-chak-chak”.

    I had always assumed that it was an ancient practice, but although it does have stylistic roots in ancient trance rituals, in the form we see it in Baraka it dates back only to the 1930s, when Walter Spies, a German artist, visited Bali.

    Spies had the idea of adapting local rituals into a dramatic form based on stories from the Hindu Ramayana, specifically the battle between the forest-dwelling Vanaras and the evil King Ravana. This drama was accompanied by dance, choreographed by local dancer Wayan Limbak, and was intended for consumption by Western tourists. The performance was toured internationally by a troupe of Indonesian dancers, and remains one of the most identifiable forms of Balinese culture.

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  2. In a leafy suburb of Brussels there sits a striking stately home called the Palais Stoclet. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site it has never been opened to the public, and is still owned by the four granddaughters of the man who built it. Few have seen inside; those who have entered suggest that it has changed little since its initial construction – a portal into a forgotten world.

    It was commissioned by Belgian financier Adolphe Stoclet, who spared no expense. He employed the pioneering Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann to create a home unmatched in its modernity, its opulence, and its taste.

    The result was radical in every way. The exterior is strikingly modern even from a contemporary perspective: imposing, asymmetrical, and clad in marble. Hoffmann’s vision extended far deeper than the structure, though. The interior is opulent almost beyond words, with highlights including sculptures by Franz Metzner, mosaics by Leopold Forstner, and a dining room that features six-metre-long murals created by Gustav Klimt. The palace is often cited as both the first Art Deco house and as an example of a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”, blending architecture, art, engineering, interior design and landscape gardening into a seamless whole.

    Owning the house has seemingly become a burden for Alphonse’s granddaughters. In 2006 three of the four went to court in an attempt to agree a sale of the house or at least some of its contents. But the court ruled that they must remain together as an indivisible whole; the Stoclets’ ownership of the house as property was less important than humanity’s collective ownership of the house as a work of art – albeit a work of art that few people have ever seen.

    The exterior of the Stoclet Palace. Image: PtrQs on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

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    2. November 2022