Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cave Painting: 35,000 Years Old, Looks New + Digital Fair in Boston + Grilling Secrets

A Film By Director Werner Herzog
has just been released in selected theaters.

Above is a photo of the interior of an ancient cave in the Ardeche region of southern France. A cave filled with hundreds of 35,000 year-old wall paintings of animals which have been protected from the elements ever since a rock slide sealed up the cave 20,000 years ago. This cave is so ancient and fragile that human entry is almost forbidden. That is why this 3-D film is so important for those of us curious about he origins of art, culture and spirituality. This documentary, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", was written, directed and narrated by Werner Herzog about the Chauvet cave which was named after Jean Marie Chauvet who led the original discovery team in on Dec. 18, 1994.

Although at times distracting, the 3-D aspects of this film are not a gimmick, director Herzog viewed it as the only way to capture these paintings on the curving cave's walls.

There are 13 species of animals depicted on the walls of the cave, but most of the images are of horses, lions, rhinos, bulls and deer. The discovery of this cave qualifies this art as the oldest cave art ever found, almost twice as old as the art in the famous Lascaux cave in France or the Altamira cave in Spain.

The protectors of these world treasures learned the hard way about the amount of damage that is done by simply introducing humans (with our breathing, humidity and organic nature) into these delicate caves with their artworks. Traveling on human breath were microbes, bacteria and molds which began to grow inside these caves, slowly eating away at the irreplaceable and delicate cave paintings.  

Lascaux and Altamira caves have suffered and are now closed to all except a few scientists. Because of this problem, this film crew had trouble getting permission from the French minister of culture to film the interior of the Chauvet Cave. Herzog and his three person crew were granted only four hours a day for only six days and were confined to staying on a narrow 2 foot walkway laid in parts of the cave. Herzog won this access by agreeing to give the French government full use of the footage for their educational system. Director Herzog has had a lifelong interest in Paleolithic cave paintings and also wanted to share this relatively recent discovery with the world.

For most of the time the Chauvet cave was open to the world, giant Cave Bears lived there and left behind 4,000 animal bones - both their own and their dinner. These bears, which are now extinct, also scratched ferociously at the cave walls, and their claw marks survive along side and sometimes over ancient man's drawings. No human bones have ever been found in the cave, but camp fires and rock piles are there. On one large rock, a complete Cave Bear scull was found placed to cantilever over the edge in what must have been some sort of altar.

Werner Herzog, the narrator, and his film crew are shown in this documentary, but the celebrities in this film are the paleolithic cave paintings and each succeeding clip makes us feel more and more amazed that these were created by our earliest ancestors.

Being an artist who has also taught art to elementary school children, middle school students and adults, I know that art simply doesn't pop out of humans, perfectly executed, the first time they try to draw something - especially animals or humans. There is always a naive quality to first attempts at drawing living creatures, usually NOT putting down shapes we actually see but rather putting down shapes we perceive, like circles, ovals, triangles or cylinders with straight lines for appendages and dots for eyes, etc. I will never say never, but almost never does an untrained eye draw exactly what they see in correct proportions. 

These paintings are by any standard well drawn, usually with a confident hand and the shapes show anatomical knowledge of the animals. Plus they were executed from memory, under poor lighting conditions (a torch in a pitch black space) with the mediums of charcoal or rocks used as scraping chisels these drawings are beyond amazing. (There was also a red medium, a dye, or mud or "paint" used for transferring the artist's hand print and multiple dots to the rocks. These hand prints are also interesting because their hands were EXACTLY like our hands, no change in 35,000 years and they lived at the same time as the more apelike Neanderthals.)

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" has odd segments: a master perfumer, who seems a bit batty, is brought in to smell the cave air; there is a segment on albino crocodiles at a French re-creation of a tropical environment; another segment on the various paleolithic Venuses (fertility sculptures) in a German museum; and a segment on spear making and throwing. The director discusses the cave art with a variety of scientists, sometimes adding his own insightful analogies of the art. One interesting comment comparing the art to a phone book, where we know something about these people, but we don't really know who they are as individuals, how they think or what they look like.

Herzog reminds us that, at the time, these Homo sapiens (Latin for "wise man" or "knowing man") were winning the survival-of-the-fittest battle over the Neanderthals. This is lucky for us, because the Neanderthals never created any cultural objects, art or musical instruments. He also includes a segment on man made flutes found in the region made from bird bones. Do these ancient cultural findings prove that the human soul has a basic artistic impulse? Is "ART" as basic as shelter, clothing, fuel, religion and food?

Our current history, formed from written and oral accounts, only goes back 5000 years for writing and another couple of thousand years for written accounts of oral history, but this art is 30,000 years earlier. We can only speculate why these images were created, but they were a part of man's ritual at the time and they show the respect these early humans had for the interconnectedness of all living things. Was this art a way to worship these animals or was it a way to gain power over them? If Aborigines of Australia are any guide, these artists did not think they were creating beauty or artworks, but they were trying to get in-touch with life force of these animals and trying to understand how they (the human species) fit into this world of animals.

The Chauvet cave was a sacred space 35,000 years ago, mixing the human and the mystical effortlessly on its walls. We should all thank Werner Herzog and his team for their efforts and for sharing this insight into the very beginning of visual art with us. Milton Glazer once said to me, "Those cave painters, they were the only 'truly creative' artists! Their ideas had to be original, because they didn't have anyone else to steal ideas from! All the rest of us artists have just been doing variations of other people's work."
Sources: All images are stills from the public promotional trailers for "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"; reference information came from the Film itself in the theater; and supplemental reference came from the Los Angeles Times.
Art Fair

Boston CyberArts Festival
is a sleeper of an art fair, but
it might be the most important 
fair of them all, showing the future.
Brian Knep with Drift Grid

This festival in Boston, which just ended this past weekend, is the first and largest celebration of artists working in new technologies in all media in North America, encompassing visual arts, dance, music, electronic literature, web art and public art. The Boston Cyberarts Festival encompasses any artistic endeavor in which computer technology is used to expand artistic possibilities - that is, where the computer's unique capabilities are integral elements of the creative process in the same way that paint, photographic film, musical instruments, and other materials have always been used to express an artist's vision. The Festival, launched by George Fifield in 1999 with seed funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, is the only Festival in the world that encompasses all art forms. For more information:

From the Boston CyberArts Festival:
 Transmissions From A Dying Planet, by Aerostatic, 2010
 Flight Paths, by Dennis Hlynsky, 2010
Ripple, by Rupert Nesbitt, 2010

Elizabeth Keithline curated the digital exhibition A Tool Is A Mirror for Boston Cyberarts Festival, featuring work by artists Aerostatic, Sheila Gallagher, Dennis Hlynsky, Brian Kane, Duncan Laurie, Rupert Nesbitt, and Erik Sanner, A Tool Is A Mirror will be on display at the Danforth Museum of Art from May 8 through June 5, 2011.

Now Showing
Solo Exhibition by artist Elizabeth Keithline

Danforth Museum of Art /  Schwartz Gallery

Artist Elizabeth Keithline, in collaboration with Jeff Keithline, has created a full scale woven wire installation for the Schwartz Gallery. Smarter/Faster/Higher symbolizes mankind's evolution, particularly as it relates to our use of technology. It asks the questions: As technology increases our mental capacity, does it make us better? Will our relationship to nature change as technology changes us? The installation consists of full-scale woven wire human figures that move across the space of a gallery. Crawling from a group of wire trees on one side, they slowly begin to walk, then run, then stretch to ascend the opposite wall.

Artist Statement - Human beings are biologically programmed to evolve, to become 'Smarter, Faster, Higher'. Technology has given us new tools with which to accomplish this end. We can potentially increase our mental capacity by simply opening a laptop. However, as far as we may seem to have come from our roots in the natural world, technology mirrors nature in the way it evolves using replication.
About the Exhibit
Artist and independent curator Elizabeth Keithline explores the relationship of technology and nature, the implication being that both promote human evolution, making us become smarter, faster, and higher.  In a mixed media installation, full-scale human figures are frozen at various levels of motion. “Simply by opening a laptop we create the potential to increase our mental capacity. However, as far as we may seem to have come from our roots in the natural world, technology mirrors nature.” Keithline’s sculptures are unique, stemming from a process she has developed over two decades called the “lost box” technique.  Originally the process entailed wrapping and weaving heavy-gauge wire around wooden forms that were subsequently burnt away.  Keithline’s method has since evolved.  The figures in Smarter / Faster / Higher are made by weaving wire around mannequins, forming an intricate mesh.  The woven wire is then cut and peeled away from the mannequin and sculpted by Jeff Keithline, creating a new entity while retaining the intrinsic ‘memory’ of the now lost object.

Elizabeth Keithline received a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College and has studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Saunderstown Weaving School. For more information, please visit elizabethkeithline.com.
Source - All information came from the Danforth Museum of Art, CyberArts press release and the artist's website. All images are used with permission.

Grilling Steaks - I have to admit, my doctor took me off of red meat a while back, but I still love the aroma of a good steak cooking and we are planning a back yard cookout with steaks on the grill this summer. So this is information I will enjoy as I decide whether I cook the steaks I will not be able to sample OR turn the grilling over to a friend, with steak grilling expertise for our cookout.

Assuming that you already have the right cut of steak and have your favorite way to seasoning it here is a guide to cooking it.
  1. Let your steak reach room temperature before grilling. Some people might tell you that this isn't necessary, however I feel that this helps grill your steak more evenly and faster.
  2. Trim the steak of excess fat. Any strips of fat should be about 1/4" thick. Also cut through the fat strip about every 1 1/2". When grilling fat shrinks fast than the meat and it can cause your steaks to curl.
  3. Season. I light brushing of olive oil, maybe some fresh cracked pepper is all you want. Seasoning is entirely up to you. Preheat the grill. Hot as it will go for a gas grill or a single layer of ashy white coals for a charcoal grill.
  4. Oil the grate. An easy way to do this is to take a piece of trimmed fat, hold in tightly in a pair of tongs and rub it on the hot grate.
  5. Grill. Place each steak on the grill for one minute. Turn and grill on the second side for an additional minute. Turn and rotate 45 degrees and grill for half the remaining cooking time. Turn again. If you do this right you will get a nice diamond pattern of grill marks.
  6. Remove when done. I use the pressure test to check my steaks. When you are getting close to having a done steak press it with your index finger or the flat side of a grilling fork to get a feel for it. A rare steak will be soft. A medium steak will be firm but yielding. A well steak will be firm. Once you get the hang of this trick you will be able to remove steaks from the grill at just the right second.
  7. Let the steaks rest for 5 minutes before serving. This will let the juices flow out from the center so the whole steak is nice and juicy.
  8. Source: http://bbq.about.com/od/steaks/a/aa071898.htm
  9. Grilling Times by Thickness
These times are total cooking times. Divide in half for each side. Times are approximate and will vary depending on the type of grill, fuel, weather conditions, etc..
1 1/2"

Until Later,

ARTSnFOOD, All rights reserved. Concept & Original Text © Copyright 2011 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. Images © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees.

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