“Self-portrait with A Lady From Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown” is a digital homage to my émigré (refugee) grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna from Shanghai 1930s. A contemporary self-portrait (Tatiana) collaged with a vintage portrait of Xenia by Josepho Schick in La Concession Française de Changhai juxtaposed with a classic Shanghai Calendar Girl poster pinup. Xenia’s ghostly image haunts the trompe-l’œil wall in Burwood Chinatown, outside an imaginary Paramount ballroom 上海百樂門 Shanghai, and oriental lanterns that light up the modern alleyways, serving traditional Chinese Street Food. An old Shanghai Seagull camera floating over the electric neon reflections illuminates rain.”
This work is the transformation of a chapter my doctoral thesis, UTS, BLACK BOX www.strangecities.net. This interactive paper, an ensemble of image, sound, and textual research emerges from the ChineseBOX passage in BLACK BOX, exploring my hybrid cultural origins through discovery of the Russian jazz music culture from pre-revolutionary Shanghai and the Japanese occupation in China.
An examination of the documents left to me by my grandfather Sergei Lukyanovich Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) born 2 June 1908, Harbin Manchuria, reveals a rich insight into the cultural milieu of the Russians in Shanghai, (see V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936), in particular the Chinese jazz world. Prior to his death, Sergei recorded an historical list of many significant acts (Russian, Chinese, Philippino, Japanese, American etc.) that performed in the nightclubs, cabarets, and ballrooms of quasi-colonial Shanghai.
Like Chinese cinema, Chinese jazz was a hybrid form. “Chinese cinema of the 1930s is believed to be a synthesis of indigenous art and foreign modes of production. (1) This point is best demonstrated by Ma Ning’s influential piece on a famous leftist classic, Street Angel (1937). (2) Ma argues that Street Angel exemplifies the practice of sinification among Chinese leftist filmmakers. During this period, Chinese filmmakers tended to view cinema as a specifically Western invention, yet they also felt compelled to incorporate indigenous forms appropriate for Chinese audiences.”
Yeh Yueh-yu , “Historiography and Sinification: Music in Chinese Cinema of the 1930s”, Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Spring, 2002), pp. 78-97
SHANGHAI: Eastern Hollywood ?
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra, the Astor House 礼查饭店 Hotel Ballroom/ Bandstand with peacock fan half shell and Pathe label collage – Peacock Hall the cities first ballroom, Shanghai, China,1930.
Serge Ermoll and His Music Masters was managed by Dick Hamilton-Mills Vaudeville Entertainments, Shanghai located in Hamilton House and enjoyed residencies at establishments such as the Tower Nightclub in The Cathay Hotel with trio,The Paramount Ballroom (1934-36), Ladlows Casanova, Lido (1936) Astor House Hotel (1930), the big band at Cercle Sportif Français (1938-1943 French Club) and signed with Dick Hamilton for exclusice cabaret the Arcadia club in the French Concession. It is at the Arcadia club (1937) that Sergei met the celebrated crooner, poet and singer/ composer Alexander Vertinsky, during his Shanghai sojourn. The collision produced the immortal A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) – music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem), music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff, [Registered Copyright Agency USSR & APRA]. Sergei claimed to have played with Whitey Smith’s band at Chiang Kai Chek’s wedding to Mei-Lie Soong, and held a residency at the Majestic Hotel.
Charlie Chaplin’s sojourn in Shanghai visiting the Paramount Ballroom pictured with Russian jazz orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) c.1936 Paulette Goddard & mother in background.
Vertinsky was the originator of black Russian cabaret, where he embodied the figure of a dark Pierrot. His sojourn in Shanghai 1935 – 1943 via Harbin, China, before his return to soviet Russia (USSR) was a fertile ground. Vertinsky published in the Russian journal RUBEZH рубеж News of the frontier, Harbin, Manchuria, 1939, his great poem ‘Shanghai’.
Чужие города Strange Cities a portrait of Xenia Vladimirovna (Ermolaeff) by Josepho Schick 1935.
This is a portrait of my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna Ermolaeff. Xenia was a Russian émigré in China. She arrived with her mother Evgenia and sisters in Harbin after the Boshevik revolution in Russia. There are family stories that she met my grandfather Sergei in the Hotel Modern, or was it the Fantasie cabaret, Harbin where she was performing as a singer and dancer, early 1930s. The portrait was taken later in Shanghai by Josepho Schick, a photographic studio that documented many in the Russian émigré community living in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
In 1996-97 I won a development grant to produce a script Чужие города Strange Cities, from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC). I traveled to Shanghai and Tokyo to conduct research and write an interactive script. In search of Xenia’s Shanghai, I became a voyeur, walking the city, writing and shooting photographs/film with Geoffrey Weary. We stayed in the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, Room 314, I was searching for traces of the old decadent jazz culture. The Чужие города Strange Cities digital media documentary work, was based on a tune by by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai (looking back to motherland Russia – St Petersberg), composed and played in the old cabaret’s of 1930s Shanghai. I had found a vinyl record in Sergei’s music collection and the original musical score.
In 1999 with funding from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC), our team photographed the interior of the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, interior and architecture. We photographed the sound stage, Level 7, where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra had played as resident band leader and many photographs were taken, the golden dragons & pheonix design haunting the interiors. Looking out of the exquisitely ornamented window panes onto the Bund and across to the Pudong district and the oriental Pearl Tower, I imagined James Ballard’s bloody descriptions of the Battle of Shanghai or Battle of Songhu 淞滬會戰 the Japanese war ships in the harbour. A decade later these audiovisual fragments were shaped into a film Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel, 2008.
The interactive work would ultimately be Чужие города Strange Cities , as reviewed in Asiaweekbased on the tune composed by Alexander Vertinsky, Ira Bloch and Serge Ermoll. Independent radio broadcaster Eurydice Aroney produced the work and Roi Huberman created the interactive sound design. This song and the lyrics, which spoke of the longing for motherland St Petersberg (Russia), encapsulated my search for origins. Later, another film score composed by the Vertinsky/Ermoll would be the signature tune in the Merchant Ivory Hollywood classic The White Countess, 2005. The strange music Serge played, a mix of Russian cabaret, Chinese pop, and American jazz, I would later understand to be the treasured hybrid genre of trans-pacific contemporary music, the renaissance of which is making many a million.(1) and (2) Whitey Smith and L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956.
In my grandmother Xenia and the portraits she would show me, I saw a cosmopolitan Eastern woman of urban sophistication, paradoxically at odds with the Australian life we were surrounded by in the Sydney suburbs. Her black coiffured hair and gold jewelery provided endless fascination, she looked so different from the ladies at the local RSL. I wanted to be like her.
“The favoured past of shanghai is that of the ‘modern girl’ in a qipao, the feminine city of exquisite Russian refugees, decadent European expatriates, Chinese gangsters and marlene dietrich in Shanghai Express (dir. Joseph von Sternberg, 1932). These are clichéd character sketches of the city, but they resonate powerfully with the international imagination. Dietrich, in the person of Shanghai Lil, continues to produce affect in cinema-goers worldwide as a persona for shanghai…. if cinema has done nothing else for shanghai, it has convinced the world and the city itself that they are, simply and utterly, superior to any others. Shanghai woman is the epitome of modern China, and the image of 1930s is the enduring foundation of the magnetism of shanghai’s identity. [sic] ” (2)
(1) Donald, Stephanie and Gammack, John G. Tourism and the Branded City: Film and Identity on the Pacific Rim, London: Ashgate, 2007. http://www.iis.uts.edu.au/research/Shanghai_Ch6_Extract.pdf(2) Whitey Smith and .L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956. SHANGHAI NOSTALGIA: Old Shanghai Mood Board
Film star & songstress Li Xianglan (李香蘭) a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern girl. Born Yamaguchi Yoshiko (山口 淑子) to Japanese parents in Manchuria, Remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜), the tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香
MECCA cosmetics corporation has recently launched its “Shanghai Lil” make-up range, a homage to the high fashion (haute couture) & make-up used in Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932). Image source http://www.meccacosmetica.com.au/
Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) and Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Lily) in Jospeh Von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).
Image source MOTO Nostalgia campaign 2004
The Parisian wave (coiffure) and the fur coat over the shoulder evoke the Shanghai gesture, a powerful imaging (and re-imagining) of the Shanghai advertising lady, her urban face charmed the packaging of a plethora of mass products from face powders to cigarettes. She is the face of Motorola’s 2004 mobile phone campaign. These evoke director Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, 1941 an American film noir starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, and Ona Munson. It is based on a Broadway play of the same name by John Colton.
Reminiscent of a 1930s Shanghai calendar girl, an evocation of the legendary film star Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉), or perhaps Hollywood’s Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai or Anna May Wong in Josef Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) or Street Angel 馬路天使 (1937) starring Shanghai songstress Zhou Xuan (the “golden voice”) and pre-revolutionary film star. Perhaps Motorola’s Shanghai lady resembles the famous Li Xianglan 李香蘭 a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern (modeng) girl (!) She was born Yamaguchi Yoshiko 山口 淑子 to Japanese parents in Manchuria, and became a famous Chinese and Japanese film star. She is remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜, made by Manchuria Film Productions and singer of the immortal tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香. Nostalgia for decadent old Shanghai and its hybrid brand of quasi-colonial East meets West is articulated in the plethora of contemporary Hollywood, Hong Kong and Chinese films devoted to the Shanghai gesture. Academy Award winning director Ang Lee’s offering Lust Caution (2007), a case in point, Merchant Ivory’s The White Countess (2005), to touch the tip of the iceberg.
The “Motorola advertisement appearing on billboards and in glossy magazines… means ‘MOTO nostalgia’ or ‘MOTO era’, highlighting the Shanghai 1930s feel of the image.” The evocation of the Shanghai lady in this MOTO campaign contains echoes of a contemporary Ballardian neo-landscape, the Bladerunner megalopolis that is Shanghai. This kitsch, pastiched, noirish sophistication is a parody without the humour and articulates Jameson’s postmodern and consummerist project of futuristic nostalgia (Jameson, 1985, p116).
Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumerist Society”, in (Ed) Hal Foster, Postmodern Culture, Pluto Press, Great Britain, 1985.
Another confirmation of the currency and commodification of the old Shanghai lady as an aesthetic still capable of marketing a dream about a city that has entered into the postmodern vernacular in “Selling Cosmetics by vending machine ?”, Hong Kong Hustle: Hong Kong nightlife, streetculture, and cool www.hongkonghustle.com/shopping/389/cosmetics-vending-machine/#more-389.
Shanghai! …during the 1930s and 1940s was referred to internationally as the “jazz mecca” (1) of Asia, the Paris of the East, conjuring in the Western imagination a romanticised landscape of coolies, opium, and spies. In reality Shanghai was the pearl of China’s orient, occupying a unique political and cultural place as China’s modern Metropolis. Historically, China had granted concessions to the international powers in Shanghai, British, French, and Americans occupying colonial settlements in the treaty port.
At the level of representation, Shanghai was an appropriated “exotic” location, an orientalist back-drop, and the subject of a plethora of Western novels, literary and cinematic creations. The allure of Shanghai as a mysterious cultural locale wove its way into American Hollywood cinema and popular song as an orientalist fantasy and landscape upon which the West imagination could play out illusions. Shanghai as a colonial International settlement was inhabited and visited by passing Western entrepreneurs, government officials, tourists, traders, and entertainers. American actor Charlie Chaplin’s tour in Shanghai 1936 with actress Paulette Goddard and stay in the Fairmont Peace Hotel (Cathay Hotel) in Shanghai is well documented. He visited the famous Paramount Ballroom where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra were the resident Russian jazz orchestra. A personal collection of family photographs pictures band leader Ermoll with Chaplin and Goddard. The first exhibition of cinema in China occurred in the Yu Yuan teahouse in Shanghai (2) , eight months after the “…Lumiere brother’s epochal unveiling of their new Cinematographe…December 28, 1895, in the basement of the Grand Cafe in Paris.” (3) The Yu Gardens was a place that I wanted to visit, and would take many photographs.
The black American jazz trumpet player Buck Clayton’s legendary journey to Shanghai was “precipitated by brisk trans-Pacific traffic in record music. Gramaphone records of the music of Duke Ellington and other artists had already reached Chinese shores, spurring a rage for black bands in the city’s nightclubs and dancehalls.”(4) The playing of this black American jazz and its local idiom performed by Russian, Filippino émigré and Chinese bands heralded the circulation of a hybrid trans-Pacific culture. Until very recently, the Chinese academies viewed “yellow music” and its Russian, black American and colonial precursors as not worthy of scholarship. Colonial modernity as articulated in pre-revolutionary Chinese film with its jazzy Chinese popular screen music was understood by its leftist critics as “decadent sound” (mimi zhi yin) (5) and opposed to the modern Republican ideology.
Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) Russian Jazz Orchestra leader on the cover of RUBEZ News of Harbin, Manchuria, 1937
In the contemporary context, this trans-Pacific culture and music is experiencing considerable attention and re-discovery by the Chinese government and international community, as Shanghai overtakes Hong Kong as China’s major trading port city. The cover of the American Time magazine proclaimed “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings! The long slumber is over, and Shanghai is grooving to an exuberant beat”(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004. The image of the contemporary Shanghai Bund skyline glittering with electric lights evokes the former glory of Shanghai’s jazz age when the colonial façade of the Bund housed China’s wealthiest banks and trading houses. Indeed it is no mystery a musical metaphor has been woven to paint a picture of the re-emergence of Shanghai as a global destination. The article chronicles the restoration and the re-opening of Shanghai’s most legendary nightclub the Paramount Ballroom. Another Time magazine article “Cholera, Cables, Piano’s”(7), alludes to a Chinese symphony of chaos to evoke the human crisis of colonial modernity in Shanghai. The dischord between images of extreme opulence and wealth, manifest in the architectural spaces of the colonial dance-halls at their zenith: the Paramount Ballroom, Majestic Hotel, the French Club, the Cathay Hotel, Astor House, the Canidrome, Ladlow’s Casa Nova et al – juxtaposed with the struggle of the underclass of Russian émigrés working inside these spaces and the exclusion from these spaces of the desperate and displaced Chinese refugees, reveal the economic, class, and gendered dimensions of Shanghai’s urban metropolis, a cultural entrepot forming the ‘modern’ Chinese man and woman.
In most historical and popular accounts of Shanghai nightlife (post 1930s) the White Russian émigrés, who fled the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, are notoriously depicted as desperate refugees finding work in the bars, clubs, and nightclubs Shanghai as either “taxi-dancers”, “body-guards”, or prostitutes. The project argues that the affinity between “yellow music”, foreign jazz, specifically the Russian émigré jazz and its interpretation as “pornographic” and decadent evolved from the social spaces where this music was performed. The contribution of Russian émigrés to the cultural modernity of Shanghai is considerable. The Russians, many stateless and without citizenship, occupied a liminal place in the city below the oppressed and poor Chinese. The construction of the “White Russian” refugee stereotype founds its way into trans-Pacific popular media culture and has long been associated with “Sinified jazz music”.(8)
This brief account of Shanghai’s history and the role of Russian émigré jazz shows that this underclass of refugees were central to modern notions of urban Chinese identity. Scholarship in the field of musicology, ethnomusicology, media, history and sociology in China, America, Britain, and in Europe has not previously focused on the remarkable contribution made by Russian émigré jazz during the pre-revolutionary period in China, precisely because this cultural history was erased with the formation communist Republic in China.
The recuperation of this history through Russian émigré sources abroad, Chinese scholarship, archives that were moved from mainland China to Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, England, Russia and the United States and an existing archive of material in the possession of this project could recover an inform through interdisciplinary, cultural studies method a new historical case study. (9)
(1) Andrew F. Jones, Yellow music : media culture and colonial modernity in the Chinese jazz age, Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 2001, p1.
(2) Yingjin Zhang, “Teahouse, Shadowplay, Bricolage: ‘Laborer’s Love’ and the Question of Early Chinese Cinema”, in Zhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999.
(3) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p11.
(4) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p1.
(5) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p8.
(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004.
(7) Foreign News, “Cholera, Cables, Pianos” in Time magazine, September 27, 1937.
(8) Jones op cit p73.
(9) Andrew Field, “Chapter 5: Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Hostesses in Print, Film, and Politics, 1920-49 inZhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999. See forthcoming publication Andrew Field, Shanghai’s Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919–1954.
The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu presented/exhibition by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz, China Cultural Centre Sydney http://www.cccsydney.org 2015 in association with Jewish Refugees and Shanghai Exhibition. Curated as an installation in Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China, Curator Jane Wesley, Sydney Jewish Museum, and, Carnivale, Performance Space, 2001. Creative Director, Tatiana Pentes and multimedia designer. Reviewed by Keth Gallasch RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001. Read online
“What can a single artifact tell us about history? For an archaeologist schooled in deciphering subtle traces, a lone relic can speak volumes. So it is with the 19th century brass menorah at the center of Andrew Jakubowicz’s The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu. Serving as a metaphor for the intertwining stories of four Jewish families living in Shanghai in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, this object also provides evidence of a community that has since disappeared from the city, having joined the worldwide Jewish diaspora during World War II, only to make their way to Australia. Their stories are told and this history is pieced together through interviews with surviving family members and collections of photographs, documents and testimonies that describe a strikingly similar set of experiences. Jakubowicz’s exhaustively documented site offers a model for constructing a multi-perspectival portrait of a moment from the past that cannot be otherwise reconstituted. The family stories that constellate around the image of the menorah describe a set of common themes emerging from individual experiences with immigration, community and participation in an economic system. At the same time, the stories remain separate and distinct, a subtle evocation of the fact that none of the families knew each other when living in Shanghai; it is only through this reconstruction after the fact that their lives have been woven into a larger historical narrative. As a piece of historical evidence whose origins can only be conjectured, the menorah also functions as a metaphor for Jakubowicz’s investigation. The graceful folk tune that emanates from the music box in the base of the menorah is at once familiar and indecipherable, some of the notes having been long since worn away, but leaving enough of the tune intact to provide a suggestive starting point for historical enquiry. Like the films of Hungarian Peter Forgacs, who constructs historical narratives out of home movies shot by WWII era European Jewish families, Jakubowicz’s work resonates with traditions of oral history and history-from-below, implicitly arguing that the stories of “ordinary” people should not be excluded from the historical record.”
— Professor Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson Division of Critical Studies, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
SYNOPSIS “The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu is a brass menorah (a Jewish religious candelabra), probably dating from the late nineteenth century. It was found on a second hand stall in a Shanghai antique market, in October 2000, more than forty years after the last Jews had left Shanghai. In its base is a wind-up music box, playing out a tune that has yet to be identified. Its simple chords evoke the many cultures of Jewish China. The antique market stands near the main entrance gate to Fang Bang Lu (or Fong Pang Road as it was known when there was a Jewish community in Shanghai from the 1840s to the 1950s). Fang Bang Lu is the main street in the old Chinese city (just south of the former French Concession and International Settlement), and leads to a tea house the original that has haunted western fantasies of China since the eighteenth century.
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
This computer based project explores the patterns that seven Australian families to Shanghai, families whose paths crossed many times, but who never met there. These four families will be joined by three more over the coming months – their lives entered through the flames of the Menorah. Through common themes of arrival, community, economy, place, interactions with China and the Japanese occupiers, and then the tenuous journeys to Australia, we begin to sense the intertwining of serendipity and design that mark their pathways. From the Moalems, key figures in the Sephardic (Babylonian/Spanish) religious community, to the Krouks, active participants in the vibrant Russian Jewish community, the Gunsbergers, surprising survivors of Kristallnacht and an escape across Europe to Manchuria, to the Weyland Jakubowicz family in their arduous struggle through the USSR and Japan, we begin to understand the rich fabric of cultural heritage of these diasporic people, who came at last as refugees to Australia. We discover the stories of Leisl Rosner (Gerber), a girl from Vienna who became a woman in Shanghai, Rachel Kofman, a Russian woman from Harbin who returned to China from her studies in California, and settled in Shanghai, and the Szekeres, mathematicians living in limbo on the edge of the world. The arrival of all these families in Australia from 1946 was in circumstances of hostility that are not overwhelmingly different from those facing today’s refugees and tells us much about not only where they came from but what they found in the new land.
Writer/ Producer: Andrew Jakubowicz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney; his parents arrived in Australia via Shanghai in 1946 most of their families had perished in the Holocaust. He now works in the area of multicultural affairs, and was the executive producer of Making Multicultural Australia a multimedia documentary (1999).
Creative Director: Tatiana Pentes, a multimedia designer who created the AMY award winner (2000) Strange Cities, an interactive digital work built around memories of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, and the music of her grandfather, Shanghai orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll), a Harbin born Manchurian Russian.”
“It is inscribed as on Pandora’s Box…do not open…passions…escape in all directions from a box that lies open…” from Bruno Latour’s “Opening Pandora’s Box”, in Science in Action: How To Follow Scientists & Engineers Through Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987, p1-17.
This work investigates and records the production of a digital media artwork blackBOX: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory, generated through the media technologies of interactive multimedia, exploiting the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in a disc based & online (Internet) environment. The artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played in a non-sequential manner. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences designed for the player engaged with the artwork. The subjective intervention of the player/ participant in the electronic artwork is metaphoric of the improvisational tendencies that have evolved in the Greek Blues (Rembetika), Jazz, and Hindustani musical and performative dance forms. The protagonist Nina’s discovery of these musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated.
Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.
One of my objectives is to explore the ways in which social research can be undertaken by the creation of an interactive program in the computer environment utilizing interactive digital media technologies. The study reveals that, through the subjective intervention of the player/ participant (user)* with the digital artefact, a unique experience and responsiveness is produced with the open-ended text. The work is comprised of a website http://www.strangecities.net; an interactive CD-ROM; a gallery installation; digital photomedia images: and a written thesis documenting and theorising the production.
Classical Indian dance music: Bharata Natyam
Nirmal Jena & Odissi Dance Co.
* The term player/participant (user), while widely debated has been in usage from the 1980s to refer to the unique human interaction with the digital artefact, electronic screen work, and computer interface.
Sydney College of the Arts
Opening Tuesday, 4 – 29 September
SCA Galleries Sydney College of the Arts
Crn Cecily & Darling St, Rozelle
PORTRAITS 2005 – 2014
Production Company: Strange Cities Productions
Director/Producer: Geoffrey Weary
Cast:Tatiana Pentes, Leakhena Sy, Rose Tang
PORTRAITS is an experimental digital work that explores three contrasting experiences of war and conflict in the middle and late 20th century. A woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. The ghosts of the Cold War appear and disappear in the crumbling ruins of the Berlin Wall in 1990. A young woman suffers a crisis of identity around the circumstances of her birth at the end of the war in Cambodia in 1978
SCENES FROM A SHANGHAI HOTEL (2007)
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary
A Russian woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1948. Her story begins in a hotel room in Shanghai and ends on a suburban street in Sydney, Australia. Performative, fictional, and documentary elements are blended into a work that is suggestive and open to multiple readings. Extensive use of film leader and scratchy film surfaces add to the sense that what we are seeing resembles something that is illusive, dream-like, just beyond grasp…..or is it just a newsreel playing in someone’s head?
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary
CAPTIVE explores the themes of repression, confinement and escape. These themes are expressed through the incorporation of grainy VHS footage shot in Berlin at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, hand-held camera sequences shot in a maze-like forest and slices of footage composited out of archival Cold War films. As the real historical Wall crumbles under the blows of street hawkers and souvenir hunters, ghostly specters from the past appear then dissolve back into the scratchy surface of a long forgotten newsreel.
A young woman tells the story of her family’s destruction during the war in Cambodia, 1975-1978. Later as a refugee living with her mother in Sydney, Australia she suffers an identity crisis that is linked to the unexplained circumstances of her birth and the mystery of the father that she has never known.
Tatiana Pentes, WORSHIP SCULPTURE DANCE, Master of Art (Media Arts), CoFa, UNSW, 1995 [download paper]
Figure 1 Digital montage from A Few Small Snaps digital film artwork by Tatiana Pentes
This study documents the production of a set of digital film artworks installed in the College of Fine Arts gallery as the culmination of the Master of Art (Film, Video, Sound, and Computing), Media Arts. The digital film artworks are comprised of : (i) Worship Sculpture Dance: Odissi : Movements in Stone, the imaging an ancient devotional classical Indian dance form Odissi, from the state of Orissa, India; (ii) Zang Tumb Tumb 1, inspired by the Futurist sound poetry of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and the Luigi Russolo and The Art of Noise; (iii) A Few Small Snaps, the digital animation of a series of autobiographical self-portraits stimulated by a study of the Mexican self-portrait painting of Frida Kahlo; and (iv) Strange Cities2 an interactive CD-Rom new media script. Strange Cities script (writing) has been included to the Worship Sculpture Dance study as blueprint for potential future research and development. The aim of this creative research has been to focus on new technology as a contribution to a questioning of traditional (analogue) modes of art production.
The approach has been to explore & image traditional classical Indian forms of representation (dance, choreography, & music) and to re-interpret and translate these ancient forms as a new form of engagement. At the same time, the objective of this creative research has been interrogate transforming notions of the filmic, televisual, radio(audio)phonic, sonic and the (digital) computer medium, and to investigate questions of authorship and to challenge the uniqueness of the art object. This creative work is the outcome of conceptual and art historical research, focusing on the potential of an articulation of the philosophical, historical, cultural, formal and spiritual in a digital (computer) landscape.
Technological and Conceptual Framework
These digital films that have been produced and installed in the gallery context: (i) Odissi : Movements in Stone; (ii) Zang Tumb Tumb; and (iii) A Few Small Snaps, for the Worship Sculpture Dance forming a major creative artwork exhibition.
The objective of this creative research has been to question traditional (analogue) modes of art production, and the approach has been to explore & image avant garde European sound poetry, self-portraiture and traditional classical Indian sanskrit forms (dance, choreography, and music culture) and to re-interpret and translate these (analogue) forms (using a new stylus, pen & glue-stick) and to produce a critical engagement with these representations of Other. Simultaneously, the objective has been to interrogate transforming notions of the filmic, televisual, videographic radio(audio)phonic, sonic and moving image (animation) in the (digital) computer environment; to investigate notions of ‘self’ in a cross-cultural environment; to question the Western concept of authorship and to challenge the uniqueness of the art object.
These digital film artworks have been generated in the new multi-media environment of the computer. The installation of these digital films in the gallery context has provided the context for social interaction and engagment with the artworks in the form of an exhibition. The artworks have been produced using Macintosh computer software and hardware, and the following
software digital imaging and editing programs.
Image 2. Digital film still Chitritta Mukerjee, Odissi Dance Company performs Konarak Kanthi at The Performance Space, Sydney 1993, by Tatiana Pentes
The articulation of ‘self’, ‘identity’ and the creation of an innovative feminine vocabulary in the self-portrait paintings of Frida Kahlo.
A dissertation submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Letters (Art History & Theory/ Gender Studies), University of Sydney, 1998 (with Merit), book published VDM Verlag Germany, 2009. [download book Sydney eScholarship Repository]
Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column (1944), oil on tin, Source: Herrera, Hayden, Frida : A Biography, Harper and Row, New York, 1983.
Feet what do I need them for
If I have wings to fly. 1953
Frida Kahlo’s Diary 1
Abstract: The Self-Portraits of FRIDA KAHLO
This book examines the self-portraits of Frida Kahlo and explores the way in which they articulate a ‘self’ and ‘identity’ through creating an innovative feminine vocabulary. The aim of this creative research is to explore the way in which Frida Kahlo represented her sexual subjectivity in the body of self-portraits she produced in her short life time. The self-portraits, some of which were produced in a state of severe physical disability and chronic illness, were also created in the shadow of her famous partner- socialist Mexican muralist/ revolutionary Diego Rivera. An examination of the significant body of self-portrait paintings produced by Frida Kahlo, informed by her personal letters, poems, and photographs, broadens the conventional definitions of subjective self beyond the generic patterns of autobiographical narrative, characteristic of an inherently masculine Western ‘self’. In Kahlo’s self-portraits the representation of the urban Mexican proletarian woman-child draws stylistically from the domain of European self-portraiture, early studio photographic portraiture, and the biographical Mexican Catholic retablo art, with its indebtedness to the ancient Aztec Indian
symbology of self.
The Impulse to Represent the Self: Narcissus
The first image was a portrait. In classical mythology, a lovely youth named Narcissus lay beside a pool gazing in adoration of his own reflection…In the Bible St Veronica compassionately pressed a cloth against Christ’s face as he stumbled to Calvary, and found His true image miraculously printed on the material…St Luke became a painter because, having experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary, he was inspired to produce a faithful portrait of her. 2 The self-portraits of Frida Kahlo significantly open up a new horizon in twentieth century painting. The works, created in Mexico in the 1930’s and 1940’s intersect with and extend the tradition of self-portraiture in the West. Contemporary modernist Mexican concerns to conserve, celebrate, and resurrect indigenous Mexican Indian culture were likened to the classical re-discovery of Greco-Roman antiquity in Renaissance Art. The portrait genre existed in Western antiquity and the early Christian world in the form of statues, busts, coins, sarcophagi and wall paintings. 3 The re-discovery of portraiture has been considered a definitive feature of the Renaissance, as exemplified by the artist Albrecht Durer’s project to represent the self. Durer fashions his 1500 Self-Portrait as an emblem of the powers of the individual creator, with the visual allusion to the vera icon of Christ.
“ Durer mythicises the identity between image and maker …endowing his likeness with the “omnivoyance” of a holy icon, he celebrates himself as a universal subject, whose all-seeing gaze is subject to none.” 4
Strikingly, there are parallels with Kahlo’s own impulse to represent the self in a period of Mexican history that has been termed the Mexican “Renaissance”. The legacy of Durer in Kahlo’s art is manifest in the close analogy between (i) bodies and texts, (ii) the artist’s self-portrait and the holy image (in the case of Durer, the body of Christ); and (iii) the Renaissance painter’s ascent from craftsman to artist, celebrating the artist’s art as the vera icon of personal skill. The Renaissance humanist notion of Man as created in the image of God is envisioned in Durer’s idealised 1500 Self-Portrait, where he is both created in the image of God and through artistic production creates as God. Kahlo’s repeated imaging of her incomplete barren body, a suffering and wounded body, places the woman-child at the centre of the universe, as universal all-seeing subject, yet corrupted and incomplete, as in Durer’s later self-portraits. Kahlo’s self-portrait works such as The Broken Column (1944); The Wounded Deer (1946); and The Two Frida’s (1939), recall the representation of the body in pain in Durer’s Self-Portrait as Man of Sorrows and Self-Portrait of the Sick Durer (a. 1512). In these works there is no illusory sense of self mastery in depictions of the wounded and incomplete body.
A shadow flickers across the history of the self-portrait, from Durer’s art in the Renaissance to twentieth century modernism – the original founding myth, the desire for self knowledge and the Fall. Transcending the Biblical manifestation of this myth and at the heart of the desire to regain the paradise lost of immortality is ever-present tyranny of the flesh – Death. Durer analogises his body and self in his self-portraits to the divine emblem of Christ, whose ability to transfigure Death in the Resurrection image and his eternal life, is reiterated in Kahlo’s self- portrait’s which iconocise her suffering body, expressing the interior landscape of the artist, and a psychological space of sensation, emotion, and memory.While these qualities are present in traditional masculine self-portraits, in Kahlo’s self-portrait work it is perhaps for the first time that Western painting has represented the specificity of feminine sexual subjectivity.
Frida Kahlo’s Jewish/German immigrant father Guillermo Kahlo was introduced to photography by his second wife (Frida’s Spanish/ Indian mother) Matilde Calderon de Kahlo, whose own father was a photographer. Matilde encouraged Guillermo to take up her father’s profession. This resulted in Guillermo Kahlo’s first major Commission – by the Secretary of the Treasurer under dictator Porfirio Diaz – to record Mexico’s architectural heritage for the 1910 celebration of the centennial of Mexican Independence. This won Guillermo the accolade of “first official photographer of Mexico’s cultural patrimony”. 5
Modern photographic portraiture had a profound influence on Kahlo’s self-portraits, which she often used as the basis of her paintings. In the work My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (1936) there is visual evidence to suggest that the portraits of her parents are directly based on their wedding photograph. 6
This highlights the legacy of the recent photographic medium upon modern painting, a medium with a tradition spanning centuries. As Roland Barthes writing on photography articulates… ” Painting can feign reality without having seen it. Discourse has signs which have referents… Contrary to these imitations, in Photography I can never deny that a thing has been there. 7
The self-portraits represent Kahlo’s reality, like the folk retablos in which the village artisan pins objects from the accident to the votive offering (a victims hair, samples of a vehicles wreckage), she symbolically rather than physically incorporates traces of imaginary and material objects. In all the roughly fifty five self-portraits produced the lens is turned back upon the viewer who is forced to apprehend the dominating subjective gaze of the model Kahlo, thus the surveyor becomes surveyed.
2. The Bus Accident, “Assassinated by Life”
Figure 2. Frida’s drawing of her accident in Herrera, Hayden, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Harper and Row, New York, 1983, plate 10
Central to the Frida Kahlo narrative of self is a tragic bus accident, the injuries incurred of which she never physically or emotionally recovered. Indeed the physical injuries sustained in the accident when she was eighteen
years old prevented her ability to hold a pregnancy, and in later years, of being able to walk. Kahlo remembered the bus accident on the afternoon of 17 September, 1925: The accident took place on a corner in front of the San Juan market exactly in front. The streetcar went slowly, but our bus driver was a very nervous young man. When the trolley car went around the corner the bus was pushed against the wall…It is a lie that one is aware of the crash, a lie that one cries. In me there were no tears. The crash bounced us forward and a handrail pierced me the way a sword pierces a bull… 8 Frida’s lover Alejandro Gomez Arias described her situation:…Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone on the bus, probably a painter had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida…and then I noticed with horror that Frida had a piece ofn iron in her body.” …They thought she would die on the operating table… The steel handrail had literally skewered her body at the level of the abdomen; entering her left side…“I lost my virginity”, she said. 9
The images of suffering, wounds, loss, grief, and barrenness appearing in much of her work could be derived from this fateful accident, an event scarring her body for life. The tears that she claims she never shed on that day seem to be endlessly reproduced in her pictures. The pain that she suffered throughout her short lifespan necessitated the long term and perpetual use of pain-killers and morphine. Indeed, all medical evidence pointed towards this substance as the cause of Kahlo’s suicide 13 July 1954. 10
1 Kahlo, Frida,The Diary of Frida Kahlo, Bloomsbury, London, 1995, p134.
2 Woodall, Joanna (Ed), Portraiture: Facing the Subject, Manchester University Press, New York, 1997, p1. (via the translation of Arabic texts into Latin)
3 Woodall, Joanna (Ed),op cit p1.
4 Koerner, Joseph Leo, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art, The University of ChicagoPress, London and Chicago, 1993, p242.
5 Herrera, Hayden, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Harper and Row, New York, 1983, p5.
6 Herrera, Hayden, op cit p8.
7 Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida, Flamingo, Great Britain, 1980, p76. [my italics]8 Herrera, Hayden, op cit3, p48.
8 Herrera, Hayden,op cit p48.
9 Herrera, Hayden,op cit p49.
10 Kahlo, Frida, The Diary of Frida Kahlo, Bloomsbury, London, 1995, p134.
“…landscape architect and film-maker, Gavin Wilson, was researching the artistic heritage of Hill End and the region for his 1995 exhibition The Artists of Hill End: Art, Life and Landscape for the Art Gallery of NSW. Aware of Bellette’s bequest, and withthe support of Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Evans Shire Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Wilson invited a third wave of artists to respond to Hill End. Contemporary artists including Richard Goodwin, Anton James, Tom Spence, Wendy Sharpe, Peter Wright, Geoff Weary, Peter Kingston, Mandy Barrett, Emma Walker and James Rogers participated in a series of pilot residencies at Haefligers Cottage in 1994 and 1995. Works from these residencies were exhibited alongside historic works in The Artists of Hill End exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.
“The historic Haefliger Cottage at Hill End and the spectacular surrounding scenery are prividing an ideal location for artist in residency, Geoffrey Weary, who is finding it a welcome respite from Sydney. Mr Weary, who describes himself as a video artists also working with more ‘traditional’ mediums, is the latest participant….Hill End artist in resident, Geoffrey Weary and Tatiana Pentes who are, living and working with the spirit of Paul Haefliger and Jean Bellette in the famous Haefligger Cottage…The house has all their things still intact, the cottage is pretty much as they left it…” in Inspiration For Visiting Artist: Hill End Artist Residency: Geoffrey Weary: Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Advocate, 24 January 1995.
Photograph: Geoffrey Weary & Tatiana Pentes
The foundations of the Hill End Artists in Residence Program were laid. In 1999, under the auspices of Bathurst City Council and Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, the Program was officially launched. In 2002 Murrays Cottage was refurbished with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts and added as a new studio residence alongside Haefligers Cottage in 2003.Since 1994, a total of 283 residencies have been awarded to artists from a diverse range of disciplines including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, ceramics, textiles, new media, writing, animation, film, sound and performance. Over 150 works by 70 of the artists participating in the Program have entered the collection through donation and purchase. The selection presented here represents just a small portion of the work produced in response to the landscape, history and heritage of Hill End.”
“Celebrating 20 years of the Hill End Artists in Residence Program,works in this exhibition are drawn entirely from BRAG’s permanent collection. Featured artists include Jean Bellette, Ray Crooke, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, Ben Quilty, David Strachan, Rosemary Valadon, Greg Weight and Nicole Welch. A Bathurst Regional Art Gallery exhibition.”
CosmoShanghai is a growing online portal that launches digital research projects exploring Shanghai’s re-emergence as the cosmopolitan metropolis from its glorified memorial status in the 1930s – part entrepot, part settlement, part escape- that finds expression in the multiple contradictions of the struggle over the preservation and development of Hongkou and other districts of the cosmopolis.
In one online documentary projects The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu – Dee Lay Jao Police district, becomes the focus for the local and international and diasporic forces seeking to define what the Jewish heritage of the city means in the current era. Set against an examination of a number of preservation and renewal zones, current Chinese modernity encompasses an historicised cosmopolitanism that accounts for the variegated social histories of the city and its global positioning as part of the New China on the one hand, and as a city state on the other. However to be effective this will require cross-cultural collaboration over the meanings of cities’ pasts and futures.
In another interactive BlackBox: Painting a Digital Picture of Documented Memory the artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences, where the protagonist Nina’s discovery of musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated. Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.
An interactive digital work/ Musical CD-Rom by Tatiana Pentes (Writer/Director) & Geoffrey Weary (Co-Development/ Cinematography & Photography), Eurydice Aroney (Producer), Roi Huberman (Sound Design), Glenn Remington (Interface Design). Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC). Online exhibition Australia-Japan New Media Gallery, Australian Embassy, JAPAN http://newmedia.australia.or.jp/artist/info.php?name=tatiana
Strange Cities CD-ROM has been exhibited inter/nationally & winner of Best Arts/Cultural Title/Site, AIMIA Awards, 2000, and Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Title, ATOM Awards, 2000, Australia. Acquired by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) Multimedia Collection, Australian Film & Television School Library, University of Hawaii, University of Sydney, UTS, the National Library Australia and many inter/national archives.
Strange Cities was selected for Dart 99 dLux Media Arts in partnership with Sydney Film Festival, the 1999 Experimenta Media national travelling Exhibition, The Red Room, & promoted New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities is an experimental interactive multimedia work authored for CD-Rom release and exhibition. Through the disclosure of evidence, Sasha dreams, discovers and remembers the exotic identity of her grandparents Xenia and Sergei Ermolaeff (a composer and orchestra leader) in fragments and traces of their music and struggle to survive the Russian and Chinese Communist Revolutions. The dulcet tones of the legendary voice of ABC Radio – Tony Baldwin as Newsreader deepen the nostalgia of this interactive drama/history.
The inspiration for the work is a tune of the same name – a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai, Chinese metropolis and international settlement which conjures mythic, filmic, musical and personal images of the city port.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Coined capital of the international underworld, the city of Shanghai became a seductively strange locale symbolized in the Western imagination. In reality however the city was most often the final port of call for political refugees. The visual imagery for the project was shot in St Petersberg, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney and involves found photographs, film footage, simulated radio archives, and original musical compositions.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities experiments with performance, sound, image and text and their dramatic representation in the interactive environment. Providing a challenging approach to traditional modes of story-telling and music in the interface design, the user is provoked to discover the Strange Cities tune in the graphic portrayal of its musical script, sonic perception of its vocal lyric, and orchestration through user interactivity.
In the exploration of Strange Cities the user will experience a questioning of the relationship between fictional, biographical, historical and musical narrative possibilities produced through the slippage between and across a series of interactive screens. Participation with the interface provides for the user an experience which challenges traditional modes of narrative in audiovisual presentation, the perception of musical structure, storytelling and in historical, biographical and fictional texts in the multimedia environment.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities was selected for the 1999 Experimenta Media Art CD-Rom Exhibition and has been promoted at the New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999.
NEW MEDIA AWARDS FESTIVALS
Best Arts/Cultural Title/ Site, Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association (AIMIA) Awards November 2000, AUSTRALIA
Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Production, Australian Teachers of Media, (ATOM) Awards May 2000, AUSTRALIA
This project has been produced in association with Screen Australia (Australian Film Commission)