EST. 2009

December 20, 2018

That Cave of Wonders

THERE ARE NO ACTUAL ELEPHANTS IN GOA GAJAH, the site of a man-made cave misleadingly called Elephant Cave. Its intricate doorway depicts a giant menacing face surrounded by various forest and animal figures, none of which are elephants. It is suspected that the cave’s name derives from a series of inaccurate translations over time.

If not elephants, what’s there to find? Numerous stone steps below street level, the site is a complex comprising the cave, a pool with seven statues, a temple, and a rock garden, all nestled among lush forest greens. Palms tower overhead, fresh water runs below. Beyond are small farms and the postcard rice paddies of Bali.

Goa Gajah’s location was considered sacred by its founding people, who built the complex on a hillside where two streams met to form a river junction. Dating as far back as the 11th century, it is but one of many archeological sites in Bedulu, once the capital of a great kingdom ruled by the Balinese king Dalem Bedaulu.

Pop by for a wander around, sweaty climbs up many stone steps, and if you're lucky, prepare to be literally blessed.

Goa Gajah Elephant Cave, Bedulu Bali.

November 15, 2018

That Physicality

RODIN BELIEVED THAT AN INDIVIDUAL'S CHARACTER was revealed by their physical features. As such, his work deviated from Greek idealism and Baroque beauty, giving way for a much more natural aesthetic considered radical, even controversial, for his time. His The Thinker was fashioned so that every part of the body speaks for the whole. The subject's rigid back and gripping toes exhibit that the Thinker, in Rodin's words, "thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes."

When a marble version of his sculpture The Kiss went on display in 1913, it caused an uproar and needed to be draped with a sheet. The Age of Bronze was thought to be so lifelike that Rodin was accused of having cast the work from a living model. He made his subsequent sculptures deliberately larger than life since.

Beyond sculpture, Rodin drew in chalk and charcoal, and painted in oils and watercolors. The human body continues to be a prominent subject in these works, carrying the same naturalist style while celebrating character and physicality.

I am intrigued by his female nudes, which feature unconventional poses not usually seen in traditional academic postures. It is said that Rodin preferred his models to move naturally around the studio, where he studied them from different angles, both at rest and in motion.

The resulting drawings carry awkward and erotic touches that feel as fresh today as when they were created in the early 1900s. Outstretched limbs, standing upright, bending forwards or backwards; I imagine the models to have been quite relaxed, and the studio to have been warm and spacious. With limited lines and colors, Rodin masterfully infused his drawings with the same physical presence exuded by his more famous sculptures.

Drawings by Auguste Rodin,

October 11, 2018

That Angelou

"PERFECTLY IMPERFECT IS HARD TO ACHIEVE IN PRODUCTION, but I’m always trying to show our partners what I mean by using nature as a visual metaphor." shares Jasmin Larian Hekmat with Forbes, where she's been listed in 30 Under 30 for art and style in 2018. Indeed, while her label found its success with handbags made of materials from warm climates, such as straw, bamboo, and rattan, other pieces in synthetic still carry the brand's natural aesthetic.

Created in 2012, Jasmin Larian Hekmat's Cult Gaia produces heirloom pieces recognizable by their sculptural style. The handbags, shoes and accessories are first objet d’art, and secondly functional, so they are purposely designed to turn heads. The half-moon-shaped Ark bags were a fashion phenomenon in 2016, taking over fashion editorials and celebrity feeds. The Babe takes the form of an actual piglet with shoulder straps.

Cult Gaia's Babe, Ark, and Lilleth bags in bamboo and straw:

My current pick is the Angelou, which is essentially a giant tassel braided around two rings. Like most other Cult Gaia bags, the Angelou is delightfully impractical, as objets d’art are.

How to wear it? Travel someplace warm, potentially coastal, attend a dressed-up function either by day or night. Fashion is really only partly about items, and mostly about lifestyle. Design a life, and the right things slot in.

Cult Gaia Angelou, Babe, Ark and Lilleth,

September 29, 2018

That Downtown Drive-by

MUCH LIKE IN THE POST-REVOLUTIONARY MURALS produced by its famed artists, Mexico City continues to feature themes and scenes from its long, eclectic history. Spanish-era palaces, churches and convents co-exist with art deco buildings and Aztec ruins. Cobbled avenues are peppered with a combo of trendy joints and working-class establishments, catering side-by-side to an equally diverse mix of tourists, well-heeled locals, and everyday workers.

Ranked as one of the world’s most populous metropolitan areas, and officially renamed Ciudad de México or Mexico City since 2016, the metropolis is divided into neighborhoods called colonias. Popular ones include the trendy Roma and Condesa, the risque Zona Rosa, upscale Polanco, and the legendary Coyoacán where Frida Kahlo lived.

While I enjoy some hedonistic wining and dining, or mini sprees at polished shops de rigueur, the neighborhood I liked most was in fact downtown; a dusty, bustling, in some parts deteriorating, echo of a glorious past. Downtown Mexico is the city's historic center nonetheless, where Spanish colonizers built upon Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire.

In the Centro Histórico, I found the San Ildefonso cinematic indeed, with dramatic multi-storey arches overlooking its courtyards. Considered the birthplace of Mexican muralism, its murals seemed to pale however to those at the Palacio de Bellas Artes; notable on its own for its art deco interior and art nouveau exterior. The scale it was built in gave me vertigo, as if Mexico City's altitude of over 7,000 feet doesn't cause it already.

If altitude sickness persists, there's always Mexican food.

Downtown Mexico, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Casa de los Azulejos, Palacio Nacional, and San Ildefonso College, Mexico City.

August 16, 2018

That Dainty Drag

EACH AT LESS THAN SIX INCHES LENGTHWISE, Sylvain Levier's Série FT artworks are roughly the size of your average smart phone, not much larger than an adult hand. But what the dainty pieces lack in size, they make up for in craft and visual impact.

Levier's process for the series includes cutting up cardboard pieces to various sizes, and using them as tools for applying black acrylic onto polyester film. Dragging, pushing, and wiping the pigment renders it heavy in some areas, sparse in others, with evidence of pressure change. As with other styles of painting and printing, the tool leaves traces of itself. In this case, the cardboard leaves occasional edge marks.

The painted films are then cut into geometric shapes, and layered atop each other. Série FT has a visual nuance of being both fluid and jagged, with the strong black and white contrast seen across all of Levier's works. Inspired by medical imaging, his art thrives in ambiguity, and often sits on the boundary between the inert and the moving.

Série FT by Sylvain Levier,

July 12, 2018

That Platinum Addiction

SET IN CASINOS ALONG THE FRENCH RIVIERA, Jacques Demy's La baie des anges follows the rambling affair of bank clerk Jean, and seasoned gambler Jackie, as they drift through a seductive, risk-taking lifestyle. Though Jean is characteristically opposed to Jackie in his values, he falls in love with her, only to be warned that gambling will always be her greatest passion.

Contrasting elements are central to the film. The red and black of roulette determine Jean and Jackie's fortune, which proves fleeting. Black and white apparel strategically sets them apart from the crowd, with white drawing greater prominence to the wearer. Jackie's unnaturally platinum blonde hair gives her a heightened visual intensity against the rest of the casino-goers. A divorced mother who rarely sees her child, she is made to act and appear lacking in morals, obsessively seeking thrill in spite of Jean's criticism and attempts to set her straight.

Odds and evens, night and day, loss and gain pull the characters back and forth like a pendulum, with no clear progress or direction. Jackie asserts that her addiction to gambling is not about the money, as she would not be so careless with it if so.

“What I love about playing is those crazy swings from luxury to poverty… the unknown…” She says. And in the same vein, the experience offered by the film is that of an aimless compulsion, carried out in glamorous environments of 1960s France. If only for the stunning style and cinematography, La baie des anges is worth taking a chance on for some good old French New Wave.

Jeanne Moreau and Claude Mann in La baie des anges by Jacques Demy, 1963.

June 28, 2018

Those Boucharouites

DIAMOND SHAPES RESEMBLE THE EYE, to protect from evil spells. Squares symbolize the house or the field, while zigzags represent the river. Red stands for woman, yellow for man, green for paradise, and blue for love. Color and pattern are means of expression for Berber women, who weave boucharouites or rag rugs from discarded clothing. Belonging to underprivileged sectors of society, and often unable to read or write, these weavers use craft to tell stories about their world.

On the one hand, boucharouites are highly intimate, unique pieces. Made from old garments belonging to the craftwoman's own family or community, they carry history in every fiber. On the other hand, boucharouites are a testament to the women's thrift. Weaving with recycled fabric is a much cheaper alternative to weaving with wool.

Boucharouites adorn Dar Dallah, an 18th century riad housing its namesake Musée Boucharouite. Founded in 2014 by French collector Patrick de Maillard, The museum exists to educate new generations about the craftsmanship behind its treasures, while supporting the individuals that weave them.

Musée Boucharouite, Azbezt 107, Derb El Cadi, Marrakech. Photos by Lady San Pedro.