Street Life, III: Santiago’s Benches

Of all the distinctive ways that street life is enlivened in Santiago, the most artistically enticing concerns the city’s myriad cast-iron-supported wooden benches. For the past decade, art dealers have been commissioning local artists — a dash of the internationally known, a smattering of the well-established, and many neither– to choose a bench and do their thing. The program spread from a single commissioning gallery on a single street to many benches spread through three neighborhoods. You may now set down your derrière and lounge on works of art in the city center, Las Condes, and Vitacura.

20171225_175250_DxO

Some artists have adopted the shout-it-out, Peter Max approach, indulging themselves in the wavy shapes, lilting lines, and acid-inspired colors that also recalled Hans Eidelmann’s 1968 Yellow Submarine album cover for the Beatles. My favorite was the quintipartite-structured composition enlivened with flat, child-like images of faces and hands, and inscribed with awkward script that exhorted: nada mas noble que VIVE HOY (nothing more noble than to live today). Words which, if lived by, forfend the kind of melancholy perseveration that destroys too many people’s days.

Animals and insects appeared repeatedly, sometimes diaristically (as in “Oh my gawd, don’t you think my wonderful dog is SO cute!!”), but more often than not, artistically. Whatever that Alice-in-Wonderland insect is on the left, I like it. The bench on the right elicited thoughts of a well-painted detail from a historic Japanese landscape.

In several instances, folk art provided inspiration.

My favorites, I suspect predictably, were mainly abstract, though the bottom right bench does hearken back to the ever-popular dog motif.

And the absolute, all-time winner, with its allusions to earth, horizon, sky, and water, its hasty, indecipherable script, and its slightly skewed perspective, almost a quirky modern riff on a scene by Piero della Francesca:Bench 17

In all, these benches rarely failed to delight and give pause, prompting me to muse, yet again, on the potential for cities to offer moments of vitality by aesthetically enriching even the humblest of public places.

I could show many more, but then, that might discourage you from heading off to see and enjoy them for yourself.

— Sarah

Morocco’s Architecture and Tradition

Frozen in time. From the first day we entered the Kasbah in Marrakesh through the end of our trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site Aït Ben Haddou, that was my overwhelming impression of Morocco.

IMG_20170928_165716_776_DxOThe exception was Casablanca, but Fez, people tell me, confers this impression with even greater intensity. In its sense of arrested time, Morocco felt very different from other developing societies I’ve encountered. Take India. In India, people’s lives are saturated with tradition, but they do not, or at least did not appear to me to reject modernity. In some of Morocco’s most distant reaches, people seem only dimly aware that modern societies even exist. What are they watching on satellite TV?

Traditional Moroccan architecture, which is most Moroccan architecture, can be characterized thus. Walls, walls, and walls.

DSC03792_DxO DSC03620_DxO_DxO.jpgDSC03835_DxO.jpg

DSC03637_DxO

That’s first. Next: extreme complexity in surface patterning.

DSC03772_DxO_DxO

DSC03557_DxO

 

DSC03555_DxO

DSC03775_DxO

Last: extreme simplicity of spatial organization. Whether it’s the riad courtyard houses, or a palace complex such as Bahia Palace, or the Ben Youssef Medrasa, spatial arrangements vary very little. Small rooms, or concentric layers of smaller and larger rooms, encircling open air courtyards.

DSC03526_DxO.jpgSometimes, in larger buildings, internal rooms with tiny windows butt up onto rooms opening onto subcourtyards with skylit roofs.

DSC03784_DxOSpatial organization, spatial sequences – all are straightforward, even banal. (If the site varies topographically, sometimes there’s a little more action, as in the palace at Telouet.) So the colorful, intricate patterns constitute the only means of arresting our visual interest — or, to invert the formulation, to compensate for the lack of design complexity.

On the drive from Aït Ben Haddou back to Marrakesh, Danny, Gideon and I discussed this, noting that although we’d seen many of central Morocco’s premier monuments, we’d discerned scant artistic development. Always, Zelig (ceramic tile mosaics) stretching from the floor to shoulder-level; intricate, lacy plasterwork above; then wood, painted and carved, on top (the wood needs to be on top because it spans ceilings, windows, doors).

DSC03765_DxOIn no place we visited did that differ.

To explain to Gideon the difference between the architectural tradition as we’ve encountered it in Morocco and the western one, I used painting, with which he is more familiar. Think about what a Giotto looks like, I said. Then compare it to Leonardo’s Madonna and Child in the Louvre, and then compare that to Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The subject is the same; the paintings don’t look at all alike. Each artist, in some way, was trying to express something new, even if he was also building on established traditions. Here, the mosaic work in Telout’s Kasbah (early 20th century) resembles the mosaic work in Marrakesh’s Ben Youssef Medrasa (16th century).

So, art or craft? Reluctantly, I concede: Danny’s correct.

That’s it for Morocco.

–Sarah