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Postby Pandora » Sat Oct 15, 2016 7:29 pm


Watching this movie does feel like being in some trance meditation, where the viewer is suspended in the state of continuously changing mixed sensations, and of course, the ever present nagging sense of confusion. What is this movie really about? The illogical but cinematically beautifully done scenes aid in keeping the viewer's attention, as the mind constantly tries to do what the mind normally does, to make sense of it all and frame it all into a coherent picture. But in vain. Although some of the images are grouped into themes, the sequence of the flow is still arbitrary and unpredictable. Only in the end does the film maker brings the viewer back the scene of mandala, in which the Buddhist monks erase the mandala that they so carefully created only in the beginning.

I think the clay man scene (the Transfiguration), performed by Oliveir de Sagazan, although forceful and blunt in its own creative way, really fits into this movie, by showing a man's desperate attempts find his true identity and meaning in the absurdity of existence.

About the artist:
In his existential performative series Transfiguration,  which he began in 1999, de Sagazan builds layers of clay and paint onto his own face and body to transform, disfigure and take apart his own figure, revealing an animalistic human who is seeking to understand his real nature. At once disquieting and deeply moving, this new body of work collapses the boundaries between the physical, animalistic and spiritual senses.  The artist states: "I am flabbergasted in seeing to what degree people think its normal, or even trite, to be alive.

Self-proclaimed “painter, sculptor, performer, who is constantly anxious yet fascinated by being ‘there’ without any understanding…” Olivier de Sagazan is a philosophical artist who takes his inspiration from Africa, where he was born, staging performances of terrifying dances which reflect his constant preoccupation with the meaning of life. AMA spoke to him and delved into the worrying world of this astonishing artist.

Can you present your career to us briefly? 
After my MA in biology, I had the chance to go to Cameroon for two years. These years really saved me, allowing me to take a step back and return to my roots: Africa, where I was born. Just before I left, I discovered, by looking at a Rembrandt painting, another amazing way of questioning life. Coming back, I spent a year locked up working on a comic strip, Ipsul ou la rupture du cercle, and then I immersed myself in painting and sculpture. Performance was something I worked on later, as a realisation of the desire that I always felt while painting, to leave my body’s mark on the canvas. Then came the moment when I decided to go ‘underneath’ my painting. To become a living canvas. It’s this journey that inspired me to start performing, at first just in private, in my workshop, and then in public.

In the performance Transfiguration, we can see several influences: Tribal art, shamanism, as if you were searching for an ‘original’ form of communication…
Yes, I’m very influenced by Tribal art, by the relationship between the earth and the elements, in the way that they both go beyond langage, and that they are both a sort of ‘bodily creation’.
In Transfiguration, a performance based on a skull which was modelled over in earth and mud, there was the idea of giving back ‘speech’ to the hands, by covering the face. This work, which I did without using my vision, links to numerous initiation rituals in which the shaman puts someone in a trance, when they become a almost blind, an unconscious entity, a medium through which the living and spirit world can communicate. This ‘blind’ work allows room for chance and improvisation, which is key to getting off the beaten track and specifically for this piece, to creating never-seen-before masks.

Would you say you enter into a trance-like state in your performances?
It’s a mix; there’s a madness which increases with pressure, but there’s always a sense of my conscience being in control. Two or three years ago, I punched something really hard during a performance and broke a few bones. It expressed a certain level of excitement, but I don’t know if it was a trance. Perhaps it was more of a fury to wanting to discover something about myself. I was bewitched by this existential question which pushed me to try and understand who I am, what my body is, etc. I told myself that I had to shake things up, make the machine, my body, talk at any cost.

You often say you aim to “disrupt the familiarity of life”, can you explain this?
Braque said that we must break the mould. Having studied biology, I understand to what extent we are controlled by our genes and all these urges which push us towards survival and the maintenance of our species. How do we avoid falling into the same behavioural pattern, to not keep painting the same thing? ‘Blind’ painting set something free within me. Before I was too involved in this idea of the artist who slaves away to make a pretty picture. But what counts isn’t beauty in the classical sense, but what we can call the question of a presence. Transfiguration is, in short, the transformation of the Holy Face into the ‘Meat head’, of the verb into the unspeakable.

Is there an ‘educational’ dimension to your work? Do you want to give your viewers a wake-up call?
The presence of an audience is fundamental, for the validation or non-validation of the work, and a founding element of the trance. In this particular performance I lost my sight and the audience became my eyes. Coming back to my masks, I do hope that these astonishing sights open up some new parts of the spectator’s brains.
In a very fleeting way, we all have moments in our life which Freud calls ‘oceanic movements’ — such as the death of someone close to us— where suddenly, we become aware of the terrible and magnificent nature of life. However very quickly, we fall back into the banality of daily life.
My daily practice, my studio, my performances, are only ways of reminding me of this unreality and the simple fact that I am alive. I don’t know how else to word it, but it seems the people feel the same feeling through my performance even if they can’t express it through words.

You seem to embrace anxiety in your work, whilst most people try and escape this feeling through illusion…
It’s through this anxiety that I saw a way of bringing myself back to life. I was very religious until I was about 20, and then after studying biology and philosophy, it all kind of fell apart. After a year suffering from depression, I had a thought that saved me: yes, life is meaningless, but I’m going to make my life a quest for meaning. From that moment onwards, I transformed what was causing me so much despair into pure, independent source of energy. Anxiety about life became an infinite source of possibility, and something to celebrate. Unlike religion, which tries to ‘catchetise’ life, and which reveals itself to be profoundly a-metaphysical.
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Re: Samsara

Postby Ultimate Philosophy 1001 » Sun Oct 16, 2016 12:36 am

Samsara sounds like some kind of delicious hot sauce.
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Re: Samsara

Postby Chakra Superstar » Sun Apr 23, 2017 3:23 am

The key to understanding the movie is in its name. ‘Samsara’ is a Sanskrit term that refers to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth – the Wheel of Dharma or cosmic order.

If you think of the movie's structure like a knife slicing through the rings of an onion, then it makes more sense. The knife starts at the top of the outer layer of the onion, moves down to the top of the second layer, then to the top of the third layer and so on. Once the knife passes the centre, it slices through the bottom of the innermost layer and through the bottom of all the other layers until it cuts through the bottom of the outermost onion layer – the layer it began with. This is how the film's structured.

THE CREATION: The movie begins with a group of Indonesian dancers. This particular dance depicts the gods at play; it’s the Hindu story of creation. This outer layer depicts the creation – the spiritual world. This is the meta-narrative or meta-container within which, all forms manifest.

THE MATERIAL WORLD: The next sequence shows a volcano erupting. It explodes and spews forth, and the earth is formed. This second layer depicts the material world. It’s the set upon which everything plays out.

MAN: In the third layer, we see a porcelain-white embryo in the womb, a dead, black body and a gold Egyptian mummy mask – life, death and resurrection. This is human envelope or container.

All of these images up till now, is just the introduction; setting the scene before the movie begins.

The core of the movie begins with images of the city of temples in Myanmar, two Nepalese horn blowers signalling the beginning of the day and a group of young trainee monks who spin the Wheel of Dharma (cosmic processes) and watch the creation of the sand Mandala.

For a few brief seconds, we catch a glimpse of a dance which tells the story of the Compassionate Buddha - the Witness - looking down upon the world.

All is good.

Then we see images of sand - the symbol of time. We’re shown ancient ruins and glorious structures crumbling back into the sand from which they came. We see medieval Churches that look more like museums filled with relics of high art, culture and ritual of past ages. Outside, the seasons pass. Dead trees barely stand in the snow while floods and running water carve into the rock taking away all that it can.

Then we come to today - the beginning of the 21st century. From here, the images become increasingly more frantic, fractured, ominous and insane.

It’s possible that the director used a more sophisticated version of the Wheel of Dharma to structure this section but for brevity's sake, it’s sufficient to say that Samsara is rooted in duality and that’s the key element in this section. Birth and death, new and old, eastern and western, rich and poor, men and women, natural and artificial etc are very pronounced and juxtaposed against each other here.

This is man’s kingdom. It’s where man plays god and creates a world in his own dystopian image.

Here we see machines behaving like humans and humans behaving like machines. We see girls who look like dolls and dolls that look like girls. We see human production lines that look like animal production lines, natural environments being trashed, the mass slaughter of animals and the suffering of humans who eat themselves to death. We see religions infected by politics and war and the ever spreading suburban miasma swallowing up everything in its path.

Apart from a few pockets of normality this section show us our insanity beautifully portrayed by the performance artist you (Pandora) pointed out in the op. It definitely shows “man's desperate attempts find his true identity and meaning in the absurdity of existence”

The movie then returns to the meta narrative. The insane scenes cease and we’re shown images of compassion, resurrection and rebirth. The Wheel has turned.

Using time-lapse photography, the director captures a beam of sunlight as it crosses the Church’s transept - a symbol of Spirit moving within the world. Next we see a close-up of Buddha’s hands. He is giving the sign of the Dhamachakra Mudra. The hands are held close to his heart which signifies both the centre and compassion. The hand gesture, the sign of the Wheel of Dharma, is a reminder to always be aware of the cosmic order – birth and death, creation and destruction.

Now we return to the opening images – in reverse order.

We see the city of temples, again. This time the images are of recent earthquake damage (time again). We return to Tibet, the Nepalese horn blowers signalling the new day once again and the sand Mandala but, on this day, the sand Mandala will be destroyed – another reminder that everything created is eventually destroyed.

Now we see an image of the Buddha’s serene face. Once again, Buddhist scripture is spoken through dance. This dance tells the story of the Boddhavista – the Enlightened Ones. The eyes on the performers hands symbolizes the Enlightened Ones looking down upon the earth in compassion. The multi-arm form the dancers make tells of how the enlightened ones have been bestowed with many arms to help them assist as many people as possible.

The film ends with an image of sand hills in the desert – a reference to time, again – but these sand hills are different to the earlier ones. They aren’t moving. Perhaps this is meant to signify the end of time in the Buddhist sense?... when one is no longer trapped inside the dead past or imagined futures?... when one enters the present moment and falls straight through?... when one realizes he/she is Presence itself - that which was, before time? If so, that's Moksha - liberation from Samsara.

(Well that turned out a lot longer than I had expected and took up a lot more time than I hoped, but it was an interesting exercise, so thanks, Pandy.)
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