Living Symbols Series, Volume 1: The Eternal Flame Elegy
Student and collaborator roles – Stephanie Reid: Production, Videography, Animation, Editing; Jeff Johnson (DaShade Moonbeam): Sound recording; Enrique Cabrera: Poetry and Recitation; Laura Yohualtlahuiz Rios-Ramirez: Poetry and Recitation, Dance; Orion Garcia: Soundtrack remix; Atlas Maior (Charlie Lockwood – oud, Joshua Thompson – saxophone; Theodore Camat – drum kit and percussion); The Ravaan Persian Dance Company (Geeti Shirazi Mahajan, Ashi Damvar, Azadeh Poursepanj; Bia Ali)
Lynn Book – Studio advisor; Victoria Hindley or Caroline Koebel – Research advisor
Description of proposed project:
My plan for the first year at Transart Institute will be a set of motion graphics short films that I will complete during my second year of the MFA program. My goal is to tailor the degree to Photography and Media Arts, as my previous practice has been.
The films will seek to be informative about world cultures and illustrate a commonality amongst them. Some of my influences here are the film “Baraka” and the photography book and exhibit “The Family of Man”.
Many visual artists, poets, dancers and musicians live in my home, Austin, Texas. We are supportive of each other, but don’t often collaborate. I wish to create interdisciplinary work that allows this community to connect in a meaningful way. My last photography series was very solitary and required a great deal of precision and control. I need a break from that. Therefore, another reason for collaborating is to relinquish some control over the end results.
In that last series, I explored ideas in the works of Carl Jung, symbolism, synchronicity, and collective unconscious. To continue working with those ideas in motion, the name of the series “Living Symbols” while the name of the first volume is ‘The Eternal Flame Elegy’ – the eternal flame references the artist’s passionate quest to immortalize their spirit through creation and inspire the next generation of artists. Most of the artist’s I will be working with also work with youth in some form. The symbol running through the veins of this volume will be the phoenix, known by many names around the world.
The phoenix is of particular importance to me personally because of a metaphysical experience I had with that entity. In addition, it is a protective symbol for Cherokee people. Our ancestor, Sequoyah, invented a syllabary that was later used in the first newspaper published by Native Americans, called The Phoenix. Cherokee is one of the few Native American languages that has increasing numbers of speakers, and has avoided extinction because it was written and disseminated in that way. More universally it represents the sun, purification, and rebirth. Flight is a metaphor for freedom and imagination, so the mythological bird embodies the arts.
To add depth, it will be necessary to touch on the stages that we must go through to reach enlightened states from their opposites – consumerism, spiritual crisis, and death. The elegy here is authored by the flame, a sentient being which mourns its part in the destruction of each mortal incarnation of itself as a phoenix, but whose solace is giving birth to another.
As with much of my work, homage will be paid to tradition, but with a contemporary spin. The sacred bird will be explored in the context of various world cultures with each one reincarnating into the next. Technology, the evolutionary path of the raw element fire, will weave its way through the tapestry of this journey.
For example, the film I have begun already will compliment the poetry of my friend, the poet Enriqué Cabrera, who is of Navajo and Mexican descent. His poems speak poignantly of sacrifices immigrant families make when leaving behind their homelands. They are somewhat heavy poems, so I would like the visuals and some of the music to counterweight that. A well-know Austin DJ will remix songs all of the people involved in the film have selected.
The “firebird here” will be Quetzalcoetl, the Aztec serpent / bird sun god of the underworld who in legend self emolates and is known as the morning star and the evening star. I have filmed a traditional Aztec dancer in feathered headdress to represent Quetzalcoatl, as the morning star, Venus. The dancer, Laura, is eight months pregnant here and the song is about Tonantzin, the mother goddess. Later, I will film her when she is more athletic and layer the two images so the dance together. One example of how I plan to express the idea of the otherworldly, will be to transform her into dancing lines that form Native North American patterns, which dance and flow, then morph into a whirling rainbow (rainbow around the sun). I will achieve this by using After Effects to make the bright colors of her clothing remain on the screen while the rest of the scene will fade to black, then those bright shapes will be animated to create the playful movement of the ancient patterns.
For the next film I will complete a video with a Middle Eastern flavor. A short interpretation of the classic, “The Conference of Birds” will be the backbone of this film. The band Atlas Maior, which consists of has an oud player, saxophonist, and a kit drummer, agreed to provide the soundtrack and the Ravaan Persian Dance Company will provide a performance of flowing movement much like birds gliding on the currents. Papercut and 3D animations will be prevalent here.
I would also like to do one of Asia and either Europe or Africa. The journey will end with meeting a contemporary interpretation of the icon in “neo-Pangaea”, the world that exists through blending cultures via the worldwide web, travel, and immigration.
Description of project report or thesis: My research paper will compliment the studio work by focusing on universal experiences of archetypal symbols, how that symbolism has been used in descriptions of alchemical psychology and synchronous experiences that when approached consciously can have a positive effect on the symbolic interactionism in society. (AKA how creative communities thrive when they value individuality and progressive thinking)
Anticipated results: Short films to be posted on the Internet, film festivals, events such as Art Outside near Austin, the Fusebox Festival, the Austin Film Festival, at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard in Austin, and projected onto public buildings such as the Mexican American Cultural Center. Installation elements may be included at some sites.
Jung, Carl G. Man and His Symbols. Dell Publishing: United States of America and Canada, 1968.
Laughlin, Kiley Quincy. “Phoenix Rising: A Comparative Study of the Phoenix Symbol as a Goal of the Alchemical Work and the Individuation Process”. Rebirth & Renewal; Rebirth and Renewal – IAJS Conference (2014). Peer-reviewed paper
Díaz, Gisele, Alan Rodgers, and Bruce E. Byland. The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript. New York: Dover Publications, 1993.
Blumer, Herbert. Symbolic Interactionism. University of California Press: United States of America, 1986.
Nicholson, H.B. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs (Mesoamerican Worlds). University Press of Colorado, 2001.
Attar, Farid. The Conference of the Birds. Penguin Group: London, England, 1984.
Hypothesis or question you pose? Why do certain symbols reappear in throughout cultures and history? How can these ancient archetypal images, specifically the phoenix, be utilized in contemporary art to engage a new generation of viewers so that its essential messages can be absorbed?
Formulate entire project in 2-3 meaningful sentences. Using animation and experiment film techniques, I will use the symbol of the phoenix to illustrate the universal story of the eternal challenge to purify the mind. The result being a more harmonious community, which is beneficial both for the individual and the group. For this project, I will collaborate with dancers, poets, and musicians in my own community to demonstrate this ideal and the issues caused by its opposition, apathy towards or ignorance of it.
Choose three artists works to compare and contrast. Seyed Alevi’s installations, Canticles, Remembrance, and Renunciation; Camille Rose Garcia’s 2D series, Subterranean Death Clash and Tragic Kingdom; and James Roper’s paintings from the two series, Paroxysm & Into the Fold and Exvoluta
Provide one to three themes, questions, topics, issues, etc. to discuss, compare and contrast which are relevant to your work. Usage of symbolism to convey ideas concerning elevation of the mind and the forces working as an antithesis of that state.
Formulate in a paragraph. I will study, compare and contrast, the methods in which three visual artists utilize symbolism to convey ideas concerning elevation of the mind and the forces working as an antithesis of that state. I will describe the different approaches that Seyed Alevi uses in his three installations, Canticles, Remembrance, and Renunciation from that of which Camille Rose Garcia uses in her two series, Subterranean Death Clash and Tragic Kingdom or James Roper uses in his paintings from the two series, Paroxysm & Into the Fold and Exvoluta.
How do these artists able to draw their audience into various states of mind ranging from peaceful to disturbed through their choice of symbols and technical choices? How do those artists use symbols to express an idea without the need for further explanation via titles or descriptive text?
How will this research support your creative project or practice in general? I chose these three artists because I tend to work in a fairly linear and representational fashion. However, they use very different styles from myself and each other. Studying how they work in relation to their usage of symbolism will broaden my knowledge base for other ways to express my ideas both conceptually and stylistically.