Borders   1 comment

One reader commented…

“And the “borderland” is often the richest, most productive and releaving place to be. In ecology, scientists study and celebrate the “edge” — the edge between sea and land, between fresh and salt water, between one climatic zone and another. There they find not only an incubator for distinctive forms of life occupying that borderland niche, but a particularly revealing place from which to look at and understanding the places on either side of the border.”

Think of the borders we create between the sacred and the profane–

main entrance to the Duomo in Orvieto, Italy


Posted October 19, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in architecture, Art, Religion

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causeway into Angkor Thom

Whether or not the ancient Khmer had a word for it,  they certainly knew how to express the power of transitions and threshholds in stone.  Sure wish “liminality” had some of that oomph.

gate into Angkor Thom

nature adds its own drama  in Ta Phrom

doorway in Preah Ko temple

Seeing across borders   Leave a comment

in Mrauk U – July 2012

Just before leaving for a trip to Asia,  I reviewed a show at the Peabody Essex Museum that was all about how Europeans’ visions of China gave certain Chinese works a boost in the art market — works with  goldfish, for example, were popular sellers — and sometimes even spawned new genres, like watercolors chronicling the various stages of tea and silk production.   Now every time I raise my camera and frame a photograph I think of just what it is that I am choosing and how my notions of Myanmar (mostly based on my trip here in 1977 when it was still known as Burma) shape the country that I (want to) see.

Posted July 20, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art

“Wilderness of mirrors…”   Leave a comment

This is what Keith Melton called the world that spies and intelligence officers inhabit.  He was giving journalists a tour of “Spy: the Secret World of Espionnage” at the Discovery Times Square and, trailing the little group of notebooks was  former KGB General Oleg Kalugin (whose bio I wish I had read before meeting him), along with former FBI Special Agent Jerry Richards, whose job included ferreting out Gen. Kalugin’s spies.  It is a world in which greed and fear are traded commodities and second-guessing has as many layers as a hall of mirrors. Here, a mole can be a person, an animal or a facial blemish…that might, in turn, be a pooling of pigment or a microdot with state or industrial secrets.  In fact, Mr. Richard pointed out that microdots — microscopic photographs that are virtually undetectable — might make a comeback in this age of passwords.  As a fan of “Moscow rules” I cannot wait…

Slipping  across borders like mist, this gray, formless world is as rich and creative as any borderland can be.  In World War II, the most  sophisticated get-away equipment was a collapsible motorbike parachuted into occupied France or along with agents; in 2001, the get-away technology consisted of a horse saddle and colorful blanket that agents could throw onto the back of horses then disappear into the mountains of Afghanistan.  Where else can dead rats double as dead drops, pigeons turn photographers,  and the desire to spy on earthly neighbors  engender technology that allows us to peer into deep space… perhaps one day to spy signs of intergalactic neighbors….?

Posted May 21, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in museum shows, New York

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Byzantium and Islam   1 comment

Talk about an exciting borderland…. this from an article in the WSJ by Christian C. Sahner on “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition” currently at the Met:

The greatest achievement of the exhibition is to track the birth of a visual koine in the late-antique Middle East. It was an artistic language that transcended the actual religious and linguistic diversity of the period, expressing itself through shared motifs and aesthetic sensibilities. For example, one notices the striking similarity between a fifth-century ivory of the Egyptian St. Menas, his arms raised in prayer inside a domed sanctuary with hanging lamps, and a nearly identical image of a Muslim at prayer, woven into a tapestry from Egypt between the 11th and 12th centuries. There are other objects that reveal the enduring popularity of pagan themes in Christian and Islamic art, such as the bare-breasted Amazons found on silk roundels from the seventh to ninth centuries in Egypt, and the hefty bronze brazier from an Umayyad palace covered with Dionysiac scenes. These images are culturally ambiguous, which can be frustrating for those visitors who crave precision in their museum labels. But on the other, the blurry line is deliberate: One realizes that “Byzantine” and “Umayyad,” to say nothing of “Christian,” “Jewish” and “Muslim,” represent relative, even unhelpful categories for understanding the complex art of the period.  

Ivories of the So-Called Grado chair: Saint Menas with Flanking Camels (made in  Eastern Mediterranean or Egypt, 7th-8th C, ivory)

11th-12th century textile fragment made in Egypt of silk and linen

Posted May 18, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in Art, museum shows, New York

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crossing into hell   1 comment

The Six Realms: Hell, scroll 22 of Five Hundred Arhats by Kano Kazunobo (1816-63)

Masters of Mercy” — what a well constructed show of paintings featuring rakans, the Buddha’s disciples (or luohan as the Chinese refer to them) who so often stare out with fierce expressions, as though to remind us that this whole enlightenment business is hard work.

The show starts with a couple of paintings by Kano Kazunobo from the 19th century then steps back in time to familiarize us with the way rakan were historically depicted, all this to prime us to return to Kazunobo, this time to appreciate a suite of large scroll paintings.  They are selections for a massive series Kazunobo painted between 1854 and his death in 1863.  Each one tells a story, from daily routines like shaving and bathing in the monastery to rakans exhibiting supernatural powers or visiting hell realms.

Not sure what it says about me (probably that I spent too much time looking at Bosch’s hells — thank you, Dixon, for that) but I could not stop looking at Scroll 22.  I love the way Kazunobo depicts this netherworld — it is airless and miasmic and it sucks the bodies into itself.  But there is a way out through the powerful rays that one rakan is shining down.  Most of all, I love that the rakan aren’t looking down from another realm.  They may be standing on a cloud insulated from those beautiful but dangerous flames, but they have crossed into this underworld, daring to be in it while making sure they are not of it.

THE BORDERLANDS OF WAR   Leave a comment

Tragic news this morning about a young American soldier who  left his base in Afghanistan, walked into the nearby village and went on a shooting rampage killing civilians, children among them.  A news report mentioned that the soldier had suffered a breakdown, and we have to ask ourselves into what borderland have we, by sending him to war, pushed this young man?  Into what borderland of despair and loss have we propelled the  families of this Afghan village?  What no man’s land has the family of the soldier now entered, trying to understand what their son or brother or sweetheart has just done? What further violence will this act breed?  And is there any way back from the inhuman land of war?

In researching a chapter for War & Its Trauma: Expanding the Circle of Healing (due out in August) I kept coming up against the seemingly endless repercussions of war — and my research focused very narrowly on the  physically wounded American warriors and their families.  This latest tragedy drives home the truth that the effects of war, like polluted air and poisonous water, spread across all boundaries.


Posted March 11, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in war

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