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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

'Van Gogh not crazy', it's society that's nuts

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:20 PM PDT

A new Van Gogh exhibition in Paris seen through the eyes of French playwright Antonin Artaud proposes a radical rethink of the artist's mental state.

The shrieks of mad women assault visitors entering the Musee d'Orsay's new exhibit on Vincent Van Gogh, an arresting look at the painter's work as seen through the eyes of the late avant-garde French theatre director and playwright Antonin Artaud.

The Man Driven to Suicide by Society, opening on Tuesday in Paris and running until July 6, is a fitting title for a display of 55 Van Gogh works using Artaud's own commentary to see them in a new light.

Artaud – one of the great theorisers about the stage, renowned for his short but seminal 1938 tract The Theatre of Cruelty – was, like Van Gogh, tormented throughout his life by hallucinations and hospitalised in psychiatric asylums.

In the exhibition space, a kaleidoscope of violent phrases culled from Artaud's 1947 analysis of Van Gogh is projected on the floor – "anguish", "delirium", "bad blood".

Recorded shrieks set the tone as four of Van Gogh's self-portraits stare back at the viewer.

With thick brushstrokes of blue and green underlining the piercing blue eyes and a wary, proud expression, Van Gogh challenges us to say whether it is him, or society, that is mad.

Artaud would claim the former. Although born six years after the painter's death, the author of the influential theatre manifesto that was a "must read" during France's 1968 student upheavals felt a kinship for the red-haired artist who died after shooting himself in the stomach in 1890.

Artaud defended Van Gogh in a 1947 book that blamed society for his death. A publisher had convinced the playwright that his own mental health issues would make him an ideal interpreter of Van Gogh.

Rather than a madman, Van Gogh was to Artaud someone unafraid to portray reality, an artist who could, he wrote, "scrutinise a man's face with such overpowering strength, dissecting its refutable psychology as with a knife".

Curator Isabelle Cahn said Artaud's text challenged the conventional ideas of Van Gogh's supposed madness.

"Artaud wrote, No, Van Gogh is not crazy, he was pushed to suicidal despair by a society which rejected his works," she said. "From that moment on he went on to accuse people of pushing Van Gogh to suicide and society as a whole."

Out of hell

From the sinewy tree trunks and quivering vegetation in 1889's The Garden of the St Paul Hospital outside the asylum walls, to the swirling wallpaper pattern in "Augustine Roulin (Woman Rocking the Cradle)", Van Gogh's canvasses put raw, unsettling emotions on display.

Van Gogh once complained to his brother Theo that the difficulty of drawing was akin to "working one's way through an invisible iron wall" that separates feeling from execution, a frustration that reverberated with Artaud.

"No one has ever written or painted, sculpted, modelled, built, invented, except to get out of hell," wrote Artaud, who after a lifetime exorcising demons himself was found dead in 1948 at age 51 in his clinic bedroom, possibly of an overdose of the hypnotic drug chloral hydrate.

Artaud, whose photograph as a young man by surrealist Man Ray is in the show, said his struggles with his art were akin to those of Van Gogh, whom he said painted "inert things in nature as if they were having convulsions".

"Every day I marshal tremendous inner turmoil," said the nevertheless prolific Artaud.

Fans of the Orsay will recognise Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles and Starry Night from the permanent collection. Visitors will also see little-known paintings including A Pair of Shoes, in which one is overturned to expose a ruined sole, and Crab on its Back.

The overturned crab, exposed and vulnerable, maybe dead, creates a sense of fragility, mortality and struggle.

"It's artists who carry our anxiety and the anxiety of society from their time, and in which we can discover contemporary anxieties," said Cahn. "But they show us above all how we can go beyond them through art, and it's a great help." – Reuters

'Meeting With Bodhisattva' comes to Malaysia

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Taiwan's U-Theatre will be making its debut show in the country this weekend.

ACCLAIMED Taiwanese art group U-Theatre will make its debut performance in Malaysia this weekend with an act billed as "powerful and virtuosity spectacular".

Under the artistic direction of Liu Ruo-Yu and music director Huang Chih-Chun, the troupe will present a mix of drama, dance, music, drumming, martial arts, chanting and some non-theatrical elements in Meeting With Bodhisattva.

The show plays at Putra Indoor Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

The husband-and-wife team derived the plot from four Buddhist verses – "One cudgel, like the sword of wisdom; one cudgel, like looking for a snake in the grass; one cudgel, like the roar of a lion; and, one cudgel, which is not a cudgel." These verses were developed to illustrate a warrior's path to self-actualisation.

"Before I created this piece, I went for a 36-day meditation retreat at a small island outside Taiwan. During the retreat, I saw the absurd inner-self, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying – I started to understand some new 'selves' I didn't see in my life. Since I founded U-Theatre, I have been hoping to explore the fundamental meaning of life's existence," shares Liu, who holds an MA in Theatre Arts from New York University.

The "U" in U-theatre is apparently a phonetic transcript of a Chinese character, meaning excellence. In ancient China, this word also refers to professional performers.

Liu founded U-Theatre in 1988 with a focus on Zen in the art of drumming.

"I think U-Theatre's practice may be best described as attaining the state of total calmness while in motion. For our ensemble, a performance is not an end in itself, but rather an approach to a holistic way of life originated from the Tao."

Since its inception, U-Theatre has settled its roots in the lush and rugged landscape of Laochuan Mountain, an hour outside Taipei. It is where each new production is created and rehearsed, and the 500-seat outdoor theatre is where the troupe debuts its annual productions.

Every morning, U-Theatre drummers gather from all over Taipei at this simple wooden pavilion without walls to attend rehearsals and training sessions, with an emphasis on meditation.

"At the beginning, I decided with Huang that all performers should meditate first and drum later, just like the warrior in the production endlessly going through the mist and cloud, hoping to find his true self. Self-cultivation needs great courage and wisdom to look back to the self, and see the true, confused heart of oneself," she says.

According to Liu, the daily training for the members include Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi Quan, meditation, drumming lessons and Western percussion lessons. In addition, they also have lessons in acting, vocals and sacred dance. Outside class, members are expected to trek and experience lonely travel.

"It is our belief that, through meditation, one is able to reflect and maintain an inner calmness amidst this kaleidoscopic world; furthermore, the same tranquillity can interact with any given audience to crystallise moments of living the present," she adds.

For the Malaysian-born Huang, who has been a drumming and martial arts practitioner for over 30 years, it's going to be an emotional journey.

Known for his mastery in synthesising these two disciplines into a new form of performing arts, Huang's unconventional training regime has both elevated the disposition of the troupe and laid down a solid foundation for a contemporary artistic expression.

"This premier is a monumental appearance for U-Theatre because Huang finally comes home to perform, after over two decades of drumming around five continents. We thank Malaysia for giving him his initial artistic training in drumming and martial arts," says the proud Liu.

Organised by Purple Cane Group and Hands Percussion, the Malaysia premier will see 39 performers in a one-matinee performance.

> Meeting With Bodhisattva will be held at 3pm on March 16 at the Putra Indoor Stadium, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets are priced at RM68, RM128, RM228 and RM500. Ticket Purchase: www.inxotix.com.my. Enquiries: 010-865 6034.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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