29 March 2010

26 March 2010

Goab, the desert of colour

And finally Ibex, an awarded photograph shot by Joe Bell in the dunes of Ibex.
Is this Goab, the desert of colours that each night gives birth to Perelin, the night forest? The plants of light that grow in Perelin at night, disintegrate in the morning into a desert of all and any colours. Travelers must begin and end their journeys in a single night, if only because the sand in Goab is as hot as lava.

25 March 2010

Ajs, ice

Greenland Iceberg, an awarded photograph in a series of near-sculptural photographs of icebergs shot by David Burdeny in Greenland and Antarctica (2007). In order to view the entire series, press here.

24 March 2010


Wild Horse of Assateague Island, an awarded photograph of Hope McCall (2009). While Assateague Island (located off the eastern coast of Maryland and Virginia) is known for its free-roaming horses, these horses are not descendants of the wild horses of the past. With the exception of Przewalski hourses from Mongolia, the wild horses are extinct. The last Tarpan horse died in Russia in the mid 1980s.

22 March 2010

Stories of old

I bet you expected spring?
These powerful Angkor trees in Cambodia were shot by Viviane Moos in her awarded Ode to the Trees series of photographs (2008). Moos told that she “was drawn by the spirit of these enormous, shimmering silken trees and their mighty roots, as they grow above ground and destroy the ancient stones, seemingly drawing from them the energy to grow into giants."
This is how I imagined the witch's house in Hansel and Gretel, once you'd eaten through the layer of cookies.

Winter in 9 squares

This is Cathedral, an awarded photograph from the Winter in 9 squares aerial photo series by Kacper Kowalski (2009). The series depicts a forest near Gdynia in north Poland. In order to see winter in all 9 squares, press here.

19 March 2010

The Simurgh

The distant king of birds, the Simurgh, drops one of his splendid feathers somewhere in the middle of China; on learning of this, the other birds, tired of their present anarchy, decide to seek him. They know that the king's name means "thirty birds"; they know that his castle lies in the Kaf, the mountain or range of mountains that ring the earth. At the outset, some of the birds lose heart; the nightingale pleads his love for the rose; the parrot pleads his beauty, for which he lives caged; the partridge cannot do without his home in the hills, nor the heron without his marsh, nor the owl without his ruins. But finally, certain of them set out on the perilous venture; they cross seven valleys or seas, the next to last bearing the name Bewilderment, the last the name Annihilation. Many of the pilgrims desert; the journey takes its toll among the rest. Thirty, made pure by their sufferings, reach the great peak of the Simurgh. At last they behold him; they realize that they are the Simurgh, and that the Simurgh is each of them and all of them.
This excerpt is taken, verbatim, from Borges' The Book of Imaginary Beings.
A being that is not one being, but many beings at once, is among the most intriguing inventions in literature. Also the word Behemoth is plural: it is a Hebrew word that stands for "beasts". Nazgûl, the nine riders from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, are lost to humanity not because they slavishly serve Sauron, but because they are a single creature consisting of what used to be nine.
The posted photograph is one of startling formations of starlings: to follow the flocking birds in their artistic spree, begin here.

18 March 2010


The tale goes (according to Borges) that the earth has its foundation on the fathomless sea, the sea on the rock, the rock on a band of sand, and the sand on Behemoth.
Here is Behemoth, my creature as thou art... (Job, XL).
The creature Behemoth sits on a stifling wind. The wind sits atop a mist, and what lies under the mist is unknown. It is whispered that beneath the mist there is a chasm of air, and beneath the air fire, and beneath the fire a serpent named Falak in whose mouth are the six hells. Albeit men and angels were forbidden to draw a map of hell, we know that the most vile and loathsome hells lie to the west.
So immense and dazzling is Behemoth that the eyes of man cannot bear its sight...
Sometimes, the being is too immense to be concretely imagined or imaginable. We attribute only an abstract shape to it. We worship it. We write dissertations about it. We fight wars over its existence. And all the while we walk on it, we build on it, we ride on it, we feed off it and we die into it.
The video excerpt is from Guliver, an intriguing short animation film by Zdenko Bašić about the tiny Lilliputians who, upon finding Gulliver, build their city on and around him (2009).

17 March 2010

Those Who Must Not Be Named

An excerpt from Monster, a Japanese anime series (aired in 2004-2005). This (37th) episode, Monster With No Name, features a tiny story within the story.
Monsters often bear no names. We bestow the same destiny on giants and trolls. This is probably because we don’t see a monster or a giant as a unique being apart from its kind. We only give a name to that being that we perceive as one of a kind.
Other than that, we are very keen on naming unique beings and things. Yet, there is one exception. We will rarely give a name to that which we honestly and intensively fear. While we throw names at the devil like pearls to a..., we are perfectly happy to remain on distant and nameless terms with God.
It is then not surprising that one of the most vile and feared of villains is Him Who Must Not Be Named, a character so cleverely developed in the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling. He Who Must Not Be Named is certainly not nameless (and arguably not a monster, either). In his world, he is absolutely notorious by his name. Yet, his name is very, very rarely (if ever) spoken.
In Earthsea, another book series (by Ursula K. Le Guin), the wizards’ power is equal to their ability to name beings and things by their true name.
“In infancy a child is named by its mother, and this name is used until he or she reaches the age of thirteen,” Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi explain about Earthsea in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. “The child then undergoes the rites of passage, wading through water to receive his or her true name. The true name is given by a witch or a wizard and is whispered to the child, and no one but the child and its namer knows it. As the magic of Earthsea is based upon the knowledge of the true names of things, whoever knows a man’s true name holds his life in keeping… In the Old Speech, all things have their true names, and he who speaks it can control them. Much of the language has been forgotten and it is now spoken only by dragons, although the mages study it and have more knowledge of it than ordinary mortals.”
In The Wizard of Earthsea (1975), the following exchange takes place between a dragon and Ged:
A grating sound came from the dragon's throat...
"You offer me safety! You threaten me! With what?"
"With your name, Yevaud."
Ged's voice shook as he spoke the name, yet he spoke it clear and loud. At the sound of it, the old dragon held still, utterly still.

So, fearless reader, what is your true name? Have you deposited it yet, insured it, valued it? Have you pledged it? Sold it?

16 March 2010


This is a drawing by a famed Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1815). In this drawing, Hokusai depicted a kappa (河童), a Japanese water imp that lives in ponds and creeks. Its favorite food is cucumbers, which is why a sushi roll with cucumber in the center is called a kappamaki (maki means roll). Its next favorite food is little children. Because of this, signs warning children of the kappa are found next to their dwelling places, and cucumbers are hung from ropes above the water.
When out of water, the kappa depends for strength on the water contained in a shallow dent at the top of its head. Without any water in this bowl-shaped hole, the kappa is helpless. This is why all the children know that one must always remember to bow to the kappa. Polite in spite of its wicked ways, the kappa will invariably bow in return and in doing so lose the water. At this point, it is best not to linger.

15 March 2010

A Bao A Qu

In the Book of Imaginary Beings (1967), Jorge Luis Borges retold a Malay tale about the staircase leading to the terrace of a tower in Chitor:
On the stairway of the Tower of Victory there has lived since the beginning of time a being sensitive to the many shades of the human soul and known as the A Bao A Qu. It lies dormant for the most part on the first step, until at the approach of a person some secret life is touched off in it, and deep within the creature an inner light begins to glow. At the same time, its body and almost translucent skin begin to stir. But only when someone starts up the spiralling stairs, is the A Bao A Qu brought to consciousness, and then it sticks close to the visitor's heels, keeping to the outside of the turning steps, where they are most worn by the generations of pilgrims. At each level the creature's colour becomes more intense, its shape approaches perfection, and the bluish form it gives off is more brilliant. But it achieves its ultimate form only at the topmost step, when the climber is a person who has attained Nirvana and whose acts cast no shadows. Otherwise, the A Bao A Qu hangs back before reaching the top, as if paralysed, its body incomplete, its blue growing paler, and its glow hesitant. The creature suffers when it cannot come to completion, and its moan is a barely audible sound, something like the rustling of silk. Its span of life is brief, since as soon as the traveller climbs down, the A Bao A Qu wheels and tumbles to the first steps, where, worn out and almost shapeless it waits for the next visitor. People say that its tentacles are visible only when it reaches the middle of the staircase. It is also said that it can see with its whole body and that to the touch it is like a skin of a peach.
In the course of centuries, the A Bao A Qu has reached the terrace only once.

12 March 2010

A story of floating weeds

A Story of Floating Weeds (originally: 浮草物語, Ukikusa monogatari), a silent film directed by Yasujiro Ozu (1934).

11 March 2010

Anne Frank

In Amsterdam, on 22 July 1941

10 March 2010


A silent scene featuring a touring pantomime troupe in Blow-up, a superb British-Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (1966).

Miha's silence

4'33", an infuriating composition of 4 minutes and 33 seconds long silence on piano by John Cage, an avantgarde composer from the United States.

08 March 2010


A scene with Ruan Lingyu from a silent Hong Kong film The Goddess directed by Wu Yonggang (1934), and a scene from Yuen Ling-Yuk, a recent Hong Kong film about Ruan Lingyu that was directed by Stanley Kwan (1992). The film Yuen Ling-Yuk also often appears under the names of Centre Stage or Actress. Ruan Lingyu sadly committed suicide when 24.

Once upon a time, a little man

Russian animation seems all too often overlooked, despite the fact that it is (among) the very best and that it typically tops any list of ranks. Norstein's films take the first and the second place on any list.
Why, despite its wide-spread critical acclaim (and the astonishing number of animation projects), do we see so little of it?
I really don’t know. I am very interested to hear your thoughts.
You should not regard my selection as very representative. It is but a small peek into a much more diverse, astonishing and colourful world of images than I could ever possibly depict in mere two weeks.
My selection followed literature, tales, poetry and songs. The very best animation in Russia is almost invariably based on one of these. I selected some of animated features that are based on Western literature (like Vinnie Puh or 221b Baker Street). Many acclaimed poems for children have been turned into animations (like Uspensky's Sidorov Vova). The same goes for epic songs (like the ancient Slavic ballad When The Sand Will Rise).
And the folk tales from the many peoples living in Russia have been turned into animations (like The Raven Deceiver from Kamchatka, the Kuygorož from Mordavia or Maslenica from Armenia).
While Ivan The Terrible is not based on any particular folk tale, it is certainly about a hero that is featured in many Russian folk tales. It is of course not an animated film, yet it has the same once upon a time lore. And, finally, The Story of a Crime features the only hero that could be a hero in communism: the little man.

07 March 2010

The tale of the Itelmen people

The Raven Deceiver (in original Russian: Ворон-обманщик), a short animated film directed by Andrei Kuznecov (2005). The film is based on a folk tale of the Itelmen people from Kamchatka. It should be easy enough to follow the story for those of you who are not familiar with Russian.

05 March 2010

Mokshan tale

The basis for this short is a Mokshan tale from Mordovia, Russia: What To Do? aka Kuygorož. The short animated film was directed by Sergei Merinov (2007). You can skip the introductory part and begin at 1:38.
The heroes of the story are Pyatan and Akulya, whose bodies never work and whose minds are envious even when sleeping. They are even too lazy to reproduce, or so the story goes.
While laziness certainly has its perks, hunger is not one of them. Pyatan, after finding no food, wakes up Akulya. “Eh, Akulya, what shall we do? The very room shall collapse in hunger. The house is empty and the shed is not thick. We’ll starve to death!”
“Pheew, you old devil, you scared me!” says Akulya in response.
“Old devil, you say? Oh, you are right, he is the one to call…”
Now Akulya gets an idea and tells Pyatan, with as much excitement as a lazy babushka can muster, that an old tree in the forest is hiding a snake’s egg that goes by the name of Kuygorož (originally in Russian: Куйгорож). That egg would make them rich, with no effort of theirs at all.
Pyatan, being the man (if an unusually obedient one) is the one to take up the quest.
When he finds the tree with the blackest of black trunks, Pyatan crosses himself virtuously and calls to god. At that, the tree shakes and dissapears underground.
Eggless, Pyatan returns. Akulya is not happy. She immediately guesses that Pyatan must have been calling to god.
She helps Pyatan to overcome such urges, entrusts him with a shaggy horse and sends them both on their quest.
As it turns out, the tree is now standing again, larger and blacker than before. This time, Pyatan gets the egg. At home, Pyatan and Akulya are face to face to Kuygorož:
“Kik-kik! I am Kuygorož! Kik-kik! What shall I do? Give me work! If not, I will destroy and break everything!”
Pyatan and Akulya put him to work immediately. Their wishes, in short, are threefold:
The first wish is for food. Not much is needed to satisfy this wish.
The second wish is for beautiful and rich clothes that befit the very boyars. It takes some time before they find the right attire.
The third wish is: to be envied! A palace with a courtyard appears and pushes against the neighbouring houses so as not to be missed. And as they further wish that a party takes place in a palace with guests of noble origin, Kuygorož transforms forest creatures into noble guests for the night. The guests appear weird to Pyatan and Akulya. “Beware of your vulgarity, old man, and don’t show it in front of our noble guests!” says an impressed Akulya. They both bow low to the guests and greet them.
“Bonžur, dear guests.”
“Salaam aleikum!”
A wild party ensues. At the sound of the first cock, the weird guests all change back and disappear. Kuygorož finds Petyan and Akulya, exhausted, asleep behind the table.
“Kik-kik! I’m Kuygorož! What shall I do?” Akulya responds that there is nothing that they need any longer.
“Kik-kik! I’m Kuygorož…”
“Enough! Get out! Don’t you see – the mistress is resting!
As soon as Akulya utters these words, Kuygorož does what was announced. Just like there is nothing left to wish for Petyan and Akulya, there is also nothing left to destroy and break for Kuygorož.

04 March 2010

Ivan The Terrible

An unforgettable scene from the first part of Ivan The Terrible, a film by Sergei Eisenstein (1943). If lacking patience, begin watching at 3:10.

03 March 2010

When the sand will rise

When The Sand Will Rise, an animated short by Galina Barinova (1986). Barinova based the film on a truly ancient Russian song that was originally collected in the 1800s by Ivan Kireyevskiy. Subtitles should appear, and a full translation (if somewhat clumsy) is available on youtube in a side bar.

01 March 2010

The story of a crime

The Story of a Crime, an animated short - a debut - by Fyodor Khitruk (1962). Seven years later, Khitruk would go on to create Vinni Puh.