Thursday, May 23, 2013

How I Got My Beak

I know the world wants to know and I suppose I owe the world an explanation.  That's actually far from the truth because I just started to think of this as I was putting together one of the many proposals I submit every month to various venues or opportunities for exhibition.  The picture above is a PR shot for my Kali Shadow Theater, a thirteen minute performance involving puppets, drawings, music and two live actors.   My wife and I have had two opportunities to perform this since developing it in 2010. I was hoping to make an expanded version for the Dumbo Arts Festival this fall but didn't make the cut.    So, I'll postpone work on that until either an opportunity presents itself or I have more time...grrrr.

But meanwhile in the time between the proposal and rejection I did have time to ponder the role of the villain and where he came from and how to elaborate that role. I discovered one interesting juxtaposition that I missed in 2010.  First.

The villain in my shadow theater, The Birdman, actually comes from Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton.

In the opening authors notes, Merton begins,
 "Where there is carrion lying, meat-eating birds circle and descend. Life and death are two.  The living attack the dead, to their own profit.  The dead lose nothing by it.  They gain too, by being disposed of.  Or they seem to, if you think in terms of gain and loss."  (emphasis of duality mine)

Merton is actually observing that in the body of Zen there is nothing for the vultures to feast on, there is no body.

As I started to ponder the birds of appetite, what came to mind in relating the story of Kali to our contemporary situation was the notion of "birds" that consume the Commons.  (Perhaps the best description of this is Naomi Kleins' The Shock Doctrine, in which the corporatization of that which we once considered held in common is outlined)
My play has a character that both builds and consumes with no thought to consequence.

 Almost as a precursor to Klein, in Merton's closing remarks he writes this:
"Western industrial culture is in the curious position of having simultaneously reached the climax of an entire totalitarian rationality of organization and of complex absurdity and self-contradiction.  Existentialists and a few others have noticed this absurdity.  But the majority persist in seeing only the rational machinery against which no protest avails: because, after all. it is "rational." and it is "a fact." So, too, is the internal contradiction."

So as I began to seek a personification of the animal instinct for profit and consumption at all cost; that acts in opposition to the natural cycle of birth and death in my production, I needed a simple mask., something that would play well as a shadow.

Plaster carving, 2010 © William Evertson

My first step was to carve a plaster form, a form over which I could shape flexible masks.

Copper mesh mask with acrylic and gold leaf, 2010 © William Evertson

Next, copper mesh screening was folded and pressed onto the mold to form the mask to be used during the shadow theater.  (paint and gold leaf added later for exhibition purposes)

Some rehearsal excerpts showing the mask (ca.2010)

Fast forward to 2013 and I am in the opening pages of Dan Brown's new book, Inferno and there is mention of plague masks.  Which I immediately google and find....

Paulus Furst’s 1656 engraving of Dr. Schnabel ("Beak") of Rome 
wearing protective clothing typical of the plague doctors of Rome at the time.

So, as I ponder my beak and the artist's role in society, I have another theme to pursue as I await the right opportunity to amplify and expand my shadow theater repertoire. 

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