Saturday, November 30, 2013

Research Excerpts | Humanistic Geometry: Oskar Schlemmer "Man"

Oskar Schlemmer's study of proportions, after Durer
I continue in my research journey to the exploration of geometric narratives of human body and movement; the many encounters with the Bauhaus masters are most inspirational and make me wonder what they would have done with contemporary technologies. The "master" du jour is again Oskar Schlemmer: I am plunging into "Man" an edited collection of his teaching notes. Already in the introduction, by Heimo Kuchling, the intent is clearly stated:
In Goethe's vision [Johann Wolfgang Goethe,Wilhelm Meister's Travels, Book 2, 'The Man Aged Fifty Years'], quoted by Oskar Schlemmer in the notes to his 'Course on man', the Bauhaus master saw the ideal of the Bauhaus: it should be a centre of work and teaching with a conscious goal, co-ordinating the arts and examining the laws of form, a refuge for artistic reflection, in which new ideas would be born and tested and in which they could mature. Harmonious collaboration between teachers and pupils was to create a total work of art combining architecture, painting, and sculpture, which was to set the path for the future and clarify the confusion of period styles. 
Kuchling, Heimo, ed. Oskar Schlemmer: Man: Teaching Notes from the Bauhaus. MIT Press, 1971. 

The human body is often analysed and decomposed in a series of parametric segments, with end points corresponding to anatomical joints. It becomes a dynamic diagram, almost an energy chart as shown in several drawings where the human figure is decomposed in a series of circles

Oskar Schlemmer's diagram of figures

In the transition to the moving body Schlemmer simplifies the process even further: the body becomes a series of vectors, lines and arrow representing physical forces:

A moving figure according to Oskar Schlemmer

Images from:
Kuchling, Heimo, ed. Oskar Schlemmer: Man: Teaching Notes from the Bauhaus. MIT Press, 1971.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Research Excerpts | The Bauhaus Gesamtkunstwerk

In the past week my research was inspired by the Bauhaus notion of gesamtkunstwerk  (total work) which emerged from my subconscious or art and architecture history; I was surprised that this inspiring and relevant precedent did not appear at earlier stage.  The Bauhaus had an organic synergetic approach to design and the gesamtkunstwerk included architecture, visual and performing arts, as well as crafts. The concept is best expressed in Walter Gropius' introduction to Die Bühne im Bauhaus (The Theatre of the Bauhaus) by Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy, Farkas Molnár

...the Bauhaus embraced the whole range of visual arts: architecture, planning, painting, sculpture, industrial design, and stage work. The aim of the Bauhaus was to find a new and power- ful working correlation of all the processes of artistic creation to culminate finally in a new cultural equilibrium of our visual environment. This could not be achieved by individual withdrawal into an ivory tower. Teachers and students as a working community had to become vital participants of the modern world, seeking a new synthesis of art and modern technology. Based on the study of the biological facts of human perception, the phenomena of form and space were investigated in a spirit of unbiased curiosity, to arrive at objective means with which to relate individual creative effort to a common background.  

I find a lot of overlapping between the focus of my research on the geometry of movement and Oskar Schlemmer's studies on the geometric definition of human body and space, often expressed in the design of costumes. I found also this description very relevant to my research (p. 91) remains perforce our essential element. And of course he will remain so as long as the stage exists. In contradistinction to the rationalistically determined world of space, form, and color, man is the vessel of the subconscious, the unmediated experi- ence, and the transcendental. He is the organism of flesh and blood, con- ditioned by measure and by time. And he is the herald, indeed he is the creator, of possibly the most important element of theater: SOUND, WORD, LANGUAGE. 

Costumes are body extensions to space and create forms which integrate both. The 1922  "Triadisches Ballett" is probably the most inspiring work: geometry informs both the human body and pattern of movement:

Text  excerpts and images from: 
Schlemmer, Oskar, L. Moholy-Nagy, and F. Molnar. "The Theatre of the Bauhaus (Middletown, Conn." (1961).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts | Giving Thanks

Today, across the Pacific in the northern hemisphere, people travel hundreds, perhaps thousands, kilometers to gather with families and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Usually this holiday represents for me the approach of winter, and the feared holiday season: the apotheosis of consumerism announced by the black Friday madness —as well as  the beginning of overeating and over-drinking to cope with family dysfunctionality. And of course Thanksgiving day is also about the hyperreal Thanksgiving Macy's Parade  which I am able to witness on first line, as my home is one block away. But this year while I am remote from all the above, in a faraway country, Thanksgiving day offers some moments of quiet time and reflection. 

And right today I have a major reason to be thankful: it is the first almost pain-free day in over four weeks! And the anticipated return to one of my favorite endorphins releasing activity —power walking— makes me compile a list for the many things,I am thankful for, some given for granted, until we loose them, like walking.

I am thankful for: 
  • walking pain free again;  
  • good health;
  • inner strength which always prevails on my fragility
  • a comfortable home I will return to next week
  • the "angels" I always encounter in the moments when they are most needed
  • a yoga practice which has been my faithful companion for several years
  • using creativity and art as survival means in the most difficult situations
  • finding a soft spot between a rock and hard place
It has been a tough year, adventuring in this research project on the other side of the planet. A research I truly believe in, which has encountered so many obstacles. I have been facing solitude and marginalization, found myself in a disability condition without a support system. Yet I was able to endure as challenges of different nature intersect my path. I am still here, pursuing something I believe in: I am not giving up is what I decided when purchasing a return flight ticket.


Friday, November 22, 2013

PhD Journey | Another Week...

Another week in my PhD drama has passed and no progress in the access to the resources needed for my research. Actually, I decided not to define my PhD journey a drama any longer, and try to be less emotional; I will just look at the statistics of progress/lack of progress. Numbers always bring some type of comfort, after all.
On Wednesday I had an energizing day in Melbourne, although the usual pain in the ankle made walking even short distance a challenge. The purpose was attending a workshop on data visualization, which was extremely informative and even inspiring. Going to Melbourne is always refreshing.
The positive of the past couple of days is also that the pain in my ankle/leg, although is still a constant presence, is decreasing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson  wrote “Life is a journey, not a destination.” but in my PhD case I have really to focus on the destination, as the academic journey is bring mainly frustrations. As I am in mood for quotes, J.R.R. Tolkien's “Not all those who wander are lost.” is bringing some sense of comfort and meaning.
Below are stills from the Finding the Axis Mundi ritualistic sequence: a vinyasa with modified suria namaskar (sun salutation) which includes headstand variations; I practise the sequence twice a day combined with 12 straight legs push ups and several other exercises for abdominals.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Living With Pain: Modified, Yet Tenacious Practice

I am still dealing with severe pain in the left leg, which makes walking extremely challenging; I believe that I am suffering of a stress fracture. The photos show my practice from past Sunday, which brought some emotional (and perhaps even physical) relief.

Monday, November 18, 2013

camminando | Summer Weather

Yesterday I could nor resist the temptation of a walk in Eastern Beach, at the Geelong Waterfront, in a sunny day. It is strange to see a Christmas tree in this hot temperature —81 degrees Fahrenheit. Even a short walk caused pain: will I ever heal?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thoughts | Good Days, Bad Days: Finding the Core

My PhD journey continues, after an important decision taken a couple days. Yet, every morning, a few minutes after I woke up, usually in a peaceful state, the fear of what the days will bring arise; it has been an emotional roller coaster with many lows and very few —if any— highs.
Metaphors have been provided an interpretative framework throughout this journey and am actually realizing that the all the PhD related experience itself can be considered a metaphor of a journey in life.
"Engage your core" is usually heard several times throughout a Pilates class, and that I was telling myself during my painful walk to the shuttle bus. As I have to modify my walking gait to compensate for avoidance of pain in the left lower limb, I am trying to compensate and find any walking posture which can relieve the pain. The core engagement helps at least to keep a mindful posture. And the metaphor of the "existential core" to actively engage provides motivation and inspiration.

My current working position, at the doctor's suggestion:
the leg has to be kept elevated on the desk to help with the ankle swelling,
with an ice gel pack wrapped around with a towel.
It is no comfortable and I am not sure if it really helps, but provides a good hamstring stretch.
I am also trying to engage the foot flexed upward from the ankle, and spreading the toes as in several yoga postures.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

All Things Considered...

Last night I had a pleasant break from my daily routine: a night out in Melbourne, my first one since when I arrived in March. Strolling in & out eateries and bars in Brunswick Street reminded me of the Lower East Side.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Achilles Tendon

I had a weekend of complete RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) making the healing of my left lower limb a priority. I used the anti-inflammatory lotion as directed; a kind soul, another RTC resident, dropped me off and picked me up from the library on campus, minimizing painful walking. But it did not help: this morning I woke up with mild pain and the usual swelling in the ankle. The pain, which has extended to the Achilles tendon, increased throughout the following hours, probably due to walking for the routine activities. Walking 1 km to the shuttle bus stop made the pain severe. I was in tears when I got on the bus.
I spent some time trying to investigate what is the economic of a medical treatment, which would involve MRI for diagnostics and physical therapy. As international student I am covered by the private insurance BUPA and I have just learned that none of the above is in their coverage. Good news for USA expats! After all, our health care and insurance system is not so bad. It could be worse in Australia, where to get prompt medical attention you cannot rely on medical insurances.
After this morning meeting I also realized that my PhD is not going very far, unless is transformed into something quite different from the initial research proposal, which made leave a design practice, family, friends and comfortable lifestyle in New York, to relocate to a place, where I don't have any support system even in case of injury.
Often I feel like a character in a "twilight zone" episode, my stress level, aggravated by the extremely limited mobility due to the leg injury, has become almost intolerable. It is quite a scary coincidence how the injury relates to the Achilles tendon, amplifying my vulnerability. My next step: start searching for flights home, facing the holidays blues and third winter in a row. Endurance has lost any sense of challenge, becoming just a synonymous of masochism.