Art Documentary Music
Through Totemic Sculptures and Sound Art, Guadalupe Maravilla Explores the Therapeutic Power of Indigenous Ritual
In 1984, eight-year-old Guadalupe Maravilla left his family and joined a group of other children fleeing their homes in El Salvador. The Central American country was in the midst of a brutal civil war, a profoundly traumatic experience that’s left an indelible impact on the artist and one that guides his broad, multi-disciplinary practice to this day.
Now based in Brooklyn, Maravilla works across painting, sculpture, and sound-based performances all veiled with autobiography, whether informed by the Mayan architecture and stone totems that surrounded him as a child or his cancer diagnosis as a young adult. His pieces are predominately therapeutic and rooted in Indigenous ritual and mythology, recurring themes the team at Art21 explores in a new documentary.
“Guadalupe Maravilla & the Sound of Healing” follows the artist as he prepares for his solo exhibition on view through September 6 at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Titled Planeta Abuelx, or Grandparent Planet—Maravilla expands on the often-used idea of Mother Nature to broaden its scope—the outdoor show is comprised of the artist’s trademark Disease Throwers, towering headdresses and shrines made of recycled aluminum. Allusions to Central American culture bolster the monumental works, with imprints of corn cobs, wooden toys, and other found objects planted throughout.
Covering the surrounding grass are chalky white markings, a signature component of the artist’s practice that delineate every space where he installs a piece. The abstract patterns evoke Tripa Chuca, one of Maravilla’s favorite childhood games that involves players drawing lines between corresponding numbers to create new intertwined motifs.
In Planeta Abuelx, Maravilla pairs his visual works with meditative performances that are based on the sound baths he used for pain management while undergoing chemotherapy. These healing therapies are designed to reduce anxiety and tension that often trigger stress-induced diseases. Using gongs and glass vessels, the palliative remedy has been the foundation of workshops the artist hosts for undocumented immigrants and others dealing with cancer that more deeply connect his totemic artworks to the viewers.
“Having a community that has gone through similar experiences can be really empowering,” he says. “Making these elaborate Disease Throwers is not just about telling a story from my past, but it’s also about how this healing ritual can continue in the future, long after I’m gone.”
If you’re in New York, Maravilla is hosting a sound bath to mark the close of Planeta Abuelx on September 4, and you can see more of his multivalent projects on Instagram. For a larger archive of documentaries exploring the lives and work of today’s most impactful artists, like this visit to Wangechi Mutu’s Nairobi studio, check out Art21’s site.
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An Insightful Short Film Follows a 90-Year-Old Fisherman Who Clears Plastic from Bali’s Coasts
Each day, 90-year-old Wayan gathers his nets and mesh sacks and sets his small boat out on the coast of Bali. The jewel-toned waters used to be a prime location for fishing, a profession Wayan practiced throughout childhood and continued for decades, but today, instead of reeling in massive catches and struggling to drag them back to shore, he’s finding an overabundance of disposable containers and garbage where the once-thriving marine populations used to live—some reports estimate that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
In her impactful short film “Voice Above Water,” San Francisco-based director Dana Frankoff visits Wayan at his coastal home and chronicles his adapted routine: rather than harvesting food for his family and community, he scoops up wrappers, bottles, and other refuse and carries the discarded material back to the beach for recycling. “The story is a glimpse into how one human is using his resources to make a difference and a reminder that if we all play our part we can accomplish something much greater than ourselves,” Frankoff says.
“Voice Above Water” is the director’s debut film, and you can follow her work on Vimeo. (via Laughing Squid)
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Guardians of Paradise: An Intimate Short Film Peers into Life in Burma
Comprised of footage shot between 2018 and 2020, “Guardians of Paradise” offers an intimate and sensitive glimpse at Burmese life. The short film shows children at play on docks, a fisherman as he pulls in his net, and others as they practice religious rituals in an attentive look at the joyful, trying, and mundane moments.
Directed by Ivan Maria Friedman of the Lausanne, Switzerland-based studio Maya Pictures with music by Max Richter, “Guardian’s of Paradise” is a small window into the Southeast Asian country prior to the February 1 miliary coup, which was prompted by unfounded claims of voter fraud following the election of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “In a moment where they need international attention the most, this work wishes to portray the uniqueness of the Burmese culture, as well as to bear witness of their incredible strength, whose true power lies in compassion, gracefulness, true generosity, and human dignity,” Friedman says.
See more candid photos and footage from the filmmaker’s visits on Instagram.
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A Visit to Wangechi Mutu’s Nairobi Studio Explores Her Profound Ties to Nature and the Feminine
Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu made history in 2019 when her four bronze sculptures became the first ever to occupy the niches of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s facade. Stretching nearly seven feet, the seated quartet evokes images of heavily adorned African queens and intervenes in the otherwise homogenous canons of art history held within the institution’s walls.
The monumental figures are one facet of Mutu’s nuanced body of work that broadly challenges colonialist, racist, and sexist ideologies. Now on view at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor is the latest iteration of the artist’s subversive projects: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? disperses imposing hybrid creatures in bronze and towering sculptures made of soil, branches, charcoal, cowrie shells, and other organic materials throughout the neoclassical galleries. The figurative works draw a direct connection between the Black female body and ecological devastation as they reject the long-held ideals elevated in the space.
No matter the medium, these associations reflect Mutu’s deep respect for and fascination with the ties between nature, the feminine, and African history and culture, a guiding framework that the team at Art21 explores in a recently released documentary. Wangechi Mutu: Between the Earth and the Sky visits the artist’s studio in her hometown of Nairobi and dives into the evolution of her artwork from the smaller collaged paintings that centered her early practice as a university student in New York to her current multi-media projects that have grown in both scope and scale.
Whether a watercolor painting with photographic scraps or one of her mirror-faced figures encircled with fringe, Mutu’s works are founded in an insistence on the value of all life and the ways the earth’s history functions as a source of knowledge, which she explains:
I truly believe that there’s something about taking these bits and pieces of trees, and animals and completely anonymous but extremely identifiable items and placing them somewhere that draws their energy, wherever they were coming from, whatever they did, whatever molten lava they came out of a million years ago, that is now in my work and that little piece of energy is magnified.
Dive further into Mutu’s practice by watching the full documentary above, and see a decades-long archive of her paintings, sculptures, collages, and other works on Artsy and Instagram.
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Footsteps: How an Isolated Artificial Home in Ontario Produces Sound for Myriad Blockbuster Films
A modest house nestled into the bucolic countryside of Uxbridge, Ontario, is home to a premier sound facility behind an impressive array of films, TV series, and video games. Brimming with an eclectic collection of objects and antiques, Footsteps Studio has aided in the post-production audio effects for projects like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Big Short, and The Handmaid’s Tale all generated by a small team on the unassuming grounds.
In a short documentary, director Jeremy Benning tours the workspace— each room of the house functions as a recording studio and is insulated by an elaborate outer wall engineered to act as a buffer from outdoor noises—and speaks with three Foley artists responsible for enhancing audio experiences following filming. Benning goes behind the scenes with the company to demonstrate the laborious snd surprising methods used to artificially intensify the sound effects, whether as the clatter of a skateboard, the gnashing of a zombie feast, or the deviously subtle clip-clop of high-heeled shoes.
Watch the full documentary above to see more of the unusual techniques behind some of today’s most iconic productions. (via Short of the Week)
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Art Documentary History
A Short Documentary Explores the Life of the ‘Artifact Artist’ Who’s Been Excavating New York City’s Trash for Decades
Descending into old privies, scouring landfills, and sneaking onto construction sites in the middle of the night are habitual activities for urban archaeologist Scott Jordan. For nearly five decades, he’s been excavating the trash and forgotten artifacts buried deep underneath New York City’s residential areas and fast-growing developments. His findings are diverse and revealing of the area’s past, offering a glimpse into the consumption habits and lifestyles of previous generations that date back to the 18th Century.
A new documentary produced by Kaleidoscope Pictures chronicles Jordan’s lifelong practice that involves digging and uncovering items that he then transforms into new artworks. Dubbed “The Artifact Artist,” the short film by the same name follows the archaeologist and historian as he pulls glass bottles, Civil War-era garments, and small toys from the earth. While Jordan cleans and restores much of the pottery and well-preserved items, he utilizes the rest to create jewelry and assembled, sculptural works that nestle into shadowboxes, which he then sells at flea markets.
Watch the full documentary below, and find more information on Jordan’s site, Things Found NYC, which he runs with Belle Costes. Shop the pair’s findings on Etsy. (via Kottke)
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Editor's Picks: Documentary
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.