Film Festival Trophies

Every year we make the awards for the Pueblo 24 hour film festival in our home town Pueblo CO.  This year we made a video to accompany the process.  Rather than write about this one, I’ll let you watch.

The screening was this weekend and the entire event was very successful, with 25 entries and 18 films for judging.  The big winners of the night were the makers of a film called “The Brighter Side”, Gabe and I were lucky to catch up with the winning team, Lyonman productions at the event to offer congratulations.FullSizeRender

You can view the film here:

The festival is in its 7th year and is growing steadily, If you are interested in learning more or possibly entering a film next year, their website will fill you in of the details:

http://pueblo24hourfilmfestival.com

You can also watch the films from previous years at this address.

Minoan “Snake Goddess” Figurines

The Minoan culture, Lasting from approximately 5000 bp to 3450 bp is commonly thought of as the beginning of the group of cultures commonly referred to as Western Civilization.  Located on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean sea, the Minoan culture is known today by the many wonderful artifacts left behind following the cataclysmic end of the society.  We must know them through their art, for although the Minoans were literate,  their written language known as Linear A has yet to be translated, and so the writings of the culture are unknown to us.

So it seems we know the Minoans largely by what we do and do not see in the archeological record.  Though it is commonly understood that the Minoans were a great sea power of the time, through records of other cultures, and the ruins of palaces left on the island are spectacular in their luxury and beauty , we find no evidence of a large military presence on the island and the island itself bears very few markers of fortification.  Rather than military might, the artifacts and ruins point to a prosperous culture with a love of beauty and art.

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Among these treasures are fragments of 3  figurines collectively knows as “Snake Goddesses”.  Discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1903 in a storage pit beneath the central court at Knossos, The figurines are typically dated at the time of their destruction around 3600 bp though it is likely they existed before this time.  The objects are ceramic with a faience finish.  Faience is among the first true glazes know to western culture and is composed primarily of ground and tinted quartz.  The figures that we know so well today are largely reconstructed, and much of that was speculative, so for example, the hat of the figure known as the “votive” (above) may or may not belong with this figurine, and the head and left arm were reconstructed using the images on frescoes and symmetrical matching rather than anything found on site.

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Without written language to point the way, all concepts of meaning and identity of the woman are speculation, but it is commonly held that these figurines represent priestess’ rather than a goddess, and in fact, the costume that they wear are seen represented in other media as well.  Here are examples of frescoes and gold work featuring similarly dressed figures.

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There is also a strong presence of women and snakes among more simple clay figurines that have been discovered in more common burial sites on the island which does point to some religious meaning for the symbolically charged figurines, though there are almost no examples of this image in a domestic context in the archeological record.

What ever her purpose was then, these figurines have captivated the minds of the west since her discovery.  A google search titled “Minoan Snake Goddess” shows historical and archeological images mixed together with contemporary sculpture, painting, performance art and cult writing centered on these ancient images.  I love them for their strength and strangeness, all the more for knowing they are so heavily reconstructed.  The objects have become a collaboration of the distant past and the recent past, with modern science continually reviewing the connection.  As theories change, our concepts of meaning and symbology can evoke as well, yet her mysteries will never be full penetrated.  It seems then she  has everything a good muse needs.

sources:

I did consult books for the writing of this article but was not able to use much of what if discovered there as it was not specific enough.  those books were: The Art of Crete and Early Greece  by Friedrich Matz 1962 and Minoan and Mycenaean Art by Reynold Higgins 1997.  My main source for this piece was a wonderful website, Art History Resources by Christopher LCE Whitcombe.  A link to the extensive section on my subject is here:

http://arthistoryresources.net/snakegoddess/discovery.html

Ceramics of Dolni Vestonice

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The woman of Dolni Vestonice was discovered in the present day Czech Republic in 1925 at the site known as Dolni Vestonice. The site is located in the Pavlov hills among concentrations of loess with small amounts of clay and sand. It is from this material that the 11.5 cm figurine (Just over 4.5 inches) was made. Concerning her composition, she is among artifacts from the oldest known ceramic production in the world. She was discovered broken in two pieces in the midst of an ash deposit, the remaining section of her legs were never found. Accompanying the figure in the ash deposit were several animal figurines, also of ceramic and several unknown ceramic fragments (Verpoorte). The object was dated between 31,000 and 27,000 BP (Cook 66).

This period occurs at the LGM or Last Glacial Maximum of the Ice Age, though the site in question was among the most temperate in the region due to favorable geographic location and geologic features.  It may have been for this reason the the site was occupied for so long.  Some of these favorable conditions also led the site to be along a major animal migration route, especially mammoth, which would have provided food, clothing and shelter for the people, which would have been another reason for the concentration of archeological sites in the area.

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This image is of the region in present time.  The settlements of Dolni Vestonice and the surrounding areas represent some of the best studied and documented sites from the Gravettian period.  Excavation began in 1924 under the direction of K. Absolon.  These digs are the most extensive and provide much of the basis for modern scholarship on the area.  Two digs occurred around the Second World War and then again in the early 1990’s, primarily to attain materials for carbon dating of the sites (Verpoorte 38).

As stated above, the material that composes the “ceramic” objects of the region was primarily loess found on site (windblown silt) comprised primarily of alumina and silica with trace amounts of quartz and muscovite mica (Verpoorte 98), mixed with water.  The material had a very low clay content.  The objects were created by an additive process of pressing and sculpting major body forms and and attaching legs, and  tails etc.  According to electron microscope analysis, there was no post creation attention given to the objects in the form of smoothing, burnishing or pigment additions (Cook 147)

The majority of the ceramic objects found in Dolni Vestonice relocated in and around ash layers in large hearths.  These hearths also contained burnt bone fragments and charcoal, pointing to types of fuel used in the firing process.  The dark color of the ceramics points to a reduction atmosphere in the hearth like kilns that fired the work, though some fragments colored red and orange point to some oxidation.  This indicates that either the work was fired within the fuel used to heat the kiln, or a layer of ash was used to protect the work as it fired.  Average firing temperatures were between 500 and 800 degrees C (932-1472 degrees fahrenheit), though it is cautioned that works fired below these temperatures would not have survived the the span of years and do not appear in the fossil record.  Firing times are estimated at a few hours. (Verpoorte 98)

Contemporary thought on the anatomy of the “kilns” is one of caution.  While it is true that ground features surrounding the hearths point to an advanced understanding of fire and heat, the region of the sites is one that has been subject to a great deal of geological turmoil over the last 30,000 years and so little knowledge about placement is absolute.  The hearths were large kettle shaped depressions, this area is where most of the fired material was discovered.  In front of the hearth run two separate gullies.  Many archeologists believe this points to a partly covered (likely with clay and limestone) kiln with two channels for the movement of air (Verpoorte 59).

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The objects themselves are primarily of 3 types, figurative (including animals) structural and small unformed pellets, and nearly all these objects are broken.  The most well known of these are the figurative works, two of which are pictured in this post and whose making has already been discussed.  The structural ceramics appear to be incidental, possibly resulting from the accidental burning of structures in the settlement.  These objects are formed from slabs of conjoined strips and often contain prints of cordage, knots and woven plant fibers (Verpoorte 98).  The last type, the rough formed clay pellets are possibly the most thought provoking and point to an intriguing theory about the ceramic production at Dolni Vestonice.

An estimated 99% of the ceramic taken from the hearths was broken.  the most common of these breaks appear along joints in the construction of the objects.  Of these fragments, half of the breaks are due to mechanical forces, such as being crushed, and half are the result of thermal shock, due to firing the object while still wet (Verpoorte 98).  Given our understanding of kiln technology at the time, it is theorized that the ancient ceramists knew enough about firing to understand how this might be prevented (Cook 148).  That these fragments are the primary type of ceramic found at the sites and that there is almost no ceramic outside the hearth areas, indicating that it was not removed and used for later purposes, a prominent theory among archeologists is that the explosions that occurred in the kiln served some community or ceremonial purpose and that this was the sole purpose of the ceramic production (Verpoorte 100)

While we will never truly know the motives of people that lived so long ago and all the science is in some ways speculation, the exploration is meaningful.  It connects us to a time when art was just begging, it is the first influence in that all art proceeds from that which came before.  Looking at these early pieces and the techniques by which they were made can be a sort of reset, to cleanse the palate of all that is being made in contemporary art and connect to what is fundamental in the urge to create.

Works Cited

Verpoorte, Alexander. Places of art, traces of fire: a contextual approach to anthropomorphic figurines in the Pavlovian (Central Europe, 29-24 kyr BP). Leiden: Faculty of Archaeology, University of Leiden ;, 2001. Print.

Cook, J.. Ice Age art: the arrival of the modern mind. London: The British Museum Press, 2013. Print.

Clay Slab Sculpture

Slabs are the most versatile method for building in clay.  Dropping “slab built clay sculpture” into a search engine brings us a dazzling array of ideas, approaches and techniques.  As a ceramist, I feel somewhat comfortable working with any technique in clay, but I return again and again to slabs because they allow the greatest possible speed and control for constructing asymmetrical forms.

Slab building is usually divided into two categories, the first is soft slab construction.  Here, the clay is pressed into slabs, either by slab roller, hand rolling or throwing.  since we don’t have a slab roller at the PCC studio, we will be using hand-made techniques.  Here is a nice video to get you thinking about the process.

http://www.ehow.com/video_2377003_hand-making-clay-slab.html

Once the slab is created, soft slab construction begins immediately and uses the plasticity of the wet clay to create sensual organic forms.  this piece, made a just before Foxy-Wolff started, is entirely soft slab constructed except for the head, which is made from pinched forms.  Please note the strong texture on the body of the lion, this is a great potential of the soft slab and can add a significant dimension to the piece.

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The slab can also be used as an independent sculptural element, to define space or communicate an idea in relation to form.  This vessel straddles the figure and architecture with the addition of the gate/shrine at the top of the torso.Warrior. November 2007  Stoneware  20in h.

The second type of slab construction is stiff slab.  Here slabs are created and sometimes pressed into molds and then allowed to dry so that they may retain their rigid forms and hold strong angles.  This is the method of construction for the doll houses made for our film series “The Magic Box” In this project, each wall was made and cast in plaster, then soft slabs were pressed into the molds and allowed to dry, when all the pieces were “leather hard” we assembled them into the structure of the first floor of the “Empty Room” house.IMG_6377IMG_6375

Another form to consider in using slabs, are tiles.  While this may seem very obvious, tiles do not need to be boring or predictable.  The use of sculptural relief and texture in both body and surface can create engaging and dynamic works of art.  This tile by Gabe began as a soft slab that was sculpted, including the addition of the sea shell elements which were pressed in using a mold made specifically for the purpose and the addition of the spiral shells.  the entire form was then cast.  This allows us to create this piece again and again using various images and glazing schemes.

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