Saturday, 27 October 2012


Mimmo Paladino is an international artist who still lives in the small south Italian town where he grew up. There's an exhibition at a villa in Sorrento which is all sculpture and installation, and I'm never quite sure what to make of his sculptures: sometimes they look wilfully archaic, sometimes just odd. It's his paintings and prints I really like. But I like these 'sleepers': I never realised they float on the water. Quite uncanny, the slight, gentle movement, in a state of suspension. (They just happened to be aligned perfectly at that moment.) Some years ago there was an exhibition of non-floating dreamers in the Round House in London, with a sound installation by Brian Eno. The villa is wonderful: not big enough to be ostentatious, but with enough space for all your beautiful friends to come to visit. & dance, of course.

Then I take the bus that patiently threads through the congested traffic of Napoli onto the open road between farmland, winding inland into the hills, to Benevento. About an hour. A real insight into southern Italy. I arrive just as school is closing for lunch. Clear fresh air and bright sunshine: I'm struck by how unusually energetic and cheerful and good-natured the high school kids seemed to be. An Italian, Carlucci I think, the chef and restauranteur, recently wrote that Italian schoolchildren go home for lunch: that's where they discuss their problems. I can't help feeling that this must be a great place to grow up in. No tango, perhaps, not yet.
Benevento's a treat after Napoli as there's hardly any traffic in the town centre. The main street has been pedestrianised, and the old town streets are very narrow. This tower at the town centre is magnificent, and incorporates pieces of older buildings. Buildings in the old town are like this too, carved Roman sculture used as part of walls. (I've seen this in India: the Jantar Mantar mosque in Delhi was built out of pieces of Hindu temples.) A tower like this seems to suggest many stories, just as its walls are built out of many images.

The Benevento museum is extraordinary: a bit like the British Museum in one big room. One big room full of Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculpture. Statues of Roman emperors as Egyptian gods, Greek-style sculpture made with stone from Aswan, Roman images of Isis, of the priests of Isis. Benevento at the southern edge of the Roman empire, surrounded by Greek colonies, and looking across the Mediterranean to Egypt for spiritual inspiration, and with an Etruscan past. (Nothing Indian here, although an Indian sculpture was found in Pompeii.) Pompeii, celebration of the worldly, Benevento where the concerns seem more spiritual.
There's an installation by Paladino here, the Hortus Conclusus. I really don't know what to make of his sculpture. But the prints? Here's a neat video of him making a lithograph, a print made on a smooth slab of limestone, at the Bulla workshop in Rome. Unfortunately in Italian. Bulla, I think, talks about the technical process. I don't understand what the artist says, but I like the print, and it's great to watch someone making something like that.

(Thanks to Rubieroart.)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Javier Gramigna

I was about to post more on Italy when I noticed Cherie has favourited a video with Javier Gramigna. Took me a moment to realise he's the same Javier as in the video in the previous post; he looks different filmed with a tall woman from a high viewpoint to dancing with a shorter woman filmed from lower, but it's the same person, same style. The big difference is that this video was filmed in Rome and published on 8 October: Javier is another of the older generation of wonderful tangueros who visit Europe but not the UK. I can't help thinking that someone like this just dancing in a London milonga might have an electrifying impact: just being there, even without formal classes.
I've seen him before but never knew his name, and I think I've confused him with Juan Carlos: similar build. Both are Cachirulo stalwarts, along with a few dozen more from that generation. Understandably I don't get many dances once Cachirulo gets under way, but I don't mind sitting and watching when there's tango at this level. There's always a row of European and American ladies looking forward to a tanda with these dancers, a taste of tango at its source.
& this video led me to Marina2x4's channel, which I'd not seen before. She has about 80 of her own videos, many of Buenos Aires milongas, filmed over several years. Javier is there again, dancing with Mirta Tiseyra. Marta Fama is there too, and recent videos of Alberto and Paulina Dassieu. Juan Carlos and Lucia are filmed in a wonderfully playful D'Arienzo dance at Lujos milonga, and there are many, many more. Marina also has links to a great many other wonderful videos.
On her channel she writes: 'There are still many who remember the tango of the days before the great crisis, but who haven't dedicated themselves to teaching. & most have been overwhelmed by the existence of so many academies and professors: unfortunately those professors didn't really live the tango when it was danced so widely by the people. The majority of them come from other dances as distant from tango as rock and roll, or ballet, and even folklore.'
She's doing what she can to ensure that the tango of those who do remember the days before the crisis will continue to live.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Isabella y Javier

I love this! In the first moment I thought; this guy looks slow, ponderous, clumsy even, and look how he leans over his partner. & then they start dancing! What a delight. It's not a particularly complex dance, pretty much a repeated figure, but the easy, relaxed musicality of it, and the energy, is so enjoyable. & to me it's got heart. There's a whole army of bright young dancers who'd score far more in superfluous elegance and variety – without a trace of that warmth and affection that's so typical of the milongas.
Something I see here that I've not noticed so much in other videos is torque, how precise he is in using the energy of turning.
I don't know what to call these videos from Cachirulo. They aren't demonstrations, they aren't 'performances' either. Just two people having a great time dancing together. & the shouting from the guys: there's a lot of teasing going on. But Javier just grins, he's having a ball. & so, I guess, is Isabella.
There's one other video with this couple on the Cachirulo channel. We've got to thank Cachirulo again and again for the hundreds of videos on his channel. It's such a great cross section of that amazing milonga, Cachirulo, of tango at the start of the 21st century.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Pompeii paintings: Museo Nazionale, Naples

The paintings are made of flicks of paint, brush marks. The impression is that the painters were trained to make brush sketches. There's a lot of movement in the figures and the way they are painted: it's a lively way of painting. Great images of figures and animals in movement. There's little attempt to smooth out the marks to make a photorealistic image: a highlight is built up out of a big medium-tone mark with a smaller lighter mark within it. Some work is sketchy, a few quick flicks to create a face, some is more carefully built up, but the marks are still fluent, lively. It's fresco, so painting had to be quick before the plaster dried.
There were great Roman painters of the human figure, of still life, of landscape, of plants and flowers, birds and animals. Birds and animals must be the commonest decorative motifs; huntings scenes, dogs and deer, less common. The Romans must have loved to feel they lived in an ordered landscape, the natural landscape, with trees, temples, hills, human/divine figures (they look much the same). 
The paintings in the Museo Nazionale in Naples give the impression of being individual paintings, but of course they are the bits the archaeologists picked out. At their best they are remarkable. Scenes from myth are imagined and painted with remarkable skill. 
You could sneak this into an exhibition of Renaissance painting, and it wouldn't be out of place. The story of the minotaur (lower left) slain by Theseus. It's incredible how similar in style these paintings are to renaissance art. I don't think renaissance painters had access to any Roman painting: sculptures were being discovered, but I'm not aware that paintings were known. And it's extraordinary that often enough these scenes appear, in a painted frame, in the middle of a solid red wall. Before picture frames were invented! Our galleries of classical painting still follow this example. But occasionally in Pompeii, a single figure appears in the centre of a wall, without a frame. It can be breathtaking.
Roman painting fed off Greek painting. Apart from the wonderful vases, I'm not sure that much Greek painting has survived, but there's a huge mosaic in Naples (composed, incidentally, of the tiniest tesserae) which is thought to be a Roman copy of a lost Greek painting. (A smaller copy is in Pompeii.) 

It recalls Ucello's Battle of San Romano, which is perhaps a millenium and a half later and much more formulaic. Here, the horses are in movement and at all angles, and the figures are interlaced in a complex image of war, often linked by where fighters are looking. It's quite extraordinary. It's a reminder that our view of art is conditioned by what has survived, not by what existed. I've read that the use of blue to suggest distance, along with smaller figures, was a Chinese innovation from the T'ang dynasty, around 900CE. Not so. It was there in Pompeii 1,000 years earlier.
The human figure, often partly or completely unclothed, is very much the central motif: human or divine, there's not much different. They are painted with wonderful warmth, and they almost step out of the paintings. & the Museo Nazionale is a wonderful space for the work, the more wonderful that it has windows that open and you can step out onto big balconies and refresh your gaze by looking out over the city. It makes the paintings less of museum pieces and more part of contemporary life, where the background sound isn't the hushed tones of a museum but the sound of the streets below.
& in Naples there are just two paintings of painters at work: in both, the painters are women.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Milongueros: the Via Emilia Documentary Festival

Good news! Milongueros can now be seen on the Via Emilia's own site. This is the link. Happy viewing!

PS Vedi e vota: watch it and vote! Registrati: send your email address and you'll receive an access code for the voting. (With the usual caution that the access code might end up the wrong side of your spam filter.)

Milongueros needs your vote! Vote Milonguero!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Finally someone's made a film about the social tango of Buenos Aires, and got it released. In fact it was the finalist at the Via Emilia Documentary Festival, and it was released on YouTube, free for everyone to watch, yesterday. Some scenes are in Maipu 444, so clearly it's been some years in the making. There's some wonderful dancing. A lot of the time the dancers' feet aren't shown, so there's a real emphasis on torso movement, the wonderful smooth flowing movements that follow so closely and effortlessly the phrases of the music. If you've never had a chance to visit the milongas of Buenos Aires now's your chance to meet Ricardo Suarez, 'El flaco' Dany, Alberto Dassieu, 'El Nene' and many more, and when people ask you about 'tango', it's easy: just direct them to this film. & if you know the milongas and the dancers you'll be grateful to remember them through this production. Sadly it's subtitled in Italian, since it's an Italian production, but the heart comes through.
(Thanks to viaemiliadocfest.)

PS. The two comments say that this film has been withdrawn, but it's more than that: the whole channel, the Via Emilia Documentary Festival channel, the (presumably) official festival channel with some 20-odd documentaries on it, has closed. It doesn't seem as if as if this film was an illegal pirate version. 

I guess there are two possibilities: that they are working on their channel in order to upgrade it, or that (more likely) there are unforeseen copyright problems. Either way, it's very frustrating that when a really enjoyable film on the best social dance in Buenos Aires appears freely, it mysteriously vanishes again. 

I don't think this is the only such film that's unavailable. It seems crazy that people go through the labour of love to put these things together and then there's no DVD deal to get returns on the investment, and certainly little chance of a big cinema release either. So the film disappears and might never have been made.

Alfredo 'Tape' Rubín 2

Of course, I should have checked YouTube before I wrote about Alfredo 'Tape' Rubín. Everything's on YouTube these days, on seven year-old YouTube. 

Here's one I liked a lot. It's a performance in a small venue, with a back projection. The song is Calle, Street, from the 2004 Reinanoche album. To judge by the back projection it's about what happens in the street, and the captions suggest it's about political protest during the military period. ('Los 30 mil', I guess refers to the desaparecidos.) I can't follow the words well enough to check that, although the they are fairly clear. (An advantage of not having a full tango orquesta.) It's well put together, and a beautiful song. & a cool cat wanders across the stage. 

(Thanks to Tinch77 )

& this one is unplugged, on someone's patio, with a pink watering can; life in the city. An alfresco, spontaneous performance, without amplification, with the drawback and strengths that brings. 

I shouldn't have compared him to Goyaneche, but there's something about his delivery, the emphasis of the spoken voice rather than an actual singing voice. His voice is light compared to 'El Polaco', but I still think it's a good tango voice: that is, it has heart, it has conviction, it has passion. Whether it is in some abstract sense a 'good' voice is irrelevant.

(Thanks to Puentealsina)

Could you dance to this? You might not want to dance to Calle, but there's danceable music too. Without the steady beat of a bass, piano and bandoneons maybe it's harder to think about, but there are tracks on the CDs that make you (i.e. me) want to try. Tango began like this, guys with guitars writing songs for the people. The arrangers and orquestas came later. Hunt around on YouTube, there are more.