Ten views of the Itsukushima Shrine

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Aki Province: Itsukushima, Depiction of a Festival, from the series Famous Places in the Sixty-odd Provinces (1853) by Utagawa Hiroshige.

The most recognizable and celebrated feature of the Itsukushima shrine, is its fifty-foot tall vermilion otorii gate (“great gate”), built of decay-resistant camphor wood. The placement of an additional leg in front of and behind each main pillar identifies the torii as reflecting the style of Ryobu Shinto (dual Shinto), a medieval school of esoteric Japanese Buddhism associated with the Shingon Sect. The torii appears to be floating only at high tide. When the tide is low, it is approachable by foot from the island. Gathering shellfish near the gate is also popular at low tide. At night, powerful lights on the shore illuminate the torii. Although the gate has been in place since 1168, the current gate dates back only to 1875. [more]

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Torii at Itsukushima (1896) by Kobayashi Kiyochika.

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Deer and Torii (1910) by Shoson Ohara.

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Miyajima in Snow (1934) by Tsuchiya Koitsu.

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Snowy Miyajima (1936) by Tsuchiya Koitsu.

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Another visit to The Other Side

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Readers of Alfred Kubin’s nightmarish fantasy novel, The Other Side, may like to know that a first edition was among the new uploads at the Internet Archive in December. The original printing is of note for the fine quality of its illustrations which—unlike subsequent editions—would have been taken from Kubin’s original drawings. Many of these are little more than vignettes but the book contains a number of full-page pieces that are densely cross-hatched, a technique that degrades the more the picture is copied, and which suffers even more if the picture is reduced in size, as these drawings have been in many paperback printings. I complained in an earlier post about the poor quality of the reproductions in my Dedalus reprint, and linked to a Flickr collection of scans from another first edition, but that set didn’t contain all 52 drawings. The pages of this new copy are rather discoloured but the sombre shade suits the increasingly dark tone of Kubin’s story. I imagine the author might approve.

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Weekend links 605

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UFO Mk2 (1967), a poster for the UFO club by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Michael English & Nigel Waymouth).

• Link of the week without a doubt is Yuka Fujii’s raw video footage of the sessions for David Sylvian’s solo debut, Brilliant Trees, which includes appearances by Jon Hassell, Holger Czukay and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Czukay’s contribution to this and other albums in the 1980s included the use of a second-hand IBM Dictaphone, a machine which was often credited on album sleeves but seldom discussed in interviews beyond Czukay’s claims that it was a superior sound-sampling tool. You can see the mysterious “instrument” in this film and discover (at last!) more about the machine here. Big thanks to Colin for the tip!

• “Part of what makes watching it so compelling now is Berger’s fascinated immersion in the culture of images itself.” Olivia Laing on 50 years of Ways of Seeing by John Berger.

• At The Wire: David Toop on what happens when the performance of music is extended over long durations, from all night concerts to sacred rituals that last for weeks.

• At Bandcamp: Tony Rettman profiles Audion magazine and its editors, indefatigable Krautrock experts Alan & Steve Freeman.

• New music: W by Boris, a remix of Laurie Anderson’s Big Science by Arca, and a cover of King Crimson’s Red by Hedvig Mollestad.

• The latest exploration of psychedelic graphics by DJ Food is a collection of posters for London’s UFO Club.

• Wolf Moon: Nina MacLaughlin has some questions for our ancient satellite.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Frank’s Box: The Real Telephone to the Dead.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 731 by Anthea.

• At Strange Flowers: 22 books for 2022.

UFO (1970) by Guru Guru | UFO Over Paris (1978) by Steve Hillage | El UFO Cayó (2005) by Ry Cooder

Arena: Andrei Tarkovsky

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More slow cinema. The Antonioni documentary was broadcast by the BBC in their regular Arena arts strand, as was this 50-minute profile from 1987. Andrei Tarkovsky is a favourite Arena of mine, one I’ve watched many times over the years, whether original broadcast, VHS tape or digitised copy. As with the Antonioni film it’s one of many such episodes which functions as an ideal introduction to its subject.

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1986 was the year of Tarkovsky’s untimely death so Charlie Pattinson’s documentary served as a memorial as well as a celebration of a director whose reputation had been growing throughout the decade. I love the way this one starts cold with a series of clips from all seven of the feature films; no comment required. Further clips follow but the real value is in the extracts from interviews and talks given by the director which punctuate the biographical chronology. The first of these is a declaration of Tarkovsky’s belief that film-making is a unique medium in its ability to capture and assemble temporal moments, something he explored in depth in his book, Sculpting in Time. In his talks and his writings he can often seem overly serious when discussing his work, especially in a world where film-making is largely regarded as merely another division of the entertainment industry. But he regarded both art and film-making as serious affairs, and many of his films required considerable effort to be made at all. Hollywood has long been notorious for confounding the endeavours of maverick directors but the apparatchiks at Goskino were seldom better, continually rejecting new proposals or interfering with the films after they were made; Tarkovsky’s diaries are filled with accounts of his struggles with the bureaucrats who oversaw film production. When he wasn’t fighting censorship attempts or refusals to release a new film he was dealing with other refusals to approve his projects altogether. We’re fortunate that Stalker exists at all when most of the exterior footage needed to be reshot after the negative was ruined by incompetent processing. This calamity wasn’t the director’s fault but Goskino were reluctant at first to let him finish the film. These constant struggles eventually compelled him to leave the Soviet Union in order to make films elsewhere, a painful decision which is discussed in the final part of Pattinson’s documentary by the director’s wife and production assistant, Larisa. The pair were allowed to leave the country but they were also forced to do so without their young son, a typically cruel and petty punishment by the Soviet authorities.

In the Antonioni post I mentioned that Tarkovsky’s present popularity is sustained by Solaris and Stalker much more than by his other films. People who only know the director from his excursions into science fiction may be surprised to hear him dismiss Solaris as his least successful feature on a personal level. Documentaries such as this may encourage some of those viewers to explore the rest of his filmography.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Zone music
Sine Fiction
Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker”
The Stalker meme

Foss, Jodorowsky and low-flying spacecraft

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Discovered last week in a local charity shop (and for a fraction of the usual asking price), 21st Century Foss, the Dragon’s Dream collection of Chris Foss paintings from 1978. Foss’s book covers were impossible to avoid in the Britain of the 1970s, often to a ridiculous degree when publishers would stick a spacecraft by the artist or one of his imitators on a book containing no spaceships at all. His ubiquity made him the first cover artist who registered with me as exactly that, an identifiable name whose work suggested that this kind of artistic activity might be something worth pursuing.

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I bought a few of the books published by Dragon’s Dream/Paper Tiger in the late 70s/early 80s but many of them weren’t interesting enough to warrant the exhausting of my meagre finances. Ian Miller, yes; Chris Foss, no. Architecture, whether real or invented, was generally more interesting than spaceships, even when the latter were unique designs like the typical Foss behemoth. (There is architecture in many of Foss’s paintings but I preferred Roger Dean’s aesthetics, the fluid and organic buildings, the vehicles modelled on birds, fish and insects.) Foss also suffered from that process of mental evolution whereby you reject an early enthusiasm when you find something that has a more obsessive hold. In musical terms, his paintings were like glam pop, the first music that made a deep impression but which was swiftly displaced by progressive rock and electronic music. Despite the repudiation I still get a weird charge when I see one of his paintings, an instant jolt back to an adolescent mental space. His cover for Midsummer Century by James Blish does this to an excessive degree, being one of a handful of Foss pictures that caused me to attempt some imitative drawings of my own circa 1975. Those drawings, which went astray years ago, caused a minor stir of appreciation among schoolfriends, a reaction that made me realise I was doing something right, however amateurish the attempt.

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Ballard’s Low-Flying Aircraft collection is labelled on the rear as “Fiction”, and is spaceship-free, whatever the cover may suggest.

21st Century Foss belies its title by being more than a simple parade of spacecraft designs. There are Foss covers that you never see in internet galleries—pictures of submarines, ships and aircraft from the Second World War—together with a few pieces used on the covers of crank titles. Ballard aficionados may like to know that the cover for the Panther paperback of Crash is reproduced here on a full page. The latter is a good example of the thinking in paperback publishing at the time: “Ballard is science fiction so we need an SF artist for this one!” Foss had earlier illustrated two volumes of The Joy of Sex so must have seemed an ideal match. According to Rick Poynor, the artist hated the novel while the author disliked the cover.

Foss’s book opens with a section about his designs for three feature films: Jodorowsky’s Dune, Superman and Alien. None of his concepts ended up on the screen but it’s good to see the Dune designs in print. This section is also prefaced by two pages of hyperactive hyperbole for Foss and his art from Alejandro Jodorowsky. The same text may be found at Duneinfo but it bears repeating here as a further example of the manic director in full flight. Incidentally, the “English magazine” that’s referred to is most likely Science Fiction Monthly for February 1974, an issue which contained a collection of Foss paintings plus an interview with the artist.

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