review–Magic Theatre’s “What We’re Up Against” a female architect’s first job has her navigating male jerks, air ducts and the profession itself–through March 6, 2011
Is sexism still alive in corporate America, or do most people believe that women have made it and if they aren’t experiencing success, it’s more about them and their lack of abilities? Acclaimed playwright Theresa Rebeck, tackles sexism and the rough and tumble world of office politics in What We’re Up Against, her clever new play in its world premiere at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre through March 6, 2011.
When a team of old-school architects is under the gun to design a mall expansion but can’t figure out the design for the air ducts, all hell breaks out when Eliza (Sarah Nealis), a brash new associate they can’t stand, has the answer. Instead of calling Eliza in to discuss her ideas, they bad-mouth her and plot to sabotage her. After six months of slaving away and getting no notice at all for her considerable effort, Eliza concludes that she does not walk the same halls of power as the others do and gets angry. When she asserts herself over her plan for the mall expansion, she rocks the firm to its core. What’s going on? Is Eliza being discriminated against because she’s female and her talent is threatening or it is more her brash style and refusal to adapt to the firm’s corporate culture and pace that is causing the problem?
Rebeck’s “Mauritious” endeared Magic audiences in 2009 and “What We’re Up Against” is based on a eight minute scene that Rebeck wrote a few years ago that unfolds quickly through a series of charged conversations amongst colleagues that can be stacked up in numerous ways. For Rebeck, context is key. Because the audience enters the drama at its apex, there is no real basis for evaluating the truth of the claims that are made but that won’t stop us from speculating about what’s really going on in this office. The play is wonderfully staged by Artistic Director Loretta Greco, who has managed to re-create a sleek office environment with a few rotating props.
The first act begins with deceit and builds on male disregard for Eliza. Stu (Warren David Keith), the project’s lead architect, is angry that he’s been duped by Eliza into thinking that her design for the ducts, the logjam in the mall design project, was done by a man instead of “this cunt.” Ben (Rod Gnapp), also a senior architect, doesn’t seem to like women either but recognizes that if Eliza has solved the problem, the project can move forward. Be forwarned, the play opens with obscenities and doesn’t let up.
Eliza will be familiar to most of us— she’s young, blond, ambitious, outspoken, hardworking, and extremely talented—she’s likable but can be despicable too. We’ve all met her, actually most of these characters, at some point in our professional lives.
Eliza’s interaction with her associate colleagues, Janice (Pamela Gaye Walker) and Weber (James Wagner), is what makes this play worth the price of admission. In this firm, ideas are translated and added to by coworkers, especially the slaving associates, while the principals, Stu and Ben, take on the alternating roles of creator and critic. Being a good designer is everything but the criteria for “good design” is highly subjective.
Everyone works to support the star, the designer at the top of the pyramid, who Stu and Ben are directly responsible to. The system itself is authoritarian and outdated. Sexism may define Eliza as a scribe to the males in this office but the system itself defines everyone but the star as second banana. It works like a caste system with obtuse rewards and harsh punishments. Everyone wants attribution and recognition but it’s hard to determine who is contributing what. A few minutes into the play, you ntoice that no one seems fulfillfed.
Janice, a more senior associate, has thrown in the towel long ago, accepts her lesser position in the firm, and goes along with the boys. In this dog-eat-dog setting, she has lost her fight, her confidence and resents Eliza’s drive and her bluntness. Weber is the young male pup in the group. Since the firm is ruled by a male-pack mentality, he’s protected and given chances to excel despite his lack of talent. Stu and Ben are themselves under the thumb of the firm’s jet-setting guru, who they slave away for.
Rebeck takes the topic of sexism and complicates it with strong personalities and an ambiguous context for evaluating professional success. “What We’re Up Against” stands as a fascinating portrait of the human condition and a very unappealing firm.
Run-time: One hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Median Income for men in architecture: $70,330
Median Income for women in architecture: $55,805
In architecture, women earn 70% of what men earn.
Up Next at Magic Theatre: Playwright and burlesque performer Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge, winner of a 2010 Obie Award, opens April 21, 2011 at the Magic Theatre and runs through May 22, 2011. When a flower falls in love with a blushing bride, can he complete a quest to become a man and win her love? Taylor Mac and dozens of Bay Area artists tackle love, marriage and Prop 8, using vaudeville, haiku, drag queens, ukuleles, dream ballets and everything else in Mac’s theatrical arsenal. The Lily’s Revenge is a rolling world premiere with Magic Theatre, HERE Arts Center (New York), Southern Rep Theatre (New Orleans) and The National Theatre of Scotland.
Details: Magic Theatre is located on the third floor of Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, at the intersection of Marina Blvd. and Buchanan Street. Parking: Low cost parking is located just inside the gates of Fort Mason Center (entrance at the intersection of Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard) and free parking is located just outside the entrance to Fort Mason Center, a short walk from the theatre. Tickets: $20 to $60. Box office (415) 441-8822 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting or http://magictheatre.org/buy-tickets Seating: Audience members sit in three sections—2 side sections and a center section, and production are designed so that each vantage point provides a different experience.
“Around the World in 33 Films” at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center– a rare chance to see the Jeonju Digital Project, February 17-27, 2011
In 2000, Jeonju, a small town in the North Jeolla Province of South Korea known for traditional crafts, became home to a very forward-thinking film festival. The Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), held each spring, has emerged as a major independent and art-house film festival that not shows only great films but also funds them. Every year, since 2,000, the festival has awarded three international filmmakers with 50 million won (US $44,500) each, to make a 30–minute digital film. The entire series to date of 33 commissioned films by some of the world’s most highly regarded directors will screen at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from February 17 through 27th, 2011.
The series “Around the World in 33 Films” opens on February 17th with the three films from 2010 and then will be presented in chronological order from 2000 through 2009. Renowned artists represented include: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pedro Costa, Naomi Kawase, Bong Joon–Ho, James Benning, Tsai Ming-liang, and 27 more!
Joel Shepard, YBCA Film and Video curator calls the series a “Dare” program. “The Jeonju International Film Festival has dared to commission films, which very few organizations are willing or able to do anymore. The Festival does not dictate content, yet all of the filmmakers they select are known for making non–commercial, complex and often demanding work.”
Around The World In 33 Films: The Jeonju Digital Project – 2010
February 17, 2011, 7:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room
The 2010 Program includes:
Pig Iron by James Benning;
Les lignes enemies by Denis Côté
Hold on Rosalind by Matías Piñeiro
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Around The World In 33 Films: The Jeonju Digital Project – 2000 & 2001
February 19, 2011, 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
The 2000 Program screens at 7 pm and includes:
http://www.whitelover.com by Park Kwang-su
Dal Segno by Kim Yun-tae
Jin Xing Files by Zhang Yuan
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The 2001 Progam screens at 9 pm and includes:
In Public by Jia Zhangke
A Conversation with God by Tsai Ming-liang
Digitopia by John Akomfrah
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Around The World In 33 Films: The Jeonju Digital Project – 2002 & 2003
February 20, 2011, 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
The 2002 Program screens at 2 pm and includes:
Survival Game by Moon Seung–wook
The New YearA Letter From Hiroshima by Suwa Nobuhiro
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The 2003 Program screens at 4 pm and includes:
Like a Desperado Under the Eaves by Shinji Aoyama
Daf by Bahman Ghobadi
Digital Search by Park Ki–yong
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Around The World In 33 Films: The Jeonju Digital Project – 2004 & 2005
February 24, 2011, 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
The 2004 Program screens at 7 pm and includes:
Dance with me to the End of Love by Yu Lik–wai
Influenza by Bong Joon–ho
Mirrored Mind by Ishii Sogo
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The 2005 Program screens at 9 pm and inlcudes:
Haze by Shinya Tsukamoto
Magician(s) by Song Il–gon
Worldly Desires by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
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Around The World In 33 Films: The Jeonju Digital Project – 2006 & 2007
February 26, 2011, 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
The 2006 Program screens at 7 pm and includes:
About Love by Darezhan Omirbaev
No Day Off by Eric Khoo
Twelve Twenty by Pen–ek Ratanaruang
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The 2007 Program screens at 9 pm and includes:
Respite by Harun Farocki
The Rabbit Hunters by Pedro Costa
Correspondences by Eugène Green
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Around The World In 33 Films: The Jeonju Digital Project – 2008 & 2009
February 27, 2011, 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
The 2008 Program screens at 2 pm and includes:
The Birthday by Idrissa Ouedraogo
Expectations by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
The Alphabet of My Mother by Nacer Khemir
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The 2009 Program screens at 4 pm and includes:
Lost in the Mountains by Hong Sang–soo
Koma by Naomi Kawase
Butterflies Have No Memories by Lav Diaz
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Details: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street (across the street from SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA, 94103. Several reasonably-priced parking garages are located within one block of YBCA. (415)978-2700 or http://www.ybca.org/
Worst In Show premieres tonight at IndieFest–a humorous documentary about Petaluma’s annual world’s ugliest dog contest
Every dog has its day, but tonight is reserved for the ugly dog. Tonight, local filmmakers Don Lewis of Petaluma and John Beck of Benecia and a few of the contestants in Petaluma’s World’s Ugliest Dog Contest will appear at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre at IndieFest for the world premiere of Worst in Show, a riveting hour long documentary on the contest that put them all on the map.
Unlike the very popular 2000 mockumentary Best in Show by filmmaker Christopher Guest, Worst in Show follows real contestants—both human and canine—behinds the scenes on the 2009 and 2010 ugly dog circuit that culminates in Petaluma’s annual “Worlds Ugliest Dog Contest.” While there are many ugly dog contests, this one, the most popular event at Petaluma’s Sonoma Marin Fair, has been around for 22 years and has a global following.
In Worst in Show, the dogs steal the scenes as their owners interact under completely self-imposed pressure for a very small prize $1600 and the chance to be in the limelight until displaced. Some competitors are relentless in their pursuit of the limelight.
Dane Andrews, an actor from Sunnyvale, has been on the ugly circuit since he was 11 and has shown 3 generations of Chinese cresteds, a hairless breed which some people consider naturally ugly. Rascal won in the contest in 2002 and Dane appears throughout the film pimping the dog with a gusto and compteitiveness that puts many people off. John Adler, sporting a mohawk that seems to math his crested’s sparse tufts has the fire in him to be the next Dane. When both are upstaged by Miles, a Boxer-mix rescue dog with a major underbite, owned by low-key Miles Egstad from Citrus Heights, CA, egos are bruised.
Pabst quickly won the hearts of the audience who chanted “Pabst, Pabst, Pabst” creating an enthusiastic ruccous and the celebrity judges followed suit giving him wins in all three rounds of the competition. This was the first time in seven years a mutt won the competition, upstaging the long-run of Crested wins.
The film screens tonight February 9th at 9:15 p.m. and February 13th at 2:30 p.m as part of the 13th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival (IndieFest). The festival features 85 absolutely independent films and videos and unspools February 3-17, 2011 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street in San Francisco. For tickets or more information, telephone (415) 820-3907 or http://www.sfindie.com.
From all the critical buzz about playwright Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, and its recent extension at San Francisco’s A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre) until February 20, you would think it was hilarious or riveting, but I found it neither. The play, which has its West Coast premiere at A.C.T. and is directed locally by Jonathan Moscone, is so full of dumbed-down humor in Act 1, that you may not appreciate Act 2 where it all comes together. Is this the reaction renowned provocateur Norris was aiming for in this button pusher about urban development and race? If you like your repartee razor-sharp, steer clear of this production of Clybourne Park. If you can hang through the first hour, you will find the story in Act 2 builds to a quite provocative end. If you’ve read it’s funny and are expecting to laugh a lot, this is not that type of funny…this is nervous laughter that pops out and then sits by you.
The idea of “neighborhood” in a major American city as seen through a house and its ownership, white and black, over a period of 50-odd years is a fascinating topic. Playwright Bruce Norris takes the events of Lorraine Hansbury’s acclaimed play 1959 A Raisin in the Sun and spins a new story about race and real estate in America that picks up where that play ends. Clybourne Park was the fictitious all-white Chicago neighborhood that the African American Younger family was moving to at the end of Hansbury’s play. The move to the house symbolized promise—access to a broad range of resources, including school funding, infrastructure, and law enforcement that would mean a much better quality of life that would lead to a better future.
In Norris’ Clybourne Park, we visit the same Younger house in two different eras, a half-century apart. Act 1 is set in 1957 Clybourne Park, just after Russ and Bev Stollers, a white couple, have unknowingly sold their house to a black family, the Youngers. Act 2 is set in the same house in 2009 but the situation is reversed: the now-black neighborhood is gentrifying and a black couple is selling to a white couple who are planning to rebuild on that property and upset the neighborhood. The dialogue is very similar to the one that transpired 50 years earlier in the house. Times have changed but the concept of white privilege remains embedded in the culture of home ownership and people still have very hard time knowing what their biases are unless, of course, they are actually thrown into a situation that forces them out. Enter Norris.
As the play opens, Russ (Anthony Fusco) and Bev (René Augesen) Stoller are in the process of packing up their home to relocate to Glen Meadow, a suburb outside Chicago. Their African American housekeeper, Francine (Omozé Idehenre), is helping them. Apron-clad Bev is heavily channeling June Cleaver and hovering over Russ but it’s too overdone, detracting. She starts up a phonics word game about capital cities that is funny up to a point and then grinds. Was that what substituted for meaningful conversation back then? The way characters farcically embody their roles in Act 1 is frustrating….is that the point?
Francine’s work shift has ended but Bev hints that she wants her to move a huge trunk upstairs and offers her a silver chafing dish, one that she pronounces she has no use for and which we assume Francine will not need either (because she is not of a class that entertains with sterling) but will accept. Bev then takes back the offer. Francine holds her tongue. And so it begins…a series of gestures and phrases that form a collection of biases, universal biases, that Norris serves up and keeps simmering all night long.
The elephant in the room for the couple is the tragic loss of their son and Russ’ depression. Since their son, Kenneth, committed suicide in the home two and half years ago, it has come to be a place of pain and Russ has been unable to talk about his loss. Bev sees their move as a fresh start.
When Francine’s husband, Albert (Gregory Wallace), arrives to pick her up, the action kicks into high gear. While Albert awkwardly waits, the minister, Jim (Manoel Felciano), arrives for a house call and attempts to counsel Russ which goes over horribly. Then, Karl Lindner (Richard Thieriot), a representative from the neighborhood community association, and Karl’s deaf pregnant wife Betsy (Emily Kitchens) arrive.
The discussion, which unfolds in front of Albert, focuses on the fact that new buyers are black and the likely negative impact on property values in the neighborhood and that there are differences between blacks and whites that will make the move into the neighborhood awkward…. for the new Black residents. It starts with what foods the neighborhood stores stock (blacks and white eat differently) and culminates in Karl’s absurd argument that blacks don’t downhill ski (and therefore won’t enjoy the sports that other residents do.)
Russ won’t change his mind about the sale, distancing himself from their claims that he has a responsibility to protect the community. He feels that the community betrayed his son when he returned traumatized from Korea and that he and his wife were treated horribly after Kenneth’s suicide. By intermission we are grappling both with what appeared to be a simplistic presentiation about racial bias in the 1950′s–none of us were alive to really know— and the loss of the son.
In Act 2, set in 2009, a group is gathered in the same living room about to wade through some legal documents and a petition protesting the proposed renovation of the house by the white new owners who are moving from the Glen Meadow suburb into Clybourne Park and are planning to build a much bigger house on the property. The current owners are black and the suburb is now all-black and the property owners association wants to ensure that the re-do proposed for the home by the new white owners is consistent with the aesthetic of this “historically significant” (black) neighborhood.
The discussion gets more and more inane, zeroing in on building codes and specs, and rehashing the proposed building’s height and scale, while the topic of race is circled round and round. Norris has cleverly incorporated several people from Act 1, reintroducing them in tangentially related roles—–Bev now plays a savvy lawyer named Kathy who is representing the young white couple buying the home and Lena (Omozé Idehenre, who played the maid Francine in Act 1) is the grandniece of the Younger family matriarch (from Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun) who wants to do right by the neighborhood, meaning protect it black character.
No one will come out in the open about how a white owner will change things. It gets heated very quickly though when race is addressed directly, culminating in an unexpected exchange of blatantly sexist and racist jokes that leaves everyone flabbergasted. Lena’s zinger “How is a white woman like a tampon? brings the audience fully into the drama as people melt down in uncomfortable laughter. All to show what prejudices still lie buried in supposedly liberal people like them–AND us.
The play concludes by unearthing the trunk from Act 1 and wrapping the subplot about the Kenneth, the young vet who committed suicide in the house, another chapter in America’s unease.
Post – Play Discussions “Experts Talk Back”: Thursday, February 10, 2011: After the 8 p.m. performance, A.C.T. presents a new post-show discussion program “Experts Talk Back.” Stanford University Professor Michael Kahan, a specialist in 19th and 20th –century social history, will be in conversation with Scott Miller of the Oakland Zoning Commission. Free admission with performance ticket.
Details:Clybourne Park plays at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, through February 20, 2011. Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at A.C.T. online box office.
The 4th season of the Petaluma Cinema Series is underway. Bay Area award-winning filmmaker Frederick Marx’s 2010 documentary, Journey from Zanskar, screens Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 7 p.m. at the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium on Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus. Frederick Marx will be in conversation with Mike Traina, series organizer and SRJC Film Instructor, at 6 p.m. and the community is encouraged to attend.
The Petaluma Cinema Series offers 15 films in 15 weeks every fall and spring in conjunction with the SJRC’s fall and spring semesters. The series mixes community and guests with film students in a cinemateque environment and is sponsored by the Petaluma Film Alliance, a strategic partnership between the SRJC, community businesses, and private individuals dedicated to film awareness within the community. The Ellis Auditorium is a spectacular film facility, offering HD, full surround sound and new seating.
Mike Traina has organized both the series and the alliance and is excited about its potential. “The overriding objective is to showcase a balanced blend of foreign, classic, and independent films and to create a progression that showcases film techniques for the students who are taking it as a class. The first third of the films are about the filmmaker’s journey and a broad introduction to film appreciation at a more advanced level. In the middle block, each film is selected to showcase a particular aspect of film aesthetics–production design, cinematography, sound, or acting. The last third is special topics– animation, film noir, surrealism. And because the college emphasizes special calendar events—black history month, so forth–I try to create some overlap within the cinema series. In March, all of the introductions will have some focus on women in the industry. I’ve got two directors–Jacqueline Zünd will be in conversation about Goodnight Nobody and I’ll screen Mira Nair’s film Monsoon Wedding which I’m also using to highlight its cinematography. I’ve got two icons too— Elizabeth Taylor and Marlena Dietrich. “
Fredrick Marx’s Journey from Zanskar, screening Wednesday with Marx in the pre-film discussion, was very popular with audiences at the Mill Valley Film Festival last October. The 90 minute documentary tells a moving and important story about the heroism of monks and children who are trying to preserve Tibetan culture. Like many documentaries in this genre, the film is also controversial and has been criticized (Zanskar Resource) for its role in creating a situation that will popularize Zanskar and thereby accelerate the destruction of its untainted culture and traditions.
For Mike Traina, including the film in the series was an easy choice “Marx is a long time Bay Area filmmaker and I like to showcase work that is produced in Bay Area and filmmakers who try to work outside the industry and he has done this quite successfully. His Hoop Dreams, about boys and basketball, was nominated for an Oscar in 1995. He’s also trying to raise awareness about Zanskar and has a nonprofit related to roads and schools in the region. Anytime we can bring a filmmaker of this caliber in and provide the community with direct access, we try to do it.”
Petaluma Cinema Series line-up:
February 9: Journey from Zanskar (Frederick Marx, 2010, USA)
February 16: Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembene, 2004, Senegal) Moolaadé tells the extraordinary tale of a brave West African woman who decides to shelter four little girls from the torturous (and sometimes fatal) procedure of female circumcision, a traditional rite of passage in her village. This sumptuously shot and thought-provoking film, directed by the African continent’s most internationally acclaimed filmmaker, elegantly addresses one of the most controversial issues of our age.
February 23: Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001, Mexico) Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna star in this sexy coming-of-age road movie. Acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron explores the sensual and chaotic relationships between the three central characters as well as the socio-political changes taking place in Mexico itself, ultimately offering the viewer powerful lessons concerning life, love, and growing up.
March 2: The Blue Angel (Joseph von Sternberg, 1930, Germany) Joseph Von Sternberg’s 1930 expressionist classic uses memorable performances and extraordinary visual design to tell the story of a pretentious professor (Emil Jannings) and the seductive cabaret singer (Marlene Dietrich) who manipulates him into despair and shame. A relentless, twisted tragedy of repression and moral degradation, The Blue Angel is a milestone in the expressionist canon and a portrait of crumbling Weimar Germany.
March 9: Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001, India) Cultures and families collide in Mira Nair’s exuberant Bollywood tale of five interweaving love stories set against the background of an arranged Indian marriage. Cathartic and colorful, this entertaining crowd pleaser has warmed the hearts of audiences around the world and become one of India’s biggest global box office sensations.
March 16: Goodnight Nobody (Jacqueline Zünd, 2010, Switzerland)
March 30: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951, USA)
April 6: Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980, USA)
April 13: The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974, USA)
April 20: The Big Animal (Jerzy Stuhr, 2000, Poland)
April 27: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944, USA)
May 4: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009, USA)
May 11: You, the Living (Roy Anderson, 2007, Sweden)
May 18: Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977, USA)
Details: Wednesday evenings from February 9 through May 18, 2011. Pre-film lectures at 6 p.m. Films at 7 p.m. Theatre seats 257 persons with handicap accessibility. General Admission $5, Seniors and PFA members $4, Individual Series Pass $40, Students with ASP card free. Box office is open from 5:30-7:15 p.m. on Wednesday nights.
Parking: On campus parking is $4 and visitors to the campus will need $4 in change or crisp bills to purchase a dashboard parking pass from the yellow machines in the parking lots. The machines do not give change. The pass is good until midnight.
Special Cinema Series Parking Passes: Those attending the series can purchase a $20 series parking pass at the box office at Carole L. Ellis Auditorium to display on their dashboards which will cover parking from 5 p.m. onward on evenings that films are screening thus avoiding SRJC’s yellow parking machine experience altogether.
For additional information email: email@example.com or http://www.petalumafilmfest.org/home/Petaluma_Film_Alliance.html
Paper Dresses inspired by Renaissance finery: Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Pulp Fashion opens Saturday at the Legion of Honor with demonstrations and workshops
Fashion is all in the details…exacting tailoring, the perfect line and lush materials all working to create a statement. Very few people would make an immediate connection between the legendary fashions of Italy’s Medici courts and paper but Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave is renowned for doing just that. She re-creates and paints exquisite life-size historical costumes from paper, taking her inspiration from European paintings, iconic costumes in museums, photographs, sketches, and literary descriptions. Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave features 60 of de Borchgrave’s exquisite creations and opens this Saturday at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and runs through June 5, 2011. The artist will be at the Legion on Saturday demonstrating her techniques for transforming paper into couture for all interested.
The Legion of Honor is the first American museum to dedicate an entire exhibition to de Borchgrave, who is revered in Europe. Pulp Fashion falls under the Legion’s Collection Connections series that invites contemporary artists to reinterpret traditional objects from the Fine Arts Museums’ permanent collections, giving visitors a window into the ways that artists and cultural institutions intersect. When Borchgrave visited the Legion of Honor last summer, she selected four paintings from the Legion’s legendary European painting collection that communicated an interesting fashion statement to her and they became the inspiration for 5 historical dresses created especially for this exhibition and shown for the first time. The paintings are: Massimo Stanzione, Woman in Neapolitan Costume, ca. 1635, Konstantin Makovsky, The Russian Bride’s Attire, 1889, Jacob-Ferdinand Voet, Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba, ca. 1675, and Anthony van Dyck, Marie Claire de Cory and Child, 1634.
Pulp Fashion includes quintessential examples in the history of costume—from Renaissance costumes of the Medici family and gowns worn by Elizabeth I and Marie-Antoinette to the designs of the grand couturiers Fredrick Worth, Paul Poiret, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. Special attention is given to the creations and studio of Mariano Fortuny, the eccentric early 20th-century Italian artist, who is both a kindred spirit and a major source of inspiration to de Borchgrave. De Borchgrave is not creating exact copies of these historical dresses but uses them as inspiration, masterfully working the paper to a desired effect of her choosing. She pleats, hand paints, and manipulates the paper into recreations of designs from fashion greats and periods, achieving with paper what many designers never fully achieve with fabric. The exhibition is presented in six sections:
The Artist’s Studio is recreated to provide insight into de Borchgrave’s creative process.
In White showcases the purity of craftsmanship in a selection of nine dresses devoid of color.
Papiers à la Mode features iconic looks from key periods in fashion history; gowns worn by such legendary historical figures as Elizabeth I, Madame de Pompadour, Empress Eugénie and Marie-Antoinette. Famous designers such as Charles Fredrick Worth, Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel are represented by signature pieces.
Fortuny is an immersive environment created under a feather-light paper tent populated by recreations of Mariano Fortuny’s famed pleated and draped gowns.
The Medici is the artist’s most extravagant series, with elaborate velvets, needlework lace, ropes of pearls, and intricate coiffures transformed into paper sculpture.
Isabelle de Borchgrave was formally trained in painting and drawing at the Centre des Arts Décoratifs and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and began her artistic career designing dresses of hand-painted fabric for special occasions. For more than fifteen years, she has been producing a completely original body of work, often in paper, that is very difficult to categorize. Historical dresses are used as inspiration as de Borchgrave masterfully works the paper to a desired effect of her choosing. She is also a designer and interior decorator who finds an inexhaustible source of inspiration in paper. She has designed exquisite paper products for Caspari, posters for Wild Apple and in March 2007, she launched a line of paper party décor, called Isabelle Party with Target stores.
With her trompe l’oeil paper gowns in Pulp Fashion , she invites her viewers to explore her imaginary world and to then use their own creativity to form their own illusions. As de Borchgrave explains, “Although my inspiration springs from the period dresses in the great museum collections, this is just a wink at history. My work is a confluence of influences—paper, painting, sculptor, textiles, costume, illusion and trompe l’oeil.”
Pulp Fashion brilliantly reflects the sensibilities and excesses of several eras, providing a vivid picture of how styles have changed but that exquisite craftsmanship is always revered.
Meet Isabelle de Borchgrave this Saturday: This Saturday, February 5, 2011, from 11a.m. to 11:45 a.m., as part of the exhibition’s opening day celebration, Isabelle de Borchgrave will be at the Legion and will complete a painted dress pattern before your eyes. This process will reveal the painstaking detail that goes into each of her creations and the creative magic that transforms a simple material like paper into the most luxurious of garments. Free with museum admission.
Pulp Fashion Workshop for Children this Saturday: Also, on Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m., de Borchgrave will lead a hands-on workshop for children. They will learn to transform simple paper into splendid textiles. This workshop space is available on a drop-in basis. Space is limited and participation will be on a first come first served basis. Free with museum admission.
Exhibition Catalogue: FAMSF curator Jill D’Alessandro has contextualized de Borchgrave’s work against the rich tapestry of art and couture history in the exhibition catalogue Pulp Fashion: the Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave. The catalogue, rich with illustrations and photos, examines how de Borchgrave brings long-lost fashions to life through an intricate process of tailoring, crumpling, braiding, pleating and painting paper. A special section focuses on the making of a new work inspired by a seventeenth-century Italian portrait in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The catalogue is available in the special exhibition Museum Store (hardback 104 pages, $29.95) or for pre-order online through Amazon.com.
Details: The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco. Open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., with admission ranging from $6 to $10. For information, visit http://legionofhonor.famsf.org or call (415) 750-3600.