Archive for February, 2011

Movie Night

February 27, 2011

Several thousand years before anyone knew there would be an Oscar Awards Ceremony, or even a film industry, there was animation.  Well, really there was pottery.  More specifically, there was an earthenware goblet discovered in Shahr-e Sūkhté, also known as “The Burnt City,” an archeological site in southern Iran dating back over 7,000 years.  Archeologists who dug up the goblet in 2008 estimate it to be about 5,200 years old.

It seems the people who made and used this goblet were a peaceful group (to date, not a single weapon has been discovered there).  The Burnt City was huge at a time when cities were pretty new.  The locals spent their time weaving and inventing stuff.  Like backgammon, rudimentary brain surgery, and how to insert a glass eye into the eye socket of a very tall woman.  And animation.

The goblet’s slip decorated rim consists of a series of gazelles alternating with idealized trees.  Researchers transcribed the goblet’s imagery along a continuum so all the way around could be seen at once.  This methodology is often done on many types of pottery, from pre-Columbian to modern, to better study iconography.  The results look like an intentionally repeated representation of a single gazelle leaping up to eat something off of a tree.  This imagery was put on an mpeg file so it could be played as an animated “film.”  The results are fascinating.

Obviously, nobody today can know the intentions of the potter.  But it isn’t hard to imagine someone getting the idea for an animated sequence.  Story telling as fodder for imagery has been around as long as there have been pots to decorate.  So a cartoon about a gazelle?  Why not?



February 13, 2011

The Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I is considered one of the main causes of World War II.  Nazi leaders used the economic and political stress imposed on Germany to push their twisted program to it’s disastrous conclusion.  But harsh terms have been exacted from the vanquished throughout history, leading to the observation that wars are never won or lost.  They just continue.

The victors write history, but the vanquished remember it…

Anyway, up until the mid 19th century in northeastern Congo and southern Sudan, another form of tribute was exacted.  Vassals were required to give pottery to their overlords in Azande and Mangbetu controlled territories.  This “tribute pottery” was a unique class of unusual, individualized earthenware bottle forms.  These bottles weren’t made for any other purpose.  And their makers generally specialized in crafts other than pottery.

Azande rulers in particular didn’t collect this tribute to hoard away or show off.  They used tribute pottery as gifts to members of their court, neighboring chiefs, and visiting dignitaries such as European explorers, missionaries and medical personnel.

By the 1920’s European colonial rule replaced Azande political power.  Pottery as tribute ended.  But the allure of what was formally a uniquely prestigious possession kept production of these forms alive.  The expressive qualities of tribute pottery allowed potters to explore whole new ways of creating forms beyond the traditional categories that previously defined their work.

It would seem that tribute pottery was a gift that kept on giving.

Just imagine the world we would be living in if, instead of billions of dollars worth of unpayable reparations and huge chunks of territory, France and England demanded shipments of Meissen porcelain and Westerwald stoneware in 1919.

First Art: Historic African Ceramics. Douglas Dawson.    C & C Printing/Hong Kong.  2009.

A World at Arms.  A Global History of World War II. Gerhard Weinberg.  Cambridge University Press/Cambridge, England.  1994.