SALVAGED RELATIVES

Gracia Haby
A handful of words on cabinet cards, collage, and costume, to accompany our three artists' books, Salvaged Relatives I, II, and III (2014–2015), at a One Night Only viewing at Milly Sleeping
2015

Salvaged Relatives notes, titles, and references (11 page pdf)

 
“For in and out, above, about, below,
’Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.”

—Omar Khayyám[1]
 


There you were, in an open shoebox beneath the radio. Some eighty-odd cabinet cards that to my ego called out for salvation. Those of you less marked by age and warped by moisture, I took to the counter. A handsome, if motley, selection of sixty-three men and women, young and old, purchased as a plan for restoration formed.

Placed one atop the other and wrapped in a plastic bag, your muffled conversations hugged the corner whereas I went straight ahead and so I have no idea as to what was actually said. In the space of rustled make-believe, perhaps collectively you said you longed to take to the stage, to be part of Sergei Diaghilev's "restless, physical slideshow"[2] steeped in the exotic, flanked by nymphs darned and patched. In the chatter, I calculated the spectacular effect. Léon Bakst was right: "People Just Want to Look!"[3]

To be reimagined as Jean Cocteau's poster of Tamara Karsavina in profile and en pointe in Le Spectre de la rose[4]— was that one of your requests or did I project my own desire? Was it for Giorgio de Chirico's blue hearts and yellow sleeves you pined or Cleopatra’s malachite green and flesh-toned silk, all tatty, tawdry, and crude up close? Perhaps for one of you, your hands longed to be encased in Petrouchka's black mittens. With a ruff around your neck and pants chequered yellow, pink, and perspiration, you’d be ready for dance’s ephemerality. Perhaps it was Igor Stravinsky's pictorial image that drew you in or the hallucinogenic qualities of Claude Debussy. Satin, paint, and tinsel, with underskirts a mass of froth! The effect, kaleidoscopic!

Shod in birch slippers, together we would become our own troupe of Natalia Goncharova's dancing peasants, beasts, and birds. With grafted elements of ragtime and danse plastique (free dance), we needed no longer resist that "almost irresistible urge to jump up on the stage and become at one with the performance."[5] In my hands was a deck of cards and "innumerable combinations."[6] In my grasp, the chance to revel in Bakst's palette of "lugubrious green [alongside] a blue full of despair."[7]

But before the front cloth can be raised, let the highly contrived exercise begin! To beauty and tension between what is seen and what remains hidden. Yes! Here’s to that.

On the table before me, a host of characters to be dressed and belted and covered in zigzag patterns. In painted silk and felted wool dyed, stenciled, painted, and printed, you would hit no false notes. If I squinted, you were capable of constant movement. An idyll of fluid pattern! A faint line of rust upon your shoulders (from a "newly invented wire coathanger"[8]) disappeared, and the painted scallops of your skirts ruched without bulk (La Boutique fantasque). I became Maria Stepanova removing and redistributing the petals on Nijinsky still-in-costume (Le Spectre de la rose), as Picasso painted the stars on Parade’s Acrobats. In the wings, Georges Braque painted flowers on the bodice (Zéphire et Flore).

You, take these fake pearl stud earrings so heavy you can hardly hear the music.

And you, bitten by a poisonous serpent, in a costume traced with blue makeup and made of watered silk and satin, return to your celestial abode wrapped in rays of gold thread and pressed by metallic stud (The blue god).

Retire to your couch like Thamar, Queen of Georgia, waving your cerise silk scarf. Hapless suitors, be mindful of trapdoors. In the lining, I added your name below the previous entries (in the costume for a Lezghin). Clearly visible under the overhead lamp were traces of Queen Thamar's peach-toned makeup and rotting fabric under the arms. With scissors in hand, costumes were taken in, hems shortened and side panels inserted. A miniaturized amalgam of Persian exoticism and folkloric tales unfolded before my eyes. "Majestic Shahs, kohl-eyed houris, Servile eunuchs and fierce warriors, the symbols of the seven deadly sins."[9]

Mind your butterfly wings are not crushed (Papillons).

A battery of percussion, your soundscape: to my fickle Columbine. Upon your shoulder and at your heel, I placed the "seismographs of movement and sensitive satellites,"[10] your animal companions. A Pen-tailed tree shrew (Ptilocercus lowii) and a Water opossum (Chironectes minimus), together proved a bundle of instincts to help you navigate the wild, uncharted dream (Carnival).

To you, I give the iridescence of a marine creature, with monsters and squids in attendance (Sadko—in the underwater kingdom).

Extend your shoulders and grow your frame with stiffened buckram, felt, rubberized cloth and heavy cane you say? Of course, and in echo of the Cubist scenery, I’ll leave in my place a goat (Chout).

In your chosen attire, dragging your crinoline skirt, can you still dance the syncopated tarantella with the necessary speed?

Snip—snip—snip.

You, over there, in the stuccoed wig, your jacket and vest have become a column from the classical order. Why, you’ve become moveable architecture, an exaggerated cornice in a ballroom (Le Bal).

And you, to my right, woven tight in ikat textiles from Uzbekistan, whether your headdress slips or not, you perfectly embody the energy and new freedom of Mikhail Fokine's choreography (The Polovtsian dances from Prince Igor).

I’ve a jumble of costumes in stock. Come as a Bluebird or a Hummingbird Fairy (The Sleeping Princess) or as a lady in waiting encased in 20 metres of dyed silk in the skirt and bodice. To Aurora’s Wedding, come as Pierrot (Women's wiles) or oversized as Dr Romualdo. In de Chirico's overdrawn stereotypes from traditional Italian commedia dell'arte (Pulcinella), with Stravinsky echoing Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, should you want a Gabon talapoin (Miopithecus ogouensis) as a brooch, I’m in no position to refuse. Though, in principle, I oppose the use of animals as decoration. Gold braid and ermine tails! Run, Mustela erminea! I'll swathe King Dodon in eight layers of fabric to make good your escape (Le Coq d’or).

Take your cue from Léonide Massine's Les Presages and be not anchored to a particular time and place. Become a singular organism of bitter colour orchestration constructed in Diaghilev’s legacy. Or fall back to Vienna's formal elegance in the height of summer, 1860, in Le Beau Danube dressed as the Hussar. Let's!

Or perhaps you prefer the idea of weaving yourself into the fabric of a park at dusk, your coin purse stolen as you reminisce about a love affair (Jardin public). Okay.

Snip—snip—snip.

Will you take your tragedy from Canto V of Dante's Inferno (Francesca da Rimini), throwing yourself onto your husband’s sword?

Will you be held in place by Henri Matisse's chevrons of navy blue velvet, an exotic bird from his own collection perhaps (The song of the nightingale)?

Will, like Vaslav Nijinsky, you take your choreography from a toy duck with its "weighty, angular, downward thrust"[11] (The Rite of Spring)?

Become stateless, travelling on Nansen passports, my troupe. Become Irina Baronova advertised on a De Reszke cigarette card. Or slink into an Æsop’s fable and become the cat-woman in pursuit of a mouse. "Mrkgnao! the cat cried"[12] (La Chatte). Perhaps the magically feathered half-woman and half-bird of Slavic folklore born aloft not by strings but by music[13] feels your path. Mind there’s a soul hidden in that egg (The firebird).

Grow larger still. Spring from cabinet card to a gelatin silver photograph. Be Icarus as he falls to the ground (Icare[14]). I’ll cushion your knees.

A backdrop for your enchantment has been provided. Be lined with vermillion. Be weighted with gold acorns (Narcissus). With its chronological assortment of stains, let us reduce that skirt and remove that trimming. With white spots on the backcloth to echo Fokine's choreographic floor patterns repeatedly layered, not for you the painful misfortune of falling through a rotting floorboard and tearing an Achilles tendon like Alexander Gavrilov.

My Salvaged Relatives, tucked inside a fairy tale inside a Solander box-nest where old age and weary muscles will not find you.


Snip—snip.

"The curtain falls."[15]

 

Endnotes:
[1] Khayyám, Omar, poem in Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Sevier, Michel, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Petrouchka, edition 38/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919, p.5.

[2] Goodall, Howard, 'Music and the Ballets Russes' in Pritchard, Jane (Ed.), Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, London: V&A Publishing, 2010, p.176.

[3] Bakst, Léon, 'O sovremennom teatre. "Nikto v teatre bol’she ne khochet slushat, a khochet videt!"', Petersburgskaia gazeta [The Petersburg Gazette], 21st of January 1914, no.20, p.5., referenced by Bowlt, John, E., 'Léon Bakst, Natalia Goncharova and Pablo Picasso: "Call Forth Emotions by Captivating the Eye"' in Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, p.105.

[4] One of two large-scale, colour lithographic posters for the opening season of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 1913, originally created by Jean Cocteau for the 1911 season at Monte Carlo. The other was of Vaslav Nijinsky, who Cocteau described as having a "slender young torso contrasting with overdeveloped thighs, ... like some Florentine, vigorous beyond anything human, and feline to a disquieting degree." V&A Theatre and Performance Collection accessed online, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O75904/ballets-russes-poster-cocteau-jean/

[5] Bowlt, John, E., 'Léon Bakst, Natalia Goncharova and Pablo Picasso: "Call Forth Emotions by Captivating the Eye"' in Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, p.103.

[6] "The costumes might intervene with each other mutually or come forth one from the other. One costume, put next to another might hardly be noticed... This [process] can be compared to a game of cards with its rigid and complex rules and innumerable combinations." Goncharova, Natalia, Le Costume Théâtral (1930), in Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, p.108.

[7] Léon Bakst discussing his "paradoxical" colour palette for Schéhérazade, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, p.104.

[8] Ward, Debbie, 'Sights Unseen: Tags, Stamps and Stains', in Bell, Robert, Ballet Russes: The Art of Costume, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2010, p.199.

[9] Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by White, Ethelbert, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Thamar, edition 30/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919, p.5.

[10] Luc Van Den Dries discussing animals in a conversation with Jan Fabre, 2004/2003, in Lepecki, André (Ed.), Dance: Documents of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2012, p.123.

[11] Edwin Evans recalls of Vaslav Nijinsky: "Like many artists he had a weakness for clever toys. I discovered in Chelsea a jointed wooden duck which was capable of assuming extraordinary expressive angular attitudes. I procured one for him, and he was delighted with it. The following year, after The Rite of Spring had been produced with his angular choreography, one of his first questions to me was: 'Well, did you recognize it?' — 'What?' — 'Why, the duck, of course', and he told me that some of the most effective angular poses in the ballet had originated with the duck." Pritchard, Jane, 'Creative Productions', in Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, p.81.

[12] Joyce, James, Ulysses, Gabler, Hans Walter (Ed.), with Steppe, Wolfhard, & Melchior, Claus, London: The Bodley Head, 2008, p.45.

[13] "It is easily possible to hear the flight of the bird, its approach and play among the branches of the magic tree, and capture by the prince.... an atmosphere of witchcraft, goblins, and attendant magic." Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by White, Ethelbert, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: L’Oiseau de Feu, edition10/46, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919, p.6.

[14] Beck, Vene, Stage performance of Icare (Icarus falls to the ground), 1940, gelatin silver photograph, 16.6 X 24.6 cm, National Gallery of Australia

[15] Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Allison, Adrian, P., Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Schéhérazade, edition 18/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919, p.13.

 

References:
Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Sevier, Michel, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: La boutique fantasque, edition 10/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Allinson, Adrian, P., Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1918: Carnaval, edition 22/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1918.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Sevier, Michel, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Children's Tales, edition 1/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Allinson, Adrian, P., Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Cleopatra, edition 10/46, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Allinson, Adrian, P., Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1918: The Good Humoured Ladies, edition 22/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1918.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by White, Ethelbert, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: L’Oiseau de Feu, edition 10/46, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Sevier, Michel, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Petrouchka, edition 38/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Allison, Adrian, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Schéhérazade, edition 18/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Schwabe, Randolph, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1921: Sleeping princess, part one, edition 13/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1921.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by Schwabe, Randolph, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1921: Sleeping princess, part two, edition 10/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1921.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by White, Ethelbert, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: Thamar, edition 30/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Beaumont, Cyril, decorated by White, Ethelbert, Impressions of the Russian Ballet 1919: The Three-cornered Hat, edition 40/40, London: C. W. Beaumont, 1919.

Bell, Robert, Ballet Russes: The Art of Costume, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2010.

Brunoff, Maurice de, Collection des plus beaux numéros de Comoedia illustré et des programmes consacrés aux ballets & galas russes : depuis le début à Paris, 1909–1921, edition 10/40, Paris: M. de Brunoff, 1922.

Joyce, James, Ulysses, Gabler, Hans Walter (Ed.), with Steppe, Wolfhard, & Melchior, Claus, London: The Bodley Head, 2008.

Lindsay, Daryl, Back stage with the Covent Garden Russian ballet, Sydney: Peerless Press, 1938.

Lepecki, André (Ed.), Dance: Documents of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2012.

Pritchard, Jane (Ed.), Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929, London: V&A Publishing, 2010.

Propert, Walter Archibald, The Russian ballet in western Europe, 1909–1920, edition 315/500, New York: John Lane, 1921.

Svietlov, Valerīan, translated from the Russian by Grey, A., Anna Pavlova, Paris: M. de Brunoff, 1922.

Turner, Walter, James, Britain in pictures, English ballet, London: W. Collins, 1946.

V&A Theatre and Performance Collection, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/