Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rev. Dr. James Howell on Beauty and God // Theology and Arts in the Local Church

From a blog post by Rev. Dr. James C. Howell, senior pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church (Charlotte, NC) and adjunct professor at Duke Divinity School

"I've been preparing for a talk I’m giving on Monday, June 7, 7pm (to be repeated Wednesday, June 9, 11am) called Talking with God Using Beauty, our Brains, and the Bible. We will look at how Darwin, Monet, Mozart, Michelangelo, Einstein, Charlie Brown, Chopin, and Jewel help us to know God. It’s “multimedia,” meaning I’ve got power point images, and there will also be live music."

Keep reading...

Worship Resources: Arts & Artists // Methodist General Board of Discipleship

The United Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship has a wealth of worship resources--recall this recent post about their worship planning material for times of crisis. Their website also has a whole section entitled "Arts & Artists." The section includes four topics:
The site links to everything from a concordance of artwork based on Biblical texts to guides for designing and building a columbarium to publishing houses specializing in Christian drama. There is even a page dedicated to Bulletin Design.

Leaving the Nest, Proteges Find Fame // Foreign Architects Break Away

Full article here // Excerpt below

By Fred A. Bernstein

IN the video, on YouTube, Madonna is seen laying the first brick at a school in Lilongwe, Malawi. But to connoisseurs of architecture, the real star of the video is the man standing next to Madonna, alongside a rendering of the 40-acre campus. He is Markus Dochantschi, the German-born, New York-based designer of what is called the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls.

For a young architect it’s hard to imagine a higher-profile project than a school backed by Madonna. And if the attention mostly goes to the pop star, Mr. Dochantschi isn’t complaining. He spent seven years working for the architect Zaha Hadid, a larger-than-life figure, learning how to stand outside the spotlight.

Mr. Dochantschi, who is 42, left Ms. Hadid’s practice in 2002, making him one of a small group of foreign-born architects who have broken away from Pritzker Prize-winning mentors to work on their own in the United States. The ranks include Kulapat Yantrasast, 41, who was born in Thailand, worked for seven years for the Japanese master Tadao Ando and then moved to Los Angeles in 2003. He has already designed one American museum from the ground up and has several other museum buildings in the works.

Keep reading...

Even Sopranos Get the Blues // Renee Fleming's Latest Project

Full article here // Excerpt below

By Anthony Tommasini

FOR months now, the acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming, her recording company and her public relations agency have been working hard to make one thing clear: “Dark Hope,” her new Decca recording of indie rock songs, is not a crossover project.

Crossover! Heaven forbid! To many classical music critics and tradition-minded artists, the commercial crossover projects in the last two decades are sure signs, in the words of the esteemed British baritone Thomas Allen, that “well-organized hijackers” and “money-grabbing, P.R.-led” marketers are using “wet T-shirted” violinists to — horror or horrors — sell classical records.

Whew. No wonder Ms. Fleming is at pains to distinguish “Dark Hope” from crossover. But what is crossover exactly?

Keep reading...

Banned on YouTube // "Born Free" by M.I.A.

This music video of the song "Born Free" by UK artist M.I.A. was reportedly banned from YouTube for its graphic content (there's your warning). It is a chilling portrayal of the abuses of war, genocide and the things we do in the name of "national security." The New York Daily News reported, "M.I.A. is no stranger to political activism, being the daughter of a Tamil revolutionary who sought the creation of an independent state in Sri Lanka."

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Actor Dennis Hopper Dies // His Legacy

Actor Dennis Hopper passed away yesterday in his California home. CNN reported, "Hopper, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer last October, was surrounded by his children when he died." The New Yorks Times' ArtsBeat referred to Hopper as an "iconoclast" and noted that he appeared in at least 25 films in the last decade.

In memory of Hopper,
Entertainment Weekly published a list of "12 Key Films," including "Easy Rider,""Rebel Without a Cause" and "Apocalypse Now."

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Mission of Art // David Taylor in Christianity Today

Full article here // Excerpt below

By Mark Moring

rowing up as a missionary kid in Guatemala, David Taylor was learning the meaning of beauty before he even realized it. Taylor names the tropical landscape as one of five key elements in shaping his own identity as an artist. The others: listening to his mother play classical music on her grand piano; watching his father tend orchids in the backyard greenhouse; reading 'books outside my tradition' recommended by his Regent College professors, including Eugene Peterson; and 'being given permission to try and fail—again and again—by the leadership of Hope Chapel [in Austin, Texas], as I sought to discover what an arts ministry was supposed to be about.'"

Keep reading...


Also see this post in New Creation about an event this past March that celebrated Duke Divinity School Th.D. student David Taylor's book, For the Beauty of the Church. You can also read more and follow David on his blog, Diary of an Arts Pastor.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pianist, Only 13, Plays with Iraq Symphony // Julliard Student Got a Standing Ovation Afterward

Full article here // Excerpt below

By Barbara Surk

BAGHDAD -- A 13-year-old piano prodigy from Los Angeles brought an Iraqi audience to their feet Saturday when he made a rare guest appearance with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra in Baghdad, a city struggling to revive its once-vibrant cultural scene.

Llewellyn Kingman Sanchez Werner, who studies piano and composition at New York's renowned Juilliard School, got a standing ovation from an enthusiastic crowd of about 250 after performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and warmly embraced the conductor.

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Many Faiths, One Truth // A New York Times Op-Ed

Full op-ed here // Excerpt below

By Tenzin Gyatso

WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Keep reading...

Jean-Luc Marion: Seeing from the point of view of God // From Faith & Leadership

"Jean-Luc Marion is one of the world's leading philosophers and theologians. He did doctoral work in philosophy with Jacques Derrida and also learned from such theologians as Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar.


Marion was interviewed by members of the class 'Writing as a Christian Practice' at Duke Divinity School along with fellow class guest David Van Biema, former religion writer for Time magazine. He spoke about the potential application of some of his work to Christian leadership. The audio clip is an excerpt from the following edited interview."

Read the full interview here (at Faith & Leadership) or download the audio free from iTunesU.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beside Still Waters - Psalm 42 // A Video Produced by the Western NC Conference

A reading of Psalm 42, an excerpt from "The Psalms, Part 7: Beside Still Waters," presented by Rev. Dr. James C. Howell at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC. The video was produced in 1985 by the Western NC Conference of the United Methodist Church and Vestavia Hills UMC.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Get Published on SOF Observed // Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett

Submit essays, photos, videos, quotes and audio clips for possible publication in SOF Observed! Click here to learn more. This is a great opportunity for Div students!

How Do We Experience Art? // Multiple Intelligences

Full article here // Excerpt below

From Art:21 Blog

by Shannon Burton

I teach art at a school where the subject is not just a once-a-week occurrence. New City School is a Multiple Intelligences school where art (using spatial intelligence) is used daily by teachers in every subject to help students explore, process, learn, share, and demonstrate. Howard Gardner
developed the Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory in 1983 to expand the scope of what intelligence encompasses. Gardner has now defined nine intelligences: linguistic, logical-­mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-­kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, existential, and spatial. The first two, linguistic and logical-­mathematical, are heavily favored in the vast majority of schools.


Learning is not a passive process in education or in art. John Dewey’s Art and Experience is an interesting testament to this. So how does all of this play out in art class? Here are some examples from a conceptual paper portrait project I do with my 6th graders.

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The Exotic in the Eyes of African Beholders // 'Through African Eyes' at the Detroit Institute of Art

Full article here // Excerpt below

The New York Times Art Review

by Holland Cotter

DETROIT — For centuries Euro-American eyes have been
trained on Africa. We’ve scanned it from afar, surveyed it up close, put it behind glass; looked and looked, wonderingly, acquisitively, disdainfully, fearfully. But we rarely seem to be aware that during all that time Africans have been looking back at us — wonderingly, acquisitively, disdainfully, fearfully. A remarkable exhibition called “Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present,” which opens Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Arts, gives a vivid hint of what they’ve seen.

One thing is whiteness, a confusing sight. The show begins with two wood figures carved by Kongo artists in Central Africa in the 19th or early 20th century. One figure is female, the other male; both have similar facial features and painted white skin.

The female figure — nude, kneeling and tensed — is almost certainly a traditional image of an ancestral spirit and was possibly created as a grave marker. Her chalky pallor signals her unearthly status. The male figure is harder to understand. He isn’t nude. He wears a European-style jacket and a helmetlike hat. He sits as if relaxed, with a leg crossed over the other. Does his white skin indicate that he’s a spirit too or, given his attire and pose, a light-skinned foreigner?

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Religious Conviction Powers Ballet Magnificat, Nation's First Christian Ballet Company

Full article here // Excerpt below

By Sarah Kaufman

JACKSON, MISS. -- The performance is over, but the dancers aren't finished. Now they want to come up the aisles and pray with you.

"This is why we dance," announces Erin Beaver, one of Ballet Magnificat's tour directors, speaking into a microphone while she paces the stage at the Jackson Academy's Performing Arts Center. Beaver, an energetic woman with a powerful smile, has the upbeat, insistent delivery of a televangelist, but she's not ministering alone. As she urges the audience to come to Jesus, slender young women with perfect posture and turned-out feet file into the audience, still in their knee-length costumes. They wait in the aisles for the kind of standing ovation they cherish: audience members so moved by the dancing that they want to leave their seats and worship with the cast.

"Let me get something straight," Beaver tells the crowd of nearly 500. "There's nothing magical about praying with a sweaty dancer." The audience laughs.

"But this is real," she continues. "You're real.

"Let's go to a real God."

It wasn't always this easy to find God at the ballet. Back in 1986, when Kathy Thibodeaux started Ballet Magnificat, the nation's first Christian ballet company, people told her it was a big mistake.

Fellow dancers warned the former Jackson Ballet dancer that it's hard enough to keep a mainstream troupe afloat, let alone one with such a specialized focus. Her church friends told her that dance and Christian ministry don't mix -- ballet is immodest, too flashy, too sensual.

In the company's early years, the dancers would get letters telling them that what they were doing was wrong, that the Devil uses dancing to provoke licentiousness and immorality.

They would console themselves with Psalms 149 and 150, which urge the faithful to praise the Lord with dancing. This, they felt, was a scriptural commission.

Two professional touring companies, a school and a growing international reputation later, the naysayers are forgiven. After all, most of the criticism arose a quarter-century ago, Thibodeaux explains: "Nobody was dancing for Jesus back then."

Yet not even she believed the idea would take off as it has, launching Ballet Mag, as its followers call it, on tours across the country and around the world. In recent weeks, dancers have traveled to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic; in addition to Europe, in previous years they've performed in Canada and Colombia. In 2008, one of the companies toured Israel with a Holocaust-themed ballet, "Hiding Place," about Corrie ten Boom, a devout Christian who hid Jews in her home during the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands."We're not dancing fairytales or portraying swans," says Thibodeaux, a tall, willowy brunette who, with her girlishly upturned nose and flawless skin, looks younger than her 53 years. (Not to mention the fact that she still dances ably alongside the 20-somethings.)

Continue reading...

Must Art Be Ethical? // Flash Points Wrap-Up: Art for Life

By Catherine Wagley

A friend of mine dated a composer once. He was a good composer. People found his music “inventive” and “ubiquitous” (in a good way). All of his friends were musicians, artists, or filmmakers and they seemed to be good at what they did too—they cared about craft and they promoted themselves and each other well enough to ensure that a like-minded posse would always be around when they debuted new work. At first, this scenario seemed perfect: having a composer boyfriend with creative friends who made things all the time. But my friend soon noticed that none of these people showed much interest in the meaning of what they were making. She would go to openings at which the art on exhibit looked unambitious, sometimes exploitative or hackneyed, but criticism, even veiled skepticism, was unthinkable. This was a loyal tribe. If you were in, you were in, no matter how brilliant or lifeless your work might be.

Only once did a member of the tribe—an indie rocker from a band-you’ve-definitely-heard-of—get axed. He slept with a girl he shouldn’t have slept with, and, after that, his cohorts weren’t his cohorts anymore. My friend understood why the rocker’s behavior would be reprehensible, but she wondered why his music, a heavy-handed brand of emo that turned human experience into a spurt of blind antagonisms, hadn’t played even a small part in his excommunication. How could a group of artists so effortlessly separate the code they lived by from the art they made?

“You’re not really supposed to discuss moral and ethical matters around contemporary art,” wrote Ben Street, a month into the Must Art Be Ethical? debate. “Express discomfort at Sierra’s synagogue or Fraser’s fornication . . . and your contemporary art membership card is permanently revoked.” This, Street suggested, is a measure of contemporary art’s insecurity with itself. Such insecurity could come from numerous sources, many of which played out during the ethics discussion we’ve had on this site these past few months: modernism, money, representation (also here), quantity, institutional policies, power, education, art world politicshere), artistic process, and the definition of what artists even are.

“Artists are an educated class of cultural producers who routinely challenge ‘moral authority’ and share a tolerance for minority perspectives,” wrote artist William Powhida in his March 18 post. But, as Jennifer Dalton, who co-curated the recent #class exhibition with Powhida, pointed out, “The art world is not such a tolerant place.” She continued, “We don’t like conservatives, even socially-liberal-fiscally-conservative ones . . . . Our commitment to free expression is limited to the types of ‘transgressions’ we are all entirely comfortable with.”

Laura Fried’s recent post discussed one transgression with which we’ve become comfortable: institutional critique. “The great weakness of institutional critique,” she said, “was its failure to move beyond the exposure of unethical (or questionable) institutional practices in favor of affecting real change.” Fried points to Carey Young as an example of an artist who activates her audiences with change in mind. Of course, believing that art can affect real change requires admitting that something should change, and admitting that something should change requires taking an ethical stand on both life and art.

It’s hard to talk about art as ethical or unethical. It’s often easier to critique the ethics of the art world. Wrote Ben Street:

The conflation of object and its receptive context make ethical discussions about art really ethical discussions about how the art world behaves. This is like blaming money itself for the financial crisis. . . . I want to address the question in the way I first interpreted it: can there be anything ethical about art itself, or is it perpetually at one remove from the conversation? Can art itself be, now, a proposal about how to live?

Poet Ariana Reines once said she writes because she’s interested in living her life. Poetry acted metonymically, like a living stand-in. Good art, Ed Winkleman pointed out, is neither ethical nor unethical. It’s just good. But if we really take it seriously, it affects the way way we understand life and, if it affects the way understand life, then it affects the way we understand ethics and it affects the way we live.

Calling Field Ed Students! Submit Photos, Stories, Poetry, Art, etc.!

* Take a cool picture at your field ed placement?
* Have a story about something neat that happened in a worship service?
* Write a poem reflecting on some aspect of your experience?
* Preach a sermon you'd like to share?
* Have an interaction with a parishioner or client that struck you?
* Got ideas about how the topic of theology and the arts can apply to everyday work in churches and nonprofits?
* Meet a talented parishioner or client whose story you/they want to share?

The New Creation Arts blog is seeking input from more DDS students! If you have any photos, stories, poetry, art, music, sermons, anything you want to share related to theology and/or the arts from your field ed experience, bring it on! Hit up Sarah Howell on Facebook or via email (

The NCAG blog is designed to operate along two axes (that's the plural of "axis," not a lumberjack reference): the first with theology on one end and the arts on the other; the second with Duke-related stories on one end and world events on the other. The hope is that the blog can report and archive a broad range of stories, hopefully with a good deal of overlap, that fall all along those spectrums. Having more Div students contribute will only enrich it further!!

Thursday at Duke // Screen/Society Displacement Series: Up the Yangtzee

When: Thursday, May 27, 2010 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Nasher Museum of Art

Free and Open to the Public!

More Info

Description: Part of the Displacement Series presented by the Nasher Museum of Art, "Up the Yangtze" (Yung Chang, 2007, 93 min, Canada, in English, Mandarin, and Sichuan with English subtitles, Color, DVD) follows the completion of China's mammoth Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. When finished, it will be the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. However, progress comes at a price: the dam will displace more than a million residents and destroy numerous cultural and archaeological sites. In Up the Yangtze, filmmaker Yung Chang sensitively examines the effects of this massive project on personal lives as he follows two young people, each one transformed by the construction. Beautifully photographed, the film provides a final snapshot of a rapidly disappearing cultural landscape. Juxtaposing the Yangtze's stunning panorama with the reality of Yu Shui's poignant story, Chang shows the tenuous balance between China's rich cultural past and its modernized future.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

From U2: A Song for Spidey // For Broadway's 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'

by Patrick Healy

The rock band Carney on Tuesday unveiled a new song by U2, “Boy Falls From the Sky,” an emo-like mix of ballad and hard, aching energy that is intended as a major number in Act II of the coming Broadway mega-musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” Bono and the Edge wrote “Boy” and a dozen more songs for the show, their first Broadway musical, which has suffered production delays because of financial problems but is expected to begin performances in New York this fall.

Reeve Carney, the singer-frontman of the band that bears his name, is set to play Peter Parker and Spider-Man on Broadway, though he did not act in character while performing “Boy” at a luncheon honoring the musical’s director, Julie Taymor. It was the first time that Mr. Carney had performed a U2 song from “Spider-Man” before several hundred Broadway artists and producers; his singing voice sounded both younger and sharper-edged than Bono’s.

In the musical, Peter Parker sings the number after his love interest, Mary Jane, has been abducted and his superpowers are gone. The song was by turns romantic and introspective, with lyrics like “You can change your mind/You can’t change your heart” and “I did not have to move so far/To find myself alone.”

Translators on Translation // The Value of Reading Poetry in Translation

An article from IMAGE

The International Issue (#65) includes poetry in translation from Russian, Latvian, Romanian, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. We asked the translators who contributed work to the issue about how they see their art: What’s the value of reading poetry in translation? That is, if we’re not really hearing the sounds and rhythms of the poet’s original language, what are we getting out of it?

Even an imperfect translation takes us out of the box of our own culture, gives us a sense of how to think in different terms, how to see with different eyes. Cultural dynamics are crucial to artistic activity. We want to know what our friends are doing; we want to remember what our ancestors did. We must have translations of all time—of Greek and Latin, of Sumerian and Aramaic, of Sanskrit and classical Mandarin, of Old English and Middle English! Bless the poet able to think fluently and freshly in two or more languages like Richard Wilbur, who offers us not only his own poetry but also fluent translations in our time of the great seventeenth-century French theater of Corneille, Racine, and Molière.
F.D. Reeve

A poet is transmitting ideas and perceptions; these may or may not be related to the poet’s country of origin or residence. Personally I like to see a poem in print; line breaks and the look of it are important to me. If the reader becomes intrigued with researching the poet’s nationality, reading or hearing the original language, it can of course be done thanks to international access to the web. It’s rather like subtitles for films or opera: many Latvians went to hear the Philip Glass opera Satyagraha performed in Sanskrit, because the language is so similar to Latvian, but they certainly needed the translation to understand what it was about. After you’ve read the libretto, you can close your eyes and relate to the emotion expressed—it becomes universal. A good translator can render the work so seamlessly that it seems to have been written in the language translated into.
Inara Cedrins

I know some people who have decided to learn Italian precisely to read the original after having been introduced to the translation. Just as it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all, so is it better for one to have read Rondoni with my potentially flawed translations than to have never experienced his ethos and vision. Around the world, people read the Bible in English, in Chinese, in Hungarian, etc., and they are inspired, enlightened. Yet, how many “know the Lord” in Hebrew, much less Aramaic? Basho’s haikus in Japanese? Or Mandel’stam in Russian?
Experts in Plato’s philosophy have never read the original in Greek, so the important thing is to enter into dialogue with the works, as well as with other readers, for any translation is, in itself, already a form of exegesis. In fact, when I wrote my dissertation on Montale’s Italian poems, despite my knowledge of Italian and my readings of the English translations, it was a French version of his opus that truly gave me clarity and insight—was this a “better” version of Montale himself? Who knows, for all literature is but a translation of the real world.
Gregory Pell

“Traduttore, traditore,” the saying goes: translator, traitor. Indeed, no translation succeeds in bringing every nuance of the original into the target language. But I tend to think that translation is less a betrayal than a moment of redemptive possibility. Less an untrustworthy task shackled by Babel’s inheritance than the inviting, proliferative spirit of Pentecost.
Take, for example, Psalm 51 in the New International Version. This is the text recited at my church just before Communion, and I have long loved it as a poem. Now, Biblical texts are often cited in discussions of the treasons of translation, and in terms of beautiful language, the King James usually comes to mind long before the NIV. What is more, I know from consulting Robert Alter’s translation of the Psalms that there are questions about and alternatives to some of the choices the NIV has made. Still, the lines of verse 7, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; / Wash me and I will be whiter than snow” never cease to strike me. Why? Part of the thrill comes from the image of the hyssop recalling purification rituals described in Leviticus. Part comes from the perfect dactylic tetrameter of these lines in English. Foreign image and familiar rhythm, joined by what I want to call the grace of translation. I think reading in translation, in making us attentive to linguistic difference and poetic craft, makes us attentive not only to error, but to grace.
Leslie Harkema

My first translations (of women poets) were part of the women's movement of the 1970s. The prose works I've translated also had a political dimension—Nicaraguan solidarity in the 1980s. Essentially, I have translated to be part of something, wanting to share work by writers I was discovering. I'm thinking now of the Cuban poets I was privileged to meet in Havana in the 1980s—Morejón, Vitier, García Marruz. I also confess to liking the ability to write without facing the blank page, being able to start with a text. Translation, however frustrating at times, helps keep under wraps the anxiety involved in writing. It also seems a positive enough activity—so when I came across this statement by Wallace Stevens in his Adagia, I felt a painful jolt: “The writer who is content to destroy is on a plane with the writer who is content to translate, both are parasites.” Ouch. Wasn’t it the opposite, that the original gained an expanded life from the translator’s effort, by definition a kind of service? Or was something doubtful going on? Looking up the word parasite, I felt better after seeing the original meaning of the word in Greek: parasitos is a “person who eats at the table of another,” or even a “professional dinner guest”—there to amuse the host. I like the idea of being hosted, entertained; and in return being entertaining, lingering at my place at the proverbial table for months or years. As Stevens also said, “The individual partakes of the whole. Except in extraordinary cases he never adds to it.”
Kathleen Weaver

I try to recover the metaphor, voice, and rhythm of the original poet by reading as many different translations of the same poem as I can get my hands on. Each translation provides a different angle on the original. It’s a little like walking around an oak tree, I suppose, to see it from alternative viewpoints. By combining viewpoints, I hope to get close to the real thing. The trouble is, not every poet has multiple translators. It’s easier to find translations of Rilke, for example, or Neruda, than of the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.
But suppose there’s only one translation of a poet’s work? Still, reading that can be wonderful. Whatever is lost of the original rhythm and sound, I am frequently surprised at the pleasures I do find, for instance, an intriguing strangeness of diction, startlingly different landscapes, thought-provoking uses of metaphor, a new way to look at ritual, strategies for layering narrative which offer new ways to think about time, and above all, unique and charismatic voices. As our world shrinks, I feel increasingly grateful to read poetry in translation, which provides a window out of my own culture, into others.
Jeanne Murray Walker

Saturday, May 22, 2010

'Holy Rollers' Filmmakers on Hollywood's Portrayal of Hasidic Jews // From WSJ's Speakeasy

by Michelle Kung

For years, Hollywood’s approach to depicting Hasidic Jews on screen has largely consisted of dying the hair of blond actresses brown. See: Renee Zellweger in Boaz Yakin’s “A Price Above Rubies” and Melanie Griffith deep undercover in Sidney Lumet’s “A Stranger Among Us.”

For “Holy Rollers,” director Kevin Asch and writer Antonio Macia’s take on a young Hasid’s rise and fall in the world of drug smuggling, the filmmakers were determined to portray modern Hasidic communities as realistically as possible. They asked the cast to study with a dialect coach to learn Hebrew prayers and shot in a Hasidic area of Brooklyn.

“Most films feature outsiders looking in, whereas our film features a character that’s inside looking out,” says Asch. “Antonio and I are well aware of how Hasids have been objectified in entertainment. They’ve rarely been captured in a way in which they’re portrayed as real and human. Maybe on ‘Law & Order,’ but they’re either the bad guy or the guy who’s seriously messed up in some way.”

To prepare himself, Asch says he looked at both “A Price Above Rubies” and “A Stranger Among Us.” Of the latter film he said: “It’s hard for me to put down Sidney Lumet, because he’s Sidney Lumet, but the Hasidic community ultimately felt objectified in both of those films.”

“I wanted to take down that sensationalism,” Asch said.

Kids' Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures // Justin Roberts' "Why Not Sea Monsters?"

At the end of April, we posted a NY Times article about Justin Roberts, a kiddie rocker whose songs range from the ridiculous to the serious. Little did we know, Justin has a whole CD based on a Bible. Why Not Sea Monsters?: Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures features songs like "Giddy Up Gideon," "Just a Giant" and "Moses Thought It Odd." Here's a brief description from Roberts' website:

We'd like to dispel a few rumors about this CD. Yes, the songs are based on stories from Hebrew Scriptures (aka: The Old Testament). And yes, the music contains all of Justin's trade-mark wit, warmth and catchy hooks. Contrary to popular belief, however, Justin has not changed his name to "Sol Robertstein." At no time does Justin utter the words "schlemiel" or "schlimazel." And while Justin still enjoys Seinfeld, he doesn't really get Jackie Mason.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Worship Resources for Times of Crisis // From the Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship

In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, I was thrilled to discover this resource from the United Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship website. Its Worship Resources for Times of Crisis include liturgy, hymns, poems, calls to worship and more for times of grief and loss, terrorism and violence, war and natural disasters. I was moved to find a new hymn written specifically for Haiti the day after the earthquake.

Some of the most recent resources include a hymn about the war in Iraq called "We Cannot Be Dismissive" and one named "We Should Not Live Through This Without a Protest," about the violence in the Middle East.

Many of these hymns, including the ones named above, are written by Rev. Dr. Andrew Pratt, a British Methodist minister and hymnist. Dr. Pratt's lyrics are poignant in that they bring the reality of tragedies directly into the worship setting, and they do nothing to gloss over or tame the rawness of the suffering and the questions brought about by war and natural disaster. One of my favorites that I've seen is called "We Understand Tectonic Plates":

We understand tectonic plates
That move beneath our feet
We understand that powerful waves
Make rivers in the street
But when we try to centre God
Our sense is incomplete

To say creation points to God
Will never make real sense
Except within a frame of faith
Outside it brings offense
Our claim is more than paradox
Within this present tense

And so we struggle with the fact
That contradict belief
Until we find a greater truth
We never find relief
Reason and revelation clash
And die in disbelief

We honor God for all that is
And all that is to be
We may not understand God's ways
Until eternity
But love is stronger than belief
And faith can help us see

This sort of hymn is precisely what the church needs--to engage with the world and to wrestle with question we'd rather ignore in worship.

The Diplomacy of Dance // The Contemporary Dance Festival in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — In mid-April my dance company, CityDance Ensemble, opened the Fifth Annual Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival here in the West Bank.

At the end of the performance, 15 dancers stood side by side for their bows before a standing-room only audience in the Palace of Culture. Eight were Americans. Seven were Palestinians. Strangers to one another a week earlier they had performed together in a dance created specially for that evening.

After the bows, a Palestinian official said to me, “you have just done more for Palestinian-American relations than you can possibly imagine.” In the audience were senior government officials, business leaders and no small number of people for whom America’s role in the region evokes a preternatural level of frustration.

Art is a powerful tool of diplomacy throughout most of the world. Choosing an American dance company to open the festival was a symbolic statement as much as an artistic one. It was a reach across the aisle.

Days later, in Tel Aviv preparing CityDance’s planned tour of Israel in 2011, I found myself in conversation after conversation with Israelis who, far from being angered by our participation in the Ramallah festival, were enthusiastic about it — and about its possibilities. “We do not know one another anymore,” one said to me. “Perhaps art can be a bridge for us.”

The Israelis — who, for my money, are producing the finest dance in the world today — understand the diplomatic power of art perhaps better than anyone. Hearing such words from them had deep resonance.

In and of itself art does not build roads nor, certainly, does it dismantle roadblocks or solve the water crisis storming down on the Middle East. But roads must lead somewhere to have purpose, and meaningful solutions only come from communication.

We had made an earlier visit to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to visit Iraqi refugees. The tour was born of the frustration of a New York based nonprofit, Intersections International, over its inability to draw attention through all the normal channels to a diaspora of staggering dimensions.

That tour brought about the creation of a work based on the life experiences of those refugees, and in turn led to the first dance performance in the short history of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, hosted by the co-chairmen of the Helsinki Commission, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida. Policy had driven the art, and in return art was informing policy.

In March 2009, a young Palestinian musician came to our Washington home studios. When I came to Ramallah a few weeks later, I visited the school in which he trained. “You know, don’t you, that before this school opened he spent his days throwing rocks at the Israelis,” someone said to me. Thank the French — they built the school.

Art and artists can go where government cannot. They turn televised terror into face-to-face interaction and give breathing space to politics and politicians. And they can do it for far less than today’s sophisticated weapons.

The total cultural-programs budget of the U.S. Department of State this year is $11.1 million; one F-22 Raptor, before production was shut down, cost 12 times that. Is this the national balance we seek?

Artists are the seeds and the irrigation in the fields of the future, giving root to the very people, in the very countries, whose youth we most want to empower. John Kennedy, eulogizing Robert Frost, said it best: “he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself.”

Those words still resonate even as they too often fall on deaf ears in the very corridors of power about which Kennedy spoke. We leave fallow the fields of cultural impact at our peril, and waste a resource which by its nature speaks to those truths we hold self-evident.

Paul Emerson, director and cofounder of CityDance Ensemble in Washington, was previously a legislative director for a member of Congress.

Original link here

Thursday, May 20, 2010

At the Met, Portraits of Grief, Written in Stone // 'Mourners' at Metropolitan Museum

They are so cute, these 16-inch-tall fellows in their floppy robes. Shuffling two by two, 36 strong, behind a choirboy on a black runway in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s cavernous Medieval Hall, they’re like a troop of fairy-tale dwarfs turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Unhappy campers, they weep, sigh, gesture sadly and pray, mourning the demise of their liege, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419).

They are a long way from home, and it will be a while before they can return. Lovingly carved from alabaster by Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, they hail from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, France. There they usually occupy niches in an extravagantly ornamental, Gothic arcade beneath the slab on which lies an effigy of the duke and his wife, Margaret of Bavaria. As the French museum is currently undergoing restoration, it was decided that the sorrowful gang of monks, clerics and sundry laymen would be liberated from the duke’s tomb and sent on a journey around the United States. This is the first stop on the eight-city tour, and anyone who cares about the art of sculpture should pay them a visit, for each is a small masterpiece of stone carving and humanist realism.

“The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy” was organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon under the aegis of Frame (French Regional and American Museum Exchange). (Besides the 37 mourners centrally presented, three more that were separated from the group long ago and are now owned by different museums are also on view in a separate vitrine. One last stray has yet to be found.)

Instructed by John the Fearless to create a tomb nearly identical to that of his father, Philip the Bold, de la Huerta and Le Moiturier spent 25 years working on the project. Both tombs — cenotaphs, actually, as the mortal remains were buried elsewhere — were originally housed in the Chartreuse de Champmol, a Carthusian monastery in Dijon, the Burgundian dynasty’s official center of power.

In his famous chronicle, “The Waning of the Middle Ages,” Johan Huizinga called the diminutive band of brothers “the most profound expression of mourning known in art, a funeral march in stone.” If he was exaggerating, it was not by much.

Wearing an intricately decorated miter and wielding his spiral-topped crozier, a lavishly robed bishop up front gazes piously heavenward. Other members of the procession look downward in moods of desolation. One holds his hand to his eyes as if to hold back tears. Another wipes his eyes with a dangling sleeve. Some sport fancy hats. The finely rendered, grief-struck faces of still others are deeply shadowed under hoods, and some visages are entirely covered by them.

There is nothing stiff about these figures; their postures are realized with grace and subtlety. One leans forward and raises up his pudgy, beautifully rendered hands in a touching gesture of helpless sadness. Another sings from a hymnal. Some seem to sway, as if to funerary music. Though enveloped by their voluminous, luxuriantly draped and folded cloaks, the invisible bodies within are expressed on the surface, and give each figure vivid sense of animation.

There is also a lot to see in the details of props and clothing. One mourner carries a small sack whose supple fabric hugs the binding and metal closing buckle of a prayer book. Another fondles his rosary beads. Looking closely, you notice much variation in the textures of the robes, from waxy smooth to wrinkled and leathery. The artists’ attentiveness extends to belts, buttons, purses, decorative borders and even seams in the cloth.

While the Met’s display offers viewers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study these sculptures more closely than their customary presentation allows, it is also somewhat frustrating. Because they are gathered into a single group, because ropes prevent you from getting closer than two or three feet and because of glaring lighting from above, it is hard to see all the details. Excellent reproductions in the otherwise confusing, poorly edited exhibition catalog reveal how much you may be missing. You might wish each piece had been displayed on its own pedestal in a less distracting gallery than the Met’s busy Medieval Hall. But then the shared spirit of the group would be lost. It may be intangible, but the collective pathos exuded by the assemblage is as valuable an artifact of Medieval consciousness as any one of its marvelously expressive parts.

“The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy” is on view through May 23 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (212) 535-7710,

Original link here

A Paris Museum Puts Focus on Prisons // NYT's Guide to Intelligent Travel

Original link here

By Imogen Jacobs

An exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet gives visitors a look into a world normally hidden from the general public. “Impossible Photography, Paris Prisons,” which runs at the museum through July 4, features 350 photos taken in Paris’s prisons over the last 159 years.

The museum (29, rue de Sévigné; 33-1-44-59-58-76; has organized the exhibition by location, rather than chronologically, with a collection totaling 3,800 images, a stunning mix of black and white, color and sepia.

Photographers like Henri Manuel, Pierre Jouve and a collaborated report between Anne-Lise Dees, Jacqueline Salmon and Catherine Rechard, provide a variety of viewpoints. The idea is to make the audience think about the realities of prison life – and whether photographers can really convey those realities.

Be prepared for pictures from La Petite Roquette and Saint Lazare, both women’s prisons, featuring nuns as well as inmates, shots of youth offenders, as well as photos depicting the environment of prisons: the courtyards, the cells, the exteriors.

Bahrain Women Educate WNBA’S Mistie Bass // From Speaking of Faith Observed

WNBA player Mistie Bass’s essay in Friday’s New York Times is a personal reflection about her stint coaching a women’s basketball team in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain:

“They were used to being coached by men who tended to discourage them. But I saw nothing but tremendous potential, and I tried to nourish it. I made it clear that I was invested in the team’s improvement, and the players made it clear that they were serious as well. … Coaching them really drove home the point that if you give with no intent to receive, you will get so much more in return.”

Bass goes on to say how she transcended her own preconceptions about Islam through the real relationships she developed with her players. Her essay reminds me that sports can be a powerful way to forge bonds despite differences in language, culture, and religion.

We’ve been talking as a production staff about the meaning and purpose people find through sports — whether they’re athletes or fans or both. With the World Cup fast approaching, we’re wondering about the significance of sports in your own life. Is there a spiritual dimension to sports for you? What ideas do you have about how SOF could open up a conversation about this topic?

-- Nancy Rosenbaum (original link here)

'On Whitman': The Real American // From Newsweek

Full article here // Excerpt below

If I were to count up the things I love best about America, this tableau would be high on the list: Walt Whitman, on a street in Washington, exchanging a respectful bow with Abraham Lincoln as the president's carriage rolled by. That the United States managed to produce either of these gentlemen, the self-taught frontier president and the great poet of democracy, reflects well on our way of life. That a lucky pedestrian could watch the two of them pass close enough to acknowledge one another—such original minds, such extraordinary beards—nearly makes the notion of a special dispensation for America ring true.

As far as anybody can tell, Lincoln and Whitman never paused for a proper conversation. It's too bad, because if they had, it would have been a latter-day constitutional convention. After the Civil War exposed some limitations of the Framers' plans, it fell to Lincoln to bring forth, through his reconciling speeches and his sacrificial death, a "new birth of freedom" for the Union he helped to save. But Whitman, if we read him right, proves to be just as much a Founding Father as Lincoln, and for many of the same reasons.

Ethnically, geographically, and materially, the United States had careened outward during the 19th century. More vibrantly than anybody else, Whitman sang a hymn of praise to what he grasped would become "not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations." He saw how our continental democracy could benefit citizens' souls but recognized how much openness and equality this would demand—the nearly infinite differences that would arise. "I hear America singing," he wrote in Leaves of Grass, "the varied carols I hear."

Neither Whitman nor the president he eulogized in his great elegy "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" are ever far from America's consciousness; neither is what you'd call neglected. But sometimes our need for one of them is more than usually acute. Lincoln offered a touchstone when we tried to make sense of Barack Obama's election in 2008. Now, C. K. Williams has written a book on Whitman, and it arrives not a moment too soon.

This isn't just a dark time for the American economy; politics have grown so vicious and corrosive, it's turning into a dark time for the American soul. Creeping militancy. Mounting cynicism. Talk of division—up to and including secession. Affection for the Confederacy, whose sympathizers (does this not bother anybody else?) killed Abe Lincoln. Until his death in 1892, Whitman opposed all those forms of ugliness. He knew they would subvert American democracy's ability to bring about his most earnest dream: a people with large spirits and heroic souls. "How short we have fallen compared to what he saw for us," writes Williams, "how in so many ways have we regressed." Those shortcomings make right now an excellent time for our mystic chords of memory to be touched by the poet who is—if anyone is—one of the better angels of our nature.

In On Whitman, Williams takes an approach that's more innovative than it sounds: he keeps his focus on the poems. He wants to strip away the heavy theorizing and layers of biography that have accrued around his fellow poet. Williams's aim is to restore the strangeness and power he encountered when, at age 16, he made a Whitman anthology his first poetry purchase. "For a young poet, reading Whitman is sheer revelation, sheer wonder, a delight bordering on then plunging into disbelief. How could all this come to pass?" His slender book offers a convincing answer.

For Williams, the first source of Whitman's power is the music of his verse. It was the result not of steady development of craft but of an epiphany. The poet spent his early years toiling in and around New York City as what his biographer Justin Kaplan calls "an inconstant newspaper editor, a sometime demagogue, and a writer of imitative fiction." Then, like Robert Johnson returning from the crossroads, the 36-year-old journeyman erupted with Leaves of Grass, a book that sounded like nothing he'd written before—or that anybody else had, for that matter. Whatever its origins, Williams writes, his musical system "was magically encompassing and had within it echoes of other singings, the Bible, oratory, opera, even some older poetry, but was entirely unique as well."

A Dictator in His Own Words and Images // The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

From The New York Times // Article here

CANNES, France — As the title suggests, “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” is hardly a conventional historical documentary. Andrei Ujica’s three-hour-plus found-footage epic, screening out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, recounts the life of the Romanian dictator as Ceausescu himself saw it — or, as was often the case, stage-managed it. Devoid of explanatory titles and voice-overs, the film assembles a composite portrait of Ceausescu solely through the existing visual record: the speeches he gave, the parades thrown in his honor, the state visits he made (to the United States, China, Britain and, most memorably, North Korea) and the home movies of family vacations and hunting expeditions.

This is the third in a series of documentaries that Mr. Ujica, who was born in Romania in 1951, has made about the death of communism. “Videograms of a Revolution” (1992), which he directed with Harun Farocki, used existing footage of the 1989 Romanian revolution as the basis for a film essay about media and power. “Out of the Present” (1995) recounts the story of a Soviet cosmonaut who was aboard the Mir space station during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. For “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” — four years in the making (the editing alone took a full year) — Mr. Ujica started with more than 1,000 hours of footage, which he whittled down and shaped into the story of a rise and fall.

Mr. Ujica, who left Bucharest for Germany in 1981 and now divides his time between Romania and Germany (he is a film professor at Karlsruhe University), spoke about his film in an interview here on Wednesday. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

Q. Could you expand on the implications of the title “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu”? Obviously you did not mean to make a typical documentary biography.

A. The challenge was to propose a new subgenre of historical film, to try to show that today we are in a situation where the corpus of images about major contemporary events and personalities is sufficient to allow us to reconstruct history. There’s a level of irony in the title, but for me it was the only possible perspective. This was an archive of images commissioned by Ceausescu and by his propaganda machine, and if you try to make a film using these images, you can make this film only through his eyes. I couldn’t make a film called “The Biography of Nicolae Ceausescu” because I did not have those images.

Q. There are several different types of footage in the film — some of official addresses and events, and some of what look like home movies. Did it all come from the same archive?

A. There are only two big archives in Bucharest, the National Television Archives and the National Film Archives. The National Documentary Film Studio was responsible for the Ceausescu protocol archives, and after the revolution the archives moved to the National Film Archives. The images from the holidays and hunting trips are from the ’70s, and they were shot for the private use of the Ceausescu family. He loved to be filmed and he called them souvenirs. The footage from other countries — some were by Ceausescu’s own cameramen, but sometimes they were shot by, for instance, the North Korean documentary studio or the BBC and sent to Bucharest as unedited rushes which the Romanian propaganda machine could use.

Q. Were you concerned about what a film like this has to leave out by definition? There’s no larger political context, and the effects of Ceausescu’s rule remain almost entirely off-screen.

A. Yes, I did think about that. But those who are less familiar with political events can see this as a fiction film about a historical character, and understand the evolution of a character in 25 years, the changes that power has on him and the nation around him. It’s the same way we would read a historical novel about a general of Napoleon. A cultivated French reader knows the role this person played in French history, and another reader might not but they still follow the character’s psychological evolution.

Q. You worked with an editor, Dana Bunescu, who also does sound design, and who has worked on many notable fiction films of the new Romanian cinema, including “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Could you talk about your collaboration?

A. Dana is an incredible artist, and for a project like this, it was a great help to be able to work on both image and sound with the same person. There were two levels of editing for the images. The first is about constructing scenes that don’t exist in the raw material as scenes, so we had to build them through montage. The second level was a more normal editing process, putting these scenes together to find the rhythm of the movie.

The sound is the secret true fictional level of the film. More than 90 percent of the material has no sound; except for Ceausescu’s speeches the sound was not archived, only the images. We reconstructed the soundtrack on different levels, creating realistic sound and also using abstract sound to create dramaturgical effects. The film does have a commentary but it’s a nonverbal commentary. It’s in the construction of the sound and in the intervention of the music.

Q. In the course of making the film how did your perception of Ceausescu change?

A. My personal reason for making the film was that I began to understand in recent years that in fact we don’t know Ceausescu. For my generation, he was an abstract figure, a screen on which we projected our hatred of totalitarianism. But it became more and more important for me to try to understand the man behind this character. Who was this man who influenced so powerfully our biographies? And surely, I discovered a human being. You could say the film is against historical clichés, and it shows that the psychological reality is always more complex. For me it was also a historical and psychological auto-therapy. In the end I don’t hate him anymore. I’m free from him, so it was a successful therapy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Delta Rae's Debut EP // Talented Local Act Releases Album

If you haven't seen local "soulful folk/rock" sensation Delta Rae perform yet, you are part of a rapidly dwindling population and should remedy that right now. You can start by checking out their debut EP, just released for sale on, or by watching the video below, of their original gospel tune "Bottom of the River," always a crowd-pleaser and an excellent showcase of their impressive vocal talent.

This versatile group of young musicians, featuring a core of Elizabeth Hopkins and sibling trio Eric Hölljes, Ian Hölljes and Brittany Hölljes, along with James Goldberg, recently opened for national act Edwin McCain at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro. This is a group a long time in the making; Brittany is a childhood friend of the Hölljes's, and Eric and Ian have been performing together for years, throughout both of their undergraduate careers at Duke. Delta Rae has been a band for less than a year, but they already have a dedicated following and have made appearances not only in the Triangle area but across the state and as far away as California and New York. With powerful vocals (various lead vocalists), tight harmonies, strong instrumentation, great lyrics and general good looks, this group is poised to do big things. I fully expect to hear "Darling If" or "Ooh Caroline" on the radio before too long. Delta Rae won't be "local" for long, so check them out at one of their upcoming shows. Here are details on their CD release party:

The Delta Rae CD Release Party w/ Vienna Teng and Alex Wong, and Jason Adamo
Where: The Broad Street Cafe
1116 Broad St, Durham NC 27705
When: June 7, 2010; Doors 6pm, Show 7pm
Price: Advance $12; Door $15
Tickets: Purchase Here; Get your tickets -- we're shooting for a sold-out show!


I am particularly fond of this band for their Duke connection and because they played at a February benefit concert that I organized and which doubled as my CD release show. When they get famous, I can say that they opened for me. ;) -- Sarah

This Weekend at Duke // Life Lines: A Conference on Poetry in Healthcare

When: Friday, May 21, 2010 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Freeman Center for Jewish Life

More Info

Description: This conference is designed for those who have an interest in examining the place of poetry in caregiving. Three panels of poets and health practitioners will present perspectives on the ways poetry can play a part in caring for our patients, our communities and our selves. Through discussion sessions, participants will have an opportunity to share experiences, to dialogue, to develop techniques, and to gain a deeper appreciation for poetry in the art of healing. Highlights of the conference include Friday and Saturday evening talks by poets David Whyte and Jane Hirshfield. Ms. Hirshfield will also offer a master class in poetry writing on Sunday morning.Sponsored by Duke Medicine. Co-presented by the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine and Health Arts Network at Duke (HAND).

Monday, May 17, 2010

You Can Always Turn Around // Redemption Wisdom from PostSecret

A little bit of redemption wisdom from PostSecret, an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard. Check out this article from Confessio to ponder the implications of this project on a broader scale for the church and the concept of confession.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Moment in Time // Simultaneous, Global Photography Project

Click here to visit the interactive globe of pictures.

Earth, covered by stacks of virtual photographs, corresponding in location to where they were taken by Lens readers in one "Moment in Time," (15:00 U.T.C., Sunday, May 2).

Select categories, rotate the globe, and view pictures of all kinds capturing a single moment in thousands of pieces.