Lost in Translation

While exploring Rome some months ago I stumbled upon an odd place situated in the park overlooking Piazza del Popolo. It was a sort of a tented restaurant with quaint charm to it, decorated with many not related artifacts and other decorative objects. There it was hanging against a window, an original Led Zeppelin guitar signed by the band members.

Please find attached their best known hit, and one of my favourite songs ever….

 

 

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You can see the other entries to Sue’s challenge here.

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Kudos to Mike Munoz

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            What is beauty? In today’s day and age, several artists and art critics have questioned the very definition of beauty. Very few have held on to the real essence of beauty. Beauty as that which pleases upon being seen. These artists and art critics interpret beauty as being very subjective. More often than not, they see beauty as something that depends either on what the artist implies or what the art critics infer. Art has slowly been degrading. But all is not lost, as some artists still remain faithful to St. Thomas Aquinas definition of beauty. One of these artists is Mike Munoz.

            Mike Munoz is a Filipino contemporary artist. He studied in UP College of Fine Arts in 1993. He also attended several workshops in CCP and UP. Subsequently, he set up various exhibits that display his works, which range from paintings to assemblages. He is currently part of the advocacy organization, Manlilikha Artisans’ Support Network. More importantly, he is still making works of art, which continues to inspire the Filipino art world.

            Like the postmodern artists of today, Mike Munoz has a distinct style, which he employs every time he works. But unlike the said artists, he remains loyal to the strict definition of beauty as that which pleases upon being seen. Much of Mike Munoz’ work seems to be taken out of the Renaissance era. They depict scenes across the history of the Church. From the Crucifixion to portraits of saints, Mike Munoz’ artworks are simply beautiful. One particular artwork of his that has struck me the most is the Supra Miraculum et Ratio.

            Loosely translating to Beyond Miracle and Reason, Supra Miraculum et Ratio can be divided into three parts. The left and right part of the painting depicts St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena, respectively. Both of them are facing the middle with their eyes firmly fixed on the figure of the dove in the middle of the two. Focusing on the material aspect of the painting, it can be said that it is visually pleasing. Mike Munoz’ made the painting very detailed with realistic colors. Also, I was able to notice the stark contrast between St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena. I believe that Mike Munoz mainly used dark colors to accentuate the masculinity of St. Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand, he made use of light colors to emphasize the femininity of St. Catherine of Siena. As for the middle portion, it seems empty compared to the other two parts because of the artist’s use of space. But the fact that it is in the middle suggests to me that it should be the focal point of the whole artwork. Although all three pieces are made of wood, the middle part is distinct because inscriptions and a frame are carved on it. A dove is then painted in the middle with

Just as the material aspect of the work is stunning, the formal aspect of it is as well. In my opinion, Mike Munoz’ Supra Miraculum et Ratio is one of those unique works, which inspires faith and charity to those who view it. But for one to fully appreciate the piece, one must be able to look beyond what can be perceived by the senses. This entails understanding the story of both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena. Both of the saints engaged in matters, which strengthened and upheld the faith of the Church – often being referred to as Doctors of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas did this through his groundbreaking study in theology and philosophy. In the painting, he is depicted as holding a quill and about to write something on a piece of paper. I think that Mike Munoz deliberately did this to emphasize the significance of St. Thomas Aquinas works. Most of these works have contributed a lot to how we understand our faith today. An example of these works is the Summa Theologiae. Similar to St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena was a very capable theologian and philosopher. Moreover, she was able to convince the Pope to return with the Papacy from Avignon, France. These two people were able to do these great deeds by their own effort and, more importantly, with the aid of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. Although grace is such an abstract thing, it can be concretized into different things. In numerous occasions, grace, being characterized as the Holy Spirit, is depicted as a dove. As what can be seen in the painting, the dove is in the middle of the two Doctors of the Church. The way I see it, Mike Munoz wants us to realize that only through the Holy Spirit, the One attributed to giving life to the Church, can people add to the doctrine. And that without Him, there is no truth.

Upon knowing all that, we must now ask: what does Mike Munoz’ Supra Miraculum et Ratio contribute to humankind? With the rapid growth of post-modernist thinking, it is increasingly becoming more rare to see works such as the Supra Miraculum et Ratio. But this is exactly what the world needs right now – a beautifully crafted and well thought of masterpiece to revert the culture to what it was before. Through works like this, the quintessential meaning of beauty can be restored. Although it might be a stretch to say that Mike Munoz is just as good as St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Catherine of Siena, but he has, in his little way, contributed to the upholding of what is true, good and beautiful.

Redefining Design, Redesigning the Fine

Form follows function. This is one of the major principles emphasized in modern architecture. Essentially, it means that gone are the days of the overly ornamented buildings as architects now construct structures that are more purposive in design. The new name of the game is profit and space maximization. Examples of space-maximizing buildings can be found in urban cities all over the world. But although modern architecture has shied away from overly ornamented buildings, beauty can still be found in these structures. So I guess that form is still somewhat important even in today’s day and age wherein amassing wealth, despite it’s malignity, is considered as an end of man. However, beauty no longer lies solely on the form but also in the function. Some even see beauty entirely in the function of the piece of architecture. However there are certain instances wherein form apparently supersedes function and beauty is restored to its rightful place. A kind of throwback to the Renaissance Era, if you may. Works like these are made by visionary architects whose main purpose in designing buildings is to make landmarks to be remembered by people. Case in point is Santiago Calatrava’s Satolas TGV Station.

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A railway station near Lyon, France, the Satolas TGV Station was designed by world-renowned architect and sculptor, Santiago Calatrava. He is known for making sculptures, bridges and buildings that are aesthetically attractive, uniquely designed and symbolical in form. The Satolas TGV Station is one such structure. The said station has two wing-like structures that span out of a central arch with a smaller one at the back making the whole station appear like a bird. These arches connect to a central point at the entrance of the station, which resembles the beak of the bird. Located under the main bird-like building concourse are the actual train tracks and platforms of the station. Another structure that makes the Satolas TGV Station distinct is the design of the tunnel, which protects the station from shockwaves of speeding trains passing through it. Santiago Calatrava intended the tunnel to resemble an interlocking chain of people. Because of this, he was able to give emphasis to the free space between the human replica’s limbs. The whole Satolas TGV Station is then located near an airport, which the station used as a model where it copied the roofing design. Situated in the middle of the Lyon countryside, the Santiago Calatrava meant for the Satolas TGV Station to be a symbol of Lyon just like how the Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris.

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Men have a fascination of the unknown and that is what the Satolas TGV Station exploits – the natural inclination of man to decipher symbols.

The Satolas TGV Station is completely radical but what makes it stand out even more is the fact that it still remains stable and solid construction-wise. The unique design distinguishes it from other train stations. Furthermore, unlike other TGV stations or any other train station for that matter the one near Lyon is meant to symbolize something. But what it represented, I’m not really sure of. Admittedly, I first thought of the structure as a bird but upon being interviewed Santiago Calatrava said that he got his inspiration from a smaller work he did, which represented the human eye. The symbolism of the eye that seems like a bird certainly adds a certain mystique to the Satolas TGV Station. Whilst the symbolism of the station is alluring, I find it a bit lacking because I don’t know why it’s in the shape of an eye, why it looks like a bird or why the tunnel looks like interlocking men. To me it doesn’t make much sense. A kind of structural and symbolic unity is missing. But maybe that is exactly what makes it more intriguing and more fascinating to look at. Men have a fascination of the unknown and that is what the Satolas TGV Station exploits – the natural inclination of man to decipher symbols.

Aside from the mental challenge of trying to demystify the symbolism intended by Santiago Calatrava, there are other factors that add to its beauty. Structurally sound and unusually designed, the Satolas TGV Station is a unique landmark of the Lyon countryside – unique, in a sense that, it is not just a piece of architecture but also a sculpture at the same time. In my opinion, Santiago Calatrava tried to mix his two passions upon designing the whole thing. In trying to make the Satolas TGV Station like a sculpture, he was able to make it absolutely beautiful from the outside. I could imagine myself walking on the grassy plains of Lyon and simply being awestruck with the piece of architecture before my eyes. The unique design would draw me closer and closer to it until I enter the said structure. This is where the Satolas TGV Station ceases to be a sculpture as one can see it from – a perspective totally impossible for sculptures – the inside looking out. From this point of view is where one can truly appreciate the Satolas TGV for what it functionally is. It no longer seems like the bird or the eye that Santiago Calatrava wanted to depict. It is now a train station similar to all other train stations but not quite the same.

After all is said and done, the question still remains: Which brings rise to the other: form or function? After “seeing” the Satolas TGV Station, it made me reconsider what I said earlier that form follows function. In a way, I no longer quite agree with the statement. Rather than form emanating off of function, I feel that form and function feed of each other in a kind of symbiotic relationship. They are like yin and yang. One cannot exist without the other. More importantly they go hand in hand because when structures, such as Satolas TGV Station, are built both form and function are constructed at the same time. Come to think of it, no building exists without a function. The same goes for form. They are like height and weight. Everyone has them but they cannot exist by themselves. But in order to make a work of art beautiful, one must be able to balance the two. This is what Santiago Calatrava did. He was able to design and construct an aesthetically appealing building without sacrificing the structural integrity of the piece of architecture. The only sad thing about the Satolas TGV Station is that not a lot of people get to appreciate its beauty because of the remoteness of its location and the impracticality of riding these trains. Nevertheless, beautiful things still remain beautiful even if there is no one to appreciate it. Quite simply, Santiago Calatrava’s Satolas TGV Station is beautiful because it contains a unique blend of form and function, sculpture and architecture, technical brilliance and artistic vision that will surely captivate passengers and art critics alike.