I received an email invite to the exhibition early from the School of Creative Arts at JCU to attend the honours exhibition by Angeline Ignatius. Mousai: 21st Century Muse. The invite spoke of mysticism and the Greek muses so it interested me. I was able to speak to Angeline’s supervisor, Anne Lord prior to the exhibition who told me that Angeline had developed a body of work around different characters. I suggested to Anne that the character on the invite looked like a Japanese anime or manga character. But on attending the exhibition, I found they were so much more.
When you enter the space, you first see the wall which features the finished works, all very neatly presented, and in the exact same order as the handy catalogue which explains each piece. Each muse is a character, which loosely follows an anime style, but not too much, it shows Angeline has her own style of drawing. Each work is a full body shot of these characters, or sprites, which embody a different art form in their appearance, clothing, personality and accessories. Every single muse is well thought-out which is clear just by looking at them, but becomes even distinct when augmented by the catalogue. Mousai is a Greek word for muse. Each of the names of these muses also comes from the Greek language, and the names are also related to the characters and their spirit (for instance, Genesis, the muse of traditional arts like drawing, painting, etc. This name comes from the Greek word for beginning or creation, which suits the character and it’s traits).
The amount of research and learning that went into this exhibition is clear when you read the Artist Statement…
The Muse or Mousai first appeared in Greek literature and art in the second century AD and started as three pantheons of poetry, (later in Delphi as three Mousai of Music, though with different names). As time continued they later became 4 and then grew to 7 through to the early Hellenistic period. Since then muses have appeared throughout many cultures in many forms including the renaissance and neoclassic art movements.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Angeline at the opening, and talked about the consistency of the Mousai with their themes, and the work that went into them. I found that she had read a lot of material on the Greek Mousai, and that this exhibition was about 9 months worth of theory and practice! All the works are first hand drawn in pencil, which is quite fine work in itself; these preliminary sketches were also included in the exhibition but on the side walls which served to keep them separate from the finished works, but also as a reference to where the works started. After the pencil drawing, Angeline scans them and then refines the lines and adds the colours digitally using software. On asking how many layers are in each digital work, I was told that there was a minimum of about 20, but some require more because of their complexity, and she focused on getting the depth right.
There is an old anime (currently being renewed) called “Neon Genesis Evangelion” that strikes me as similar to this work. It’s not that her digital drawings are similar; it’s the taking and referencing of old mysticism and bringing it into the 21st century. The anime series created by Hideaki Anno references very old tales of beings and messengers from another place. In the anime, the earth is attacked by monsters called Angels. The Angels are an interpretation of the being of humanity, if they had taken the fruit of life rather than the fruit of knowledge, which in the bible was eaten by Adam and Eve. In the work there are lots of references to philosophical, psychological and religious themes. And there is much symbolism from Christianity, Buddhism and Kabbalism. Although the similarities between the works probably end here; Angeline’s work doesn’t have that kind of story and plot, which isn’t part of her aim anyway. Her work brings attention the Mousai of old Greece, educating the audience about the history of these beings. More than that, her work redefines them, as the old ones don’t quite cover all of today’s digital arts, she has changed the number of Mousai and the types to fit into the 21st Century. For instance now a digital arts muse exists, that didn’t exist or have a place with the old Greek Mousai. A favourite muse from the exhibition is “Endora” who is the muse of Paper arts. Her name comes from “Talented One” in Greek. Her specialties are printmaking, bookbinding, papermaking, paper crafts, origami, etc. However this is pretty clear just by looking at the character itself, which is designed with all those themes in mind. She has scrolls wrapped around her head and ears, paper ruffles coming from her sleeves, wings that reference cardboard and origami dangles from her hands. Paper has been maybe the most important part of culture since it’s creation. It allowed the writing down of ideas and ease of transfer of information to faraway places. In Japanese culture it has played a hugely important part, even becoming part of their Shinto religion where paper is cut, folded, and hung in a decorative way (called Shide) to ward off and absorb bad spirits. Paper also allowed the beginnings of books and art which all rely on the flexible, blank medium. Angeline’s muse of paper arts references a lot of these points, and it’s just one of twelve well thought-out Mousai.
I would like to personally congratulate and thank Angeline on her exhibition and hard work. It’s on at eMerge Media Space, School of Creative Arts (James Cook University, Douglas Campus) and runs from the 7th April to 28th April (2011).
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