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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Are we the roots that drive us?

In his most recent film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog explores and reflects on the oldest human artistic expression known, the 32,000 year old paintings in Chauvet Cave in France. Herzog's journey, highly restricted and specially authorized, takes us where we'll never be allowed.

The cave's treasures are not only highly sensitive to whatever bacteria and moisture that might accompany visitors, but the interior is choked with an invisible and poisonous combination of radon and carbon dioxide. No one can stay longer than three hours. Despite limitations on the number in  party (Herzog himself had to form part of the crew) and the relatively short time devoted to the shoot, the film is remarkable. Although a steel door guards the entrance to the cave and the fragile world inside, we are allowed   to touch minds with our ancestral past.

Filmed in 3D -- a first for Herzog -- we see the scattered jaws of cave bears and sabre-toothed cats lit by sparkling stalactites, and the grand  murals of strangely docile, even smiling, rhinos, lions and horses.

The depiction of these sweet-faced creatures speaks to our ancestors' relationship with the world. They devoted the cave, a space approximately the size of a football field, to images of predators and and prey. In fact, there is only one human image in the whole gallery: almost hidden, deep in the back is the mother goddess from whom all bounty flows.

Almost more remarkable is that this enormous cave was never inhabited. It was a place  of ceremony or inspiration perhaps, but never an abode. Probably the most prominent, valuable natural asset of these people was the dominion of artists who clearly held a place of high honor in the community.

Imagine for a moment: if the most honored in our society were to create images that described our relationship with the world,. what would we see? I have my own ideas as you will have yours. But as you imagine, consider as I do the question: has evolution only been physical? Will we ever, as a society, equal those who came before us?

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1 comment:

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