Ikue Mori - Bhima Swarga

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Quote:Loosely based on a section of the great Indian Mahabharata epic, Mori's Bhima Swarga (The Heaven of Bhima) is a riveting audiovisual exercise that uses mural paintings from the 18th century Kertha Gosha court in Bali to create a beautiful jigsaw of colour, glitch, figurative exoticism and plastic abstraction.

The "original" Bhima Swarga tells the story of Bhima's excursion into hell (naraka) to rescue the souls of his father and co-mother and escort them to the gods' heaven. After fighting hosts of ill- and good-natured demons, Bhima and the remaining Pandava brothers must face the violent opposition of ill- and good-natured gods, who, though respecting the hero's resolve to fulfil his promise, cannot tolerate such an inversion in the established order of things. Bhima eventually dies in heaven but is restored to life and glory and given the amrut, the elixir of immortality.

Pregnant with philosophical and eschatological significance, the Mahabharata narrative is not Mori's primary focus and is understandably sacrificed in the name of her aesthetic concerns; though these narrative elements are vaguely recognisable, someone unacquainted with the story will hardly grasp these basic guidelines and will instead be overwhelmed by Mori's impressive computer-genrated visuals.

Bhima Swarga focuses on the on the beautiful mural paintings of the Kertha Gosha court, which are animated in ways that recall some sections of Paley's brilliant Sita Sings the Blues. But unlike Sita, Mori's Bhima is interested in the uses of visual distortion and glitch for the creation of new aesthetic possibilities. Source materials and backgrounds are corrupted, degraded and pushed to the limits; their integrity is not to be respected and even their figurative nature is often lysergically distorted beyond recognition.

The soundtrack features Mori's trademark laptop gimmicks, proving how much the author has matured since her early adventures in electro-foam. A rich sonic palette evolves over the 21 minutes of the piece, ranging from dizzy-ambient sections to her more characteristic crystalline-yet-hectic rhythmical panning. There are a few short takes on the Balinese gamelan and raga traditions, but these fortunately turn out to sound more like respectful tributes than any form of exotic pillage or, even worse, new age pseudo-reverentialism. In the end, Bhima Swarga could hardly stand as a companion to the original Mahabharata story, but would certainly feature among Mori's most rewarding works.

One thing that I always found interesting regarding the Bhima Swarga is almost every character is presented sideways from our perspective, facing each other within the depicted world.

The one exception is Isvara, the Godhead, who instead is breaking the "4th wall" to make eye contact with the reader.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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