Lesson: Daria Martin: Myth and Fantasy Inform Contemporary Film

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Visual Arts, New Media Arts
  • still from "Minotaur."still from "Minotaur."
  • still from "Minotaur."still from "Minotaur."
  • still from "Minotaur."still from "Minotaur."

Introduction

Written by Avril Sergeon, Museum Educator.
Daria Martin’s film Minotaur pays tribute to the work of dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin, one of the pioneers of postmodern dance. The film centers on a Halprin dance inspired by the 1886 sculpture Minotaur by the French sculpture Auguste Rodin that depicts an erotically charged encounter between a creature that was part man and part bull and a nymph. Rodin’s sculpture was, in turn, inspired by the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur.

In decoding Minotaur the film, Daria Martin has said, “The role of the film’s performers has evolved from the assumption of static poses to enacting increasing degrees of movement…. Also, the direct references to particular movements and art pieces…have become embedded in my growing visual language, and sometimes within a loose narrative structure.”

Objectives

  • Students will explore the connections between ancient mythology, twentieth-century art, and new media art.
  • Students will discuss the imagery and narrative of the film and develop an understanding of the layers of myth, fantasy, visual art, movements, and space.
  • Students will develop an understanding of filmmaking and cinematic techniques.
  • Students will use new media elements to create an artwork.

Vocabulary

Film, in this instance 16 mm gauge or width, is both a physical medium for recording images and refers to the finished product as a compendium of visual images.
Installation describes the physical setting and structure of a work of art.
Myth is a legend that has been transmitted orally or in print, and describes events, rituals, or values of a society. The myth is not intended to be literal truth. The word comes from the Greek “mythos,” which means story.
Minotaur was a monster, part man and part bull, born to an ancient Greek queen, Pasiphaë, on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. Her husband, the king, was Minos.
Nymph in classical mythology refers to one of the beautiful young women who were believed to live in the sea, rivers, and forests.
Sculpture is a three-dimensional work of art.
Dance is a deliberate sequence of movements, usually set to music, which may or may not tell a story.
A choreographer plans and arranges the movements, steps, and patterns of dancers.
Modernism describes both a set of ideals and cultural movements arising from changes in Western society in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The overarching goal of modernism was the creation of a better, egalitarian society. It posited that reason was the supreme guiding principle in all human arenas. Modernism also elevated the notions of truth and the perfectibility of man and society.
Postmodern refers to artistic movements based on vernacular or everyday elements as opposed to modernist ideals. The produced art reflects the contemporary milieu and is innovative and experimental.
Metaphor is the application of a name or descriptive phrase to a person, object, or concept that it describes imaginatively but not literally.
Labyrinth or maze is an intricate pattern of passages in which it is difficult to find the center or to return to the exit.
Fantasy is the forming of mental images which are strange, unrealistic, and highly imaginative.
Feminist is someone who advocates social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

Materials

Daria Martin’s images from the digital archives
Digital video—cameras or cellular telephones
Computers
Film editing software such as iMovie for Macs or Movie Maker 2 for PCs
Music or spoken text for use as soundtracks
Projector and screen

Lesson Strategy

Open Discussion:

Have students view the links below, which outline the story of the Minotaur and show images of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture based on the myth.

Minotaur, Greek Mythology Link

Rodin Museum

flickr

Briefly discuss the Greek myth and Rodin’s sculpture.

  • Is the story meant to be a literal translation of events?
  • Why do you think the creature is kept alive, protected, and given human sacrifices?
  • Is the portrayal by Rodin consistent with the mythical details about the Minotaur’s victims?
  • Do you think that Rodin has sexualized the myth or is his sculpture a faithful visual interpretation of the sexuality inherent in the Greek story?
  • Do the postures of the sculpted beast and nymph appear naturalistic or exaggerated?

Look at Minotaur, 2006.

Anna Halprin’s life and work have affected Martin profoundly. The sensuality and heightened awareness of the body and its relationship to other bodies, objects, and surrounding space are critical elements in Halprin’s dances. These are also key themes in Martin’s work and set the stage for Minotaur the film.

Minotaur presents, among other things, a dance duet choreographed by Halprin as she was inspired by Rodin’s art, which we have discussed. Daria Martin has created a complex and multilayered reading of various art forms—myth or storytelling, sculpture, photography, dance, and film—to structure a work of art that comments on various mediums and examines the body, gender relations, and sexual dynamics.

  • Describe the images you see as the film unfolds.
  • How does the juxtaposition of images affect your response to the film? Think about the images of Halprin’s face and hands, the art book, the sculpture, the dancers’ bodies, and nature.
  • How would you describe the dance performed by the man and woman?
  • Can the dance be described as a metaphor for gender relations?
  • What are your responses to the sensuality and physicality of the dance performance?
  • How does the conclusion of the dance action in the film differ from the myth of the Minotaur?
  • Does the woman experience a change in attitude during the dance? How?
  • What are the reasons for the nature scenes?
  • How would you describe the structure of the film? Does it evoke the complexity of a labyrinth or maze in the way that images are edited and juxtaposed?
  • Daria Martin has used 16 mm gauge film stock, a plastic material treated with chemicals, to create her film. Why do you think a contemporary artist has chosen to use older filmmaking technology instead of a digital format? This is a common practice in the history of experimental and avant-garde film.

Summary and Context
The Greeks sought to make sense of their world and thus created myths about interactions between their gods and humans. Each myth has a moral or lesson. Auguste Rodin, in referencing the Minotaur, revealed his interest in the depiction of elemental or base natural desires. Minotaur (1886) was one of Rodin’s few erotic sculptures and Anna Halprin has been inspired by it to openly investigate the idea of the erotic. She says, “If Eros is part of our humanness, then the artist should express it…. It is important to me that we us our bodies without any judgment of morality or belief systems.” In turn, Daria Martin comments that her film “has created painterly layers around the dance.” She continues, “We move from drawing to sculpture to photography to dance, from two dimensions to three to four, and these different dimensions are akin to different perspectives on the same story.”

Homework

Daria Martin has said of Minotaur, “The film is about looking and imagining…. When Anna [Halprin] is looking at the books of Rodin’s works, she is fantasizing about the sculptures…. The Minotaur looks at the nymph and imagines having her body.”

Using the artist’s statement as a departure point:

  • Have students set up their computers and access the suggested software.
  • Ask students to plan a video based on what they see around them. Create a storyboard to create narrative or organize their video. Filter images through their imaginations, fantasies, or experiences.
  • After storyboarding, use digital video cameras or cellular telephones to film a dance session in the school studio, a football game, or the movements of fellow students in the hallways between classes.
  • Using the filmmaking software program, have students edit their films to create a fluid narrative or a series of jump cuts as we have seen in parts of Daria Martin’s film.
  • Add sound elements that are congruent with your film’s intentions.
  • Upload the finished films to YouTube.com. Post the links on the school’s Web site or post notices around the school so that the students’ work can be accessible.

Assessment

  • Evaluate students based on their participation in classroom discussions.
  • Screen completed video projects and evaluate for procedure, technique, and aesthetics.
  • Ask students to articulate their intentions behind their artwork.
  • Evaluate students’ understanding of the importance of the concept of “artistic inspiration.”

Extending the Lesson

Activity #1
Ask students to visit Daria Martin’s Web site to explore some of her other film projects.

www.dariamartin.com

Assign the students to write a short essay about the filmmaker’s work and how Minotaur differs from her other films. Focus on the following: the main characteristics of her films; the intertwining of unconventional performance and music; cinematic techniques; the layering of elements; her nod to the history of experimental filmmaking.

Activity #2
Have your students research works by other artists who have been inspired by the Greek myth of the Minotaur. Some names to consider are Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Andre Masson, and Robert Morris. Use art books from the library and images from the Internet. Choose an image by each artist and comment on his interpretation of the myth. Are there commonalities in interpretation?

Activity #3
The body of the woman is exploited by the Greek myth and by the male artists we have researched. Kiki Smith, an artist who is considered a feminist like Anna Halprin, has based her art practice on images of the female body, which challenges the traditional male view of the woman as an erotic subject in art. Visit the following Web sites.

http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/smith/index.html

http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/2003/kikismith/flash.html

You will learn about Kiki Smith and see her work. Focus on the themes of anatomy, self-portraits, and feminine contexts. Compare her art with that of the male artists whose work you have critiqued. Do the notions of “sensuality” or “eroticism” resonate in her images of the female body? Do these notions inform her visual translations of mythology and fairy tales? What are her main concerns as an artist?

Additional Resources

“Uncertain States of America,” Astrup Fearnly Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, 2005
Ice Cream, London: Phaidon Press, 2007.
www.annahalprin.org
James Monaco, How to Read A Film, Oxford University Press, 1981.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_video
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/

Lesson Plan: Daria Martin: Myth and Fantasy Inform Contemporary Film