Autumn 2013

Towering ambition

Brooklyn Babylon

Holland Festival, 24 June 2013
By Danijel Žeželj and Darcy James Argue

Audiovisual events that genuinely work are so rare that Brooklyn Babylon (Holland Festival, 24 June 2013), a multimedia spectacular by Danijel Žeželj and ‘steampunk’ jazz composer Darcy James Argue, is worth close examination.

The work, which had its first European performance at Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam, is based around an image-rich fable by Žeželj, the Croatian-born, Brooklyn-based artist-illustrator known for graphic novels such as Luna Park and comics such as DMZ.

The story – told through projected animations – tells of a mayor’s ambitions to build a fabulously tall tower in a mythical Brooklyn, destroying neighbourhoods in the process, and compromising Lev, a local craftsman who provides the emotional anchor to the story.

The animations were created by taking digital rostrum shots from above at intervals while Žeželj is drawing them. As the story unfolds, the audience also absorbs something about the image-making process. In parallel to these pre-programmed projections, and in real time, Žeželj covers the backdrop with a dramatic cityscape using brushes and rollers, only to destroy his creation in the closing moments of the performance.

Žeželj performed throughout – painting live on a narrow horizontal backdrop erected high behind the eighteen-strong band, Argue’s Secret Society. The musicians wore costumes that evoked the deliberately anachronistic, early-twentieth-century milieu of the story.

Argue’s music is picaresque, dramatic and occasionally melodramatic as the story demands, but achieves a predominantly visual quality that can be compared to the ballet scores Stravinsky created with Diaghilev a century ago. Each element is compelling and complex enough to be enjoyed on its own – as a wordless graphic novel (Babilon, Petikat) or a music album (Brooklyn Babylon, New Amsterdam Records). However the lasting achievement of Argue and Žeželj is an ambitious and wholly successful fusion of sound and vision.

Photograph: Ada Nieuwendijk.

John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London

First published in Eye no. 86 vol. 22 2013

Eye 86 cover

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 86 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.

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