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Nina Paley (#979)

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous

The other day, I was looking at books online [1] and saw a collection of Nina’s Adventures comics. My brain reminded me that I had enjoyed those comics, both Paley’s art, and the funny but serious—and sometimes depressing—content. As I often do, I asked myself, What is Nina Paley doing now? [2].

I quickly learned that the Nina Paley who drew Nina’s Adventures is the same Nina Paley who is one of my heroes. Why? Because a decade or so ago, she released a feature-length animated film, Sita Sings the Blues with a copyleft-style license. That is, not only did she make it possible for anyone to use her work for free, including through derivative works, she also required that the derivative works have the same license [3]. She has since been an active proponent of Free Culture.

Not only was Sita Sings the Blues an important statement about intellectual property, it’s also a really good movie. Paley tells a good story, mixing creative animation and classic [4] music. I know that she had to pay for the music she used [5], but I’m not sure what that means for derivative works [6].

I’ll admit that I haven’t looked at her work for at least five years. I recall admiring her Mimi & Eunice comics, particularly the early ones on intellectual property or, more precisely, intellectual pooperty [7]. But that’s the last I recall. I’ll also admit that I don’t recall associating the Nina Paley of Nina’s Adventures with the Nina Paley of Sita Sings the Blues and Mimi & Eunice. I’m not sure why not.

I discovered a variety of things while poking around her site. She has a new movie out, Seder-Masochism, a fascinating take on the Passover story with additional religious imagery and belief mixed in, including Jesus at the Last Supper and some a spectacularly animated Mother G-ddess (or G-ddesses) [8]. Once again, the mixture of story, autobiography, animation, and music is wonderful, even more wonderful than in Sita Sings the Blues, in my opinion. I’ll admit that I particularly appreciated Pharaoh singing to a clip of Gloria Gaynor [9] as well as the music that came immediately thereafter [10]. And, since Singing in the Rain is one of my favorite movies, I love that when Moses first appears, it’s to the tune of Moses Supposes. I’m pretty sure that my final paper for Mast on Physimusicomedy referenced that scene; I know it referenced one other in the movie. In any case, although Seder-Masochism dwells into some fairly painful territory, I enjoyed it a lot. Since there’s not a lot of narration and almost no direct dialogue (other than in music), I wonder how the movie feels to those less familiar with the Passover story?

I also discovered that Paley is doing some fascinating embroidery with Theodore Gray, one of the co-developers of Mathematica [11] in PaleGray Labs. Some of their work, called Embroidermotion appears in Seder-Masochism. The first things I saw were a wonderful quilt based on Muybridge’s famous film [12] of a horse in motion and Matzoh covers that I think were used for animation in the film.

It looks like Gray also has some interesting quilts, including a Fibonacci spiral [14] and a spiral of the digits of Pi. My favorite may be their Tree of Life quilt, which I don’t think is for sale.

One of the versions of CSC 105, focuses on crafting as computing, or vice versa. We do a lot with our programmable embroidery machines. I wonder if we could use that as an excuse to bring them to campus (or to take a trip out to see their work in action; Champaign Urbana [15] isn’t that far. Of course, Paley would be worth considering as a Convo speaker. I’ll need to remember that the next time the call for nominations comes around.

In any case, I found myself impressed by the amazing range of Paley’s work. I like to support artists, so I was looking around for something that I’d like and would have a place for. Admittedly, there’s a lot. The part of my personality that likes to accumulate and share multiples was drawn to the box of 200 PAL DVDs, in part because of the absurdity of it. I thought about one of the smaller horse quilts but had trouble deciding.

Then I discovered that Paley does drawings for $100. You send her two words and she draws something and sends it back to you. Because she believes in Free Culture, you are free to use the drawing as you wish. Of course, anyone else is, too.

I spent some time thinking about what to request. Eventually, I settled on Musing Professor [16]. Here’s the image I received.

Four figures dancing.  Three presents light-haired females, one as a bearded, dark-haired male.    The first female figure has a harp and the last has a scroll.  The male figure is bearded, with glasses, and dressed in a suit.

Here’s what she wrote when she sent the image:

Here ya go, Musing Professor.

I was gonna draw all 9 muses, but that was crazy, so you only get the original 3: Aoide, Melete, and Mneme.

Now, here’s the thing. The male character in the image looks a lot like me. Same long black curls. Similar glasses. Similar beard. The question is whether I’m Aoide, Melete, Mneme, or the Professor. Aoide was the muse of song or voice, Melete was the muse of practice or occasion, and Mneme was the muse of memory. Or perhaps the one I’m calling the Professor is instead one of the muses; he [17] looks a bit like a stereotypical Rabbi, and Rabbis have to remember a lot, so it could be Mneme, and the last one is the Professor, with their current manuscript. Or perhaps the person in black is a Cantor, making them Aoide.

Of course, it may also be a coincidence that one of the four figures looks like me. I didn’t send Paley a photo. She says that she doesn’t do caricatures. I don’t think she knows me [18]. Perhaps she found a picture of me while doing research for the drawing. In any case, I appreciate the drawing and would have appreciated it even if it didn’t have a figure that resembles me. I considered using it as a logo for my musings, but I think I’m happy without a logo. I have decided to use it as my cover photo on Facebook, though.

Now I’m considering whether it would be appropriate [19] to save up and order a new drawing each month [20]. It would be fun to support an artist, if only in this small way [21]. What words or phrases would I choose? I wonder what Paley would do with Grinnellian? I could pay tribute to a colleague with Linguistic Stone [22]. There’s my favorite play on my last name, Sky Rebel. Or the nickname of one of my kids, Bell Ski. Speaking of my family, I could choose phrases related to them, Mouse Physician, Hairy Diver, Mathematical Lineman, and Musical Linguist, or something like that. Given what Paley wrote to me, I suppose nine muses would be rude. Nina Muses might be fun, though. I wonder what I’d get if I used Rabbi Mimi or Rabbi Eunice. Or perhaps I should reflect on things I love (other than my family). Something with Pooka, perhaps [23]. Then there are some of the terms that came up in this musing, such as Wolfram Tungsten or Shampoo Banana. In the end, I could always go with Surprise me. At worst, each drawing would give me something new to muse about each month. I’ll see what Michelle thinks about the whole endeavor.

That’s all I have to write for now. It’s time to watch Sita Sings the Blues and Seder-Masochism again.

Postscript: I appreciate that one colleague wrote to me and said, I just spotted you in Nina Paley’s blog. Nice! [24] I also like that when I posted the drawing to Facebook, a distinguished film scholar and humanist wrote, I LOVE her videos!

Postscript: I’m still trying to figure out what I’d do with 200 DVDs. But that’s okay, I’m better off ordering drawings, quilts, Matzoh covers, or more intellectual pooperty minibooks.

I see that at one time, Paley sold 35mm prints. I wonder if those are still available and, if so, how much they cost.

Postscript: Paley’s father was a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Illinois. I assume that explains the connection to Theodore Gray. I wonder if it’s also why she drew a character who looks like me.

Postscript: Would you believe that when I started writing this musing, I thought it would be one of my short musings?

[1] Sorry Micki.

[2] Okay, I don’t normally ask about Nina Paley. But when I recall or stumble upon something I once enjoyed, I do look to see what the creator is now doing.

[3] It appears that she has compromised the latter aspect of copyleft.

[4] Not generally classical.

[5] Which may be one of the reasons she embraced copyleft.

[6] I assume that derivative works are subject to the same licensing requirements for the music, but I Am Not A Lawyer.

[7] Some will be appearing in the mailroom, Burling, and elsewhere around campus once the semester starts.

[8] Here’s Paley’s synopsis.

Loosely following a traditional Passover Seder, events from the Book of Exodus are retold by Moses, Aharon, the Angel of Death, Jesus, and the director’s own father. But there’s another side to this story: that of the Goddess, humankind’s original deity. Seder-Masochism resurrects the Great Mother in a tragic struggle against the forces of Patriarchy.

[9] You’ll have to watch the film to see where.

[10] Free to Be You and Me and Reach Out (I’ll Be There).

[11] Along with Stephen Wolfram, who my favorite office-mate used to refer to as Tungsten.

[12] Photographs?

[14] Have I written about the Fibonacci spiral, Damian Hirst, intellectual property, and my final project in sculpture? My quick grep through my musings suggest that I have not. I’ll add that to my list of potential musings.

[15] Or Shampoo Banana as that aforementioned office mate referred to it.

[16] I offered Professor Musing as an alternative.

[17] It seems acceptable to gender the bearded character as male, even though it may represent a muse.

[18] There’s no reason that she’d know me directly. But my mother had a huge network, so there’s a chance that she’d know me indirectly.

[19] Or reasonable.

[20] Sorry Micki.

[21] I could also donate directly. I suppose that would benefit her more.

[22] Unfortunately, Philosopher Stone has too popular a meaning.

[23] I’m thinking of Harvey. But there’s also one in War for the Oaks.

[24] Bonus to the first person who correctly guesses who that is.

Version 1.0 of 2020-01-07.