art | design | fashion

Saturday, February 10, 2007

if not a room then a shrine

. . . and an entire city

or some history on the devotion of space to domesticated cats .


Note: portions of this text have been excerpted from:

Bast is an ancient Egyptian goddess, the Sacred Cat and her name means devouring lady. She is depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. Her worship began around the year 3200 BCE during the second dynasty in northern Egypt and her city is Bubastis. There, and in many other ancient cities, Egyptians celebrated Bast's feast day, October 31st.

Though the cat-headed goddess Bast was revered and loved throughout Egypt from the earliest of times there were several cities sacred to her cult and which hosted several large, important and influential temples.

Among the dozen or so cities important to the Bast Cult, none was more important or holy than Bubastis. During the Bubastite period (22nd dynasty), cat cemeteries became popular, and a huge profusion of cat amulets were being made. Cats were mummified and ritually buried.

FUN FACT: You can still purchase Bastet amulets including one with the image of a mummified cat:

Click on image above to order one from the Freer Sackler shop. It is the perfect pendant to wear when you want to tell people: "I like cats and I'm kind of sick in the head."
In 640 AD Bubastis was still alive and people were still worshipping cats there.

Cats were very sacred animals to the ancient Egyptians. They held a high, honoured position in many households and were more important even than humans. Cats were demigods in ancient Egypt. Anyone caught harming or killing a cat, even by accident, was punished by death, for cats guarded the royal granaries keeping them relatively free from vermin which threatened the food supplies.

She is also the goddess of shoppers:
the handbag is an important object in Bastet rituals.

The cult of Bastet was centered in Bubastis (located in the delta region, near modern- day Zagazig) from at least the 4th Dynasty. The famous Temple Ruins of Bast at Bubastis (Per-Bast in Tameran, today Tell-Basta). The sacred enclosure consisted of a grove of tall trees (the only one to be found in an Egyptian temple) holding the shrine of the goddess within.

The temple was full of cats who were carried around in baskets and ritually fed.

Once a year, a great festival was held in Bubastis to honour Bast, attracting devotees from all over the country. According to Herodotus, the original accidental tourist, upwards of 700,000 people attended.

(Heroditus. ii. 59, 60.):

"Temples there are more spacious and costlier than that of Bubastis, but none so pleasant to behold. It is after the following fashion. Except at the entrance, it is surrounded by water: for two canals branch off from the river, and run as far as the entrance to the temple: yet neither canal mingles with the other, but one runs on this side, and the other on that. Each canal is a hundred feet wide, and its banks are lined with trees. The propylaea are sixty feet in height, and are adorned with sculptures (probably intaglios in relief) nine feet high, and of excellent workmanship. The Temple being in the middle of the city is looked down upon from all sides as you walk around; and this comes from the city having been raised, whereas the temple itself has not been moved, but remains in its original place. Quite round the temple there goes a wall, adorned with sculptures. Within the inclosure is a grove of fair tall trees, planted around a large building in which is the effigy (of Bast). The form of that temple is square, each side being a stadium in length. In a line with the entrance is a road built of stone about three stadia long, leading eastwards through the public market. The road is about 400 feet broad, and is flanked by exceeding tall trees. It leads to the temple of Hermes."

Further information on Bastet:

Bastet was strictly a solar deity until the arrival of Greek influence on Egyptian society, when she became a lunar goddess due to the Greeks associating her with their Artemis. Dating from the 2nd Dynasty (roughly 2890-2686 BCE), Bastet was originally portrayed as either a wild desert cat or as a lioness, and only became associated with the domesticated feline around 1000 BCE.

Because the Greeks equated Bastet with Diana and Artemis and Horus with Apollo, Bastet became adopted into the Osiris-Isis myth as their daughter (this association, however, was never made previous to the arrival of Hellenistic influence on Egypt). She is stated to be the mother of the lion-headed god Mihos (who was also worshipped in Bubastis, along with Thoth). She is depicted most commonly as a woman with the head of a domesticated or wild cat or lion, or as a cat itself. Article "Bastet" created on 03 March 1997; last modified on 26 May 1999 (Revision 2). 318 words. © MCMXCV - MMVI Encyclopedia Mythica™. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

the fifth fable : flyovers

note: fables 1-4 are from my commentary on episode one of bravo tv's top design show (da bear and other fables) but this is a more generic statement so I moved here to the arts | design section

the fifth fable : flyovers

For the stylemakers on the coasts Chicago is just part of the big "flyover" world of non-culture between New York and Los Angeles. Or, with O'Hare aiport it is more of a "stopover": a place you don't want to bother with; you are just waiting to get out it of as soon as possible.

(What's missed is the other, older, vertical axis -- running down the center -- Chicago/New Orleans, the Mississippi River. It is a deeper, darker line but that is another story.)

Of course anyone who knows anything about architecture knows that Chicago is the most important architectural city in America.

If you don't know this, here's a place to start: 1871 Great Chicago Fire. After that try:
  • Birth of Skyscraper.
  • Columbian Exposition/Neo-Classical revival.
  • Prairie School.
  • Modern/International Style.
Chicago is also the center for furniture design. (The Merchandise Mart is a thing to behold.) It used to manufacture the most furniture but with union busting the industry went south. Now it is probably all done in Asia. However Chicago is still known for its custom furniture design.

And all that modernist design that people in LA and NY worship? Where do you think much of that came from?

(Also, while Chicago may not be at the center for fashion design, many consider it the best restaurant city in the country.)

People will go there for business conferences and tell me, with surprise, that they discovered it was a really amazing city. Like it didn't occur to them that this a place of international significance not just in manufacturing but in arts and design and culture. After New York and Washington DC it has musuems with the most established and largest collections.

I can play city booster but part of me also wants to keep things a secret, like the jazz clubs that are such gems that they would be overrun with tourists if they were in New York or LA. A lot of what I like isn't glitzy stuff. It is the city of neighborhoods. The entire lakefront is public property. And Wrigley Field is one of the last great parks but you have to be a native to really understand the Cubs. (They are different from the Red Sox.)

Although midwesterners are seen as a bit dopey compared to the smarter east coast and hipper west coast, in fact, Chicago is the home to the university that fosters the most intellecually intense and challenging environment of any place in the world. The University of Chicago is truly devoted to fostering the life of the mind. Even the Ivy League thinks those people are total dorks.