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On Bathing Nuns and Hegel

On Bathing Nuns and Hegel

Laura E. Ruberto (January 19, 2008)
Dirt (Piero Heliczer, 1965)

Piero Heliczer's underground films, transnational migration, and the role of the self in the creation of art.



Between preparing to teach a class on aesthetic theory this spring and reading Rita Ciresi’s post on nuns, I somewhat serendipitously came across the 1965 experimental film Dirt, by Piero Heliczer (1937-1993). (The first 11 seconds of a 25-minute film about nuns who take a bath and meet a sailor is posted here; the rest you can see at Heliczer’s life—born in Rome, he spent large portions of his life in the U.S., Great Britain, and France—reminds us that transnational migration can inform critical understandings of rebellious alternatives to mainstream art.
Heliczer was a writer, underground filmmaker, and even a child actor in Italy. He moved in well-known circles, such as Andy Warhol’s Factory, in the early 1960s, but his work and life remain pretty darn obscure. Looking at his films and listening to some of his poetry online, I was reminded of some of Hegel’s perspectives on art, where art is an attempt to humanize and personalize the world around us:
            The universal and absolute need out of which art, on its formal side, arises has its  
            origin in the fact that man is a thinking consciousness, i.e., that he draws out of himself,
            and makes explicit for himself, that which he is, and generally, whatever is.  
                                                                                                           (Hegel’s Philosophy of Fine Art)
Thinking about art in terms of universals isn’t all that trendy these days, and surely not a position that I would generally champion. And yet the idea that artistic productions are personal reflections of a self and of that self’s world (put another way, that art is a reflection of identity, identities reflections of broader historical realms) seems to me to be a decent and useful way to think about the production of culture.

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