AHA! A House for Arts

S6 E16 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 616

Learn about Yeachin Tsai's philosophies of art, where calligraphy meets abstraction in her work. Discover the history of censorship in cinema with lecturer Laura Wittern-Keller. Hear about the comfort singer/songwriter Charlotte Reilly found in her relationship in the midst of a world seemingly spinning out of control.

AIRED: October 05, 2020 | 0:28:45
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TRANSCRIPT

(bright instrumental music)

(upbeat music)

- Chinese painting and Western abstraction collide.

(upbeat music)

Discuss censorship and the arts

with Laura Wittern-Keller,

and hear a performance by Charlotte Riley.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA, A House for Arts

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank,

we understand that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

(soft piano music)

Hi, I'm Lara Ayad

and this is AHA, A House for Arts.

A place for all things creative

Where is Matt Rogowicz taking us today?

Let's find out.

(soft orchestral music)

- We are about to step into the studio of Yu Ching Thai

who creates these beautiful paintings

that combine Chinese calligraphy and Western abstraction.

Follow me.

(soft orchestral music)

(door slams)

(dramatic orchestral music)

- [Yu Ching] Looks like I have a couple of styles.

However, (mumbles) basic is about dance of energy,

dance of color and forms.

(dramatic orchestral music)

All I do is stroke and dancing in the space

with energy at that moment.

(soft piano music)

Tai is my family name.

I came from Taiwan almost 30 years ago.

In Taiwan my favorite place to go is National Palace Museum.

That's where I spent my most time

in my youth.

I was so lucky.

It was either student, pupil or friends

with a couple master artist

that I learned traditional Chinese calligraphy

and landscape since very young age.

(slow orchestral music)

I think nowadays everybody is influencing each other

because we see it leaves essence of universal language

since cave painting from ancient cave in France.

Is just...

There is always urge.

We want to catch the moment of somebody hunting an animal.

So a painter from ancient time did cave painting in a cave.

But there's a sacredness of that moment

when that person did that thing

because it is genuine.

(soft orchestral music)

So even though sometimes you see very simple dots,

it's actually like calligraphy lives

dot living at the that moment,

at that space,

in that time.

Is a little bit like a Samurai.

A Samurai when you just, do one stroke.

Is life and death at the moment.

There's a fullness of your existence

of your whole being at that moment.

(soft piano music)

So there was a painting behind me...

is actually when

Notre-Dame Church got burned.

I just... affect me so much.

I had to do a painting

and it had to be long

and taller than me.

And it had to be red

because the kind of impact and (mumbles) stroke.

The dance of the stroke,

I feel like a (mumbles) human longing of reach something

a better beyond

this chaotic world right now.

So even though the whole world is very chaotic

and the people has all kinds of difference,

but the length is something...

(Yu Ching mumbling)

we are longing for, shooting for. Always there.

So that's event in time I want to catch.

(slow orchestral music)

These brushes represent to you

and then you connect with heaven and earth.

Heaven is something spiritual, some principle.

And the earth is this human existence.

So I can start a writing.

This is a word. Heart.

(Yu Ching chuckles)

So you can see it's a bit like a heart.

So Chinese is a pictorial language.

And this is also how I learned

how to relay the dots, lines

and forms in the space.

Sometimes people think you need

to get a lot of training in order to do a good drawing,

but I think we can be free or flair

because I think for me, especially painting is like music.

Just do whatever you want.

(soft orchestral music)

(Yu Ching mumbling)

Yes ( Matt chuckles)

Oh my God, oh my God

(soft orchestral music)

You can just put a seal and that's it.

(Yu Ching and Matt laughing)

(dramatic orchestral music)

Everybody can do it.

You can enjoy putting a dot on the paper.

You can enjoy putting bright, bright red

or yellow or blue on the paper,

or you can draw a flower, anything you want

because it really belong to everybody,

belong to older kids and belong to all adults.

(dramatic orchestral music)

Since the pandemic, I'm in the studio every day.

Basically I just do like a (mumbles)

(Yu Ching chuckles)

just create so many works.

I can't believe myself, but I think,

is very fortunate as artist you have something

you can put your hands on and the keep my sanity,

through this whole process.

And in the process of making art,

I realize I am a human being

and we are human being and we suffer the same.

So there's... something very comfort,

but also to me is very profound journey happening.

(dramatic orchestral music)

- Laura Wittern-Keller is a history lecturer at UAlbany

specializing in Censorship and Free Speech.

Let's chat with Laura to discuss Censorship and the Arts.

Welcome to A House for Arts

I'm very excited to speak with you today.

- Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

I love the program.

- Well, that's great to hear that we have a wonderful fan

because I understand that you do research

and talk a lot about Censorship and Free Speech,

and I'm just curious to know...

Tell me a bit about your background.

How did you initially become interested in this topic?

- It's kind of a silly little story,

but it had a wonderful ending.

I started doing my graduate work

and like all good PhD students, first year students,

I'm casting about for a dissertation topic.

You know, what am I... what do I wanna research?

And I'm standing in the hallway one day

and one of my favorite professors is out there

and he says, "You know, I have just come back

"from the New York State Archives.

"And for the umpteenth time,

"I've taken a public history class down there

"and for the umpteenth time,

"I've listened to the archivist say,

"we have the world's largest collection of film scripts.

"We have the world's largest collection of information

"about movie censorship in the United States right here.

"And no one has used it for Public Policy Research."

He said, "People have used it for, you know

"because when Hollywood makes a movie,

"they throw the script away.

"So they have the scripts, they'll come back

"and look for the scripts

"or people have used it for cultural research,

"but no one used it for Public Policy Research."

So my antenna went up and I thought,

Oh, okay, I'll go down there.

- [Lara Ayad] You saw an open opportunity, an open window.

- Absolutely.

And like most Americans, I had no idea that New York State

and six other States had censored movies

legally in the early part of the 20th century

and up until the 1960s.

I had no idea.

So I wanted to go down and find out who the censors were.

Who were these people?

And the finding aid said that

there were records on the censors.

So I went down there, the files were blank.

There was nothing there.

They had called the records

before they sent it over to the archives.

So then in good graduate student fashion,

I start looking at okay,

what are the biggest fattest files?

'Cause every movie has its own file

and the ones that aren't problematic,

it's a really skinny little file.

It's the application, it's the script

and it's the license.

And then I thought well, that's boring--

- [Lara Ayad] What are the fat files?

- [Laura Wittern-Keller] Oh the fat files...

That's the interesting thing.

Those are the people who had a problem

and who refused to accept the termination of the censors.

Those are the people who challenged the censors

and said, no, you can't do this to my movie.

And the really fat files were the ones

that had gone to court to question

what the censors had done to their movies.

And then I had it.

- [Lara Ayad] And then you had it.

And I understand that you made a book,

I'm assuming out of this research,

a book about the Film Industry

and censorship in the United States.

Can you tell me a little bit about it?

- The book is called Freedom of the Screen

and it was about half of it was that dissertation

and the other half is, I talk about the Hays Code.

Now a lot of people know about the Hays Code.

This is the office that The Motion Picture Association

created to self-censor,

to make sure that they would not run

a foul of pressure groups

who would boycott their movies,

make sure they didn't run a foul of the State censors,

who I was studying,

and so a lot of people know about that.

So this book is a combination of the Hays Office

and that self-censorship,

and then the governmental censors as well.

What I found out was that before World War II,

what they were mostly arguing was

you're wrong about my film.

After World War II, we get a lot of cultural changes

and that's when people started arguing,

you're wrong about censoring.

Period.

You shouldn't be censoring these films at all.

And that's when we get the bigger cases.

And that's when the Supreme Court

starts paying attention in 1952.

And then finally in 1965,

we get the last case of the Supreme Court.

But there's never a moment

when the Supreme Court Justices ride in

on the big white horse and smite the censors

and say, this is unconstitutional, you can't do it.

Never happened.

The Supreme Court never declared

State Censorship of Movies unconstitutional.

- I wanna talk with you Laura, about cancel culture

because there's a lot of news out there today

that's making reports about people taking down

and tearing down monuments

to figures that were very controversial in history.

If they had connections say to big issues like slavery

or genocide, even you know,

reports about college professors, university professors

who were having their jobs compromised

or even possibly being fired

because they have views that are unpopular

on the college campus.

I'm wondering,

what do you think of this term cancel culture

and do you think that we could apply that term

to what we've seen in the past,

especially with the Film Industry

and films being censored by New York State?

- That is an extraordinarily good question.

That is a really tough question.

With the term cancel culture of course means

different things to different people.

It's not the kinda thing that anyone's ever gonna define,

and we're all gonna agree on it.

But I think we have a pretty good idea

of what we mean when we say that.

In the 1970s and 1980s, we had the same kind of things

and we would have called it the Culture Wars.

That was the term that was used then.

And it's interesting.

It's mostly religious groups. If you look at the people

who've argued against movies as art,

it's usually religious, religiously based problems.

- Right.

- And so in the 1970s, in the 1980s,

we get lots of pressure groups

demanding that one movie or another,

you know, be not be shown.

Now there's no legal way to stop it anymore.

They wanna bring the pressure.

And I think the cancel culture today

is a lot like that, in terms of public pressure.

We can't force you to stop,

but we're gonna make life miserable for you until you do.

- [Lara Ayad] Right

- I think that's what's going on here.

- Is it mostly religious groups

that you still see engaging in this cancel culture today?

Or do you see other kinds of groups

and other kinds of ideological factions doing this?

- Yeah and I think that's where it's little different.

Because now I think it's become, it's more political.

I see a lot more political that's going on here.

This is... this is quite different.

The movie censorship culture that I write about

and talk about was not really political,

very rarely was it a political issue.

And the censors were very reluctant to touch a movie

that had a political message.

They usually stayed away from that kinda thing

and let it go.

Now, when I think you see things,

and I think you're thinking about the Confederate Statues,

you know, that kind of thing.

I see that as quite different

because I see those statues as not so much works of art

and I'm sorry to the person who created statue

'cause to that person clearly it's a work of art

but I see those statues more as political statements.

- [Lara Ayad] Okay.

- If you look at when those statues,

particularly the Confederate Statues,

when those statues went up,

wasn't right after the civil war,

when you would expect them to go up,

to commemorate the people who led the Confederate Forces.

When those statues went up, the majority...

there were two big peaks.

One was around between 1900 and 1910,

so the beginnings of the Modern Civil Rights Movement,

the beginning of the NAACP as an organization.

Huge massive amounts of immigration in American cities

and many white Protestant Americans

are worried about that immigration.

That's when we see a whole bunch of those statues go up.

The second big peak we see is in the 1950s.

Think the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks,

the Brown versus Board of Education,

the 1957 Little Rock Central High School desegregation.

That's when a lot of those statues went up.

So scholars who study the lost cause

and study Southern culture are very likely to say

those statues were more political statements

of warning to African-Americans.

- Right

So it's the context in which these types of things,

like the sculptures or the statues were made,

that really helps us to flesh out the story

of why is this controversial?

Why are some people saying that they should be taken down?

You know, I'm kinda wondering though because

there are some things that have become controversial

that were not necessarily intended as political statements.

Like for instance,

you think of the films of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen,

they make these fantastic films

with great cinematography and storytelling,

but some people have boycotted their films

because of the things that the creators have done

in their past.

Like such as child sexual abuse or rape.

I'm wondering, you know,

is there ever a point at which we should

or can separate the art from the artist?

Is there ever a point at which

we should really draw the line

and be like, no, you know what I'm not gonna support this.

I'm not gonna watch this or consume this

because the creator did something

really unethical or really wrong.

- That's really a great question too.

And you mentioned Woody Allen and Roman Polanski,

and I can take it back even further.

You know, if you go back to 1922 Hollywood,

it was immersed in scandals.

Three huge scandals at the same time.

One of them "Fatty" Arbuckle,

who was immensely popular comedian,

but also an immense man.

And he was charged with either raping

or having sex with a young woman who later died

because he had had sex with her.

And it's huge and controversy over that.

That's when Hollywood actually started its Self-Censorship.

Was over that, to quiet that down,

to make things go away.

Now, whether you should separate the art from the artist

that, because we don't have governmental censorship anymore,

that's a personal decision.

- [Lara Ayad] Right.

- But the personal decision, and that's fine,

if each person makes that personal decision,

but when a group goes out and says,

you shouldn't ever watch a Woody Allen movie,

or you should never watch a Roman Polanski movie,

and we're gonna put some kind of,

you know, pressure on you to do that.

Then that I think is a very different situation.

- [Lara Ayad] Yeah.

Well, it sounds to me, Laura,

like all of these different historical moments

can still serve as kind of warnings and tales for us today.

Your book and your research sound fantastic.

And it's such a pleasure speaking with you

on A House for Arts.

- Well, thank you.

I was delighted to be here.

- Please welcome Charlotte Riley.

- I'm from Saratoga Springs

and I'm gonna be playing my first song called Hide Away.

It's actually a song I wrote about a year ago,

but I released a couple of months ago

as my first single.

I'm gonna play it a little slower,

stripped down a little from the recorded version

but yeah.

It's kind of about hiding away from my problems in a way.

Pretty straightforward.

(Charlotte chuckles)

(lighthearted guitar music)

♪It's 4 a.m. I can't check my phone♪

♪'Cause I know you're up and you're all alone♪

♪Wanna be there for your darkest nights♪

♪But right now I'm not all right♪

♪Sometimes I can't explain♪

♪But I don't want you to take the blame♪

♪These things can't stay the same no♪

♪These things can't stay the same♪

♪So I hide away♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪You're talking about brighter days♪

♪Where are they♪

♪I was told that I had control♪

♪But I can't seem to let it go♪

♪So I tell myself one more time♪

♪But it don't matter how hard I try♪

♪I want you to be okay♪

♪But I don't know if this'll ever change♪

♪These things can't stay the same no♪

♪These things can't stay the same♪

♪So I hide away♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪You're talking about brighter days♪

♪Where are they♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪So I tell myself one more time♪

♪It don't matter how hard I try♪

♪So I tell myself one more time♪

♪I tell myself one more time♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪I just hide away♪

♪I just hide away♪

Last song that I'm gonna play is called Tomorrow.

I wrote this earlier on in quarantine.

This was one of my more recent written songs.

I guess just everything going on kinda had me thinking about

the craziness of not knowing a lot,

but the comfort and secureness I found in my relationship

and knowing that that was gonna be a constant,

I guess, no matter what else is going on right now

and yeah, this is called Tomorrow.

(lighthearted guitar music)

♪Can't fear tomorrow 'cause what about today♪

♪What happens when there's no words♪

♪Left to say♪

♪Just know these three I'll always♪

♪Give to you♪

♪Every morning night and afternoon♪

♪I love you♪

♪I love you♪

♪I know this world's been crazy♪

♪So darling grab my hand♪

♪I can't take away the pain but I'll try♪

♪I'll be here tomorrow and every night♪

♪To remind you♪

♪To remind you♪

♪I love you♪

♪I love you♪

♪I love you♪

♪I love you♪

♪What's a world without love♪

♪What's a world without peace♪

♪How can I live in fear♪

♪When I get to see that smile♪

♪That gives me strength to seek♪

♪A happy ending hand in hand♪

(Charlotte mumbles)

♪You kiss my lips and I don't care whoever sees♪

♪You pull me closer and suddenly I don't feel weak♪

♪I wear my heart right out where they can see♪

♪Let 'em see♪

♪I kiss your lips and I don't care whoever sees♪

♪You pull me closer and suddenly I don't feel week♪

♪Wear my heart right out where they can see♪

♪Let 'em see♪

♪Let 'em see♪

♪I can't fear tomorrow♪

♪'Cause what about today♪

♪What happens when there's no words left to say♪

♪Just know these three♪

♪I'll always give to you♪

♪Every morning night and afternoon♪

♪I love you♪

(upbeat music)

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts visit, wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad. Thanks for watching

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided by

your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand

that the vitality of our communities is crucial

to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

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