finding a theme: the visual motif

qld museum collection
qld museum collection

I first grasped magic realism through visual motifs such as the yellow butterflies in Gabriel Marcia Marquez’s  One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It was then that [Meme] realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia. She had seen them before…but when Mauricio began to pursue her like a ghost that only she could identify in the crowd, she understood that the butterflies had something to do with him.” — from One Hundred Years of Solitude

Butterflies recur happily as a motif in literature, films/videos, art, dance and graphic design. There’s an exhibition of the Dodd’s collection at the Qld Museum : The Butterfly Man of Kuranda . Displays from Dodd’s collection are intriguing and beautiful.

Dodd collection

http://www.southbank.qm.qld.gov.au/exhibitions/butterfly_man/

The images  don’t make us think of the insects themselves, but of nostalgia for a past era of scientific certainty and exploration. An old fashioned practice, collecting and identifying  insects. It’s hard today to grasp the dedication of natural scientists.

Their work seems obsessive to us. In a film, such a person might turn out be a sociopath or serial killer.

film adaptation of Fowles' novel

http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/1004/ See this blog for details about the film and its representation of the unsociable butterfly collector.

Meanwhile our own collecting of artifacts –  music, art, jewellery, shoes, bags – passes as normal enough.

How and when do visual motifs work best in creative work?

The Butterfly is a well used motif, but popularity doesn’t make it less effective.

louis vuitton butterfly scarf

The heart is a motif used over and over again to convey the idea of love, whether it’s in a pop art or commercial art context, with images like this:

or used for more sentimental purposes.

pop (he)art

Our group looked at the NY Tropfest winner from 2008, Mankind is no Island,  by Australian filmmaker Jason van Genderen. It’s a short film shot with a mobile phone, that uses signs,  images and music to convey a narrative. The heart motif runs through the film; a red heart balloon, chalk drawings of a heart, and the word “love”.

I mean How corny can you get. But it works. It’s like each heart floats by in inverted commas, “love”. We knowingly use cliches, visual stereotypes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrDxe9gK8Gk

In this film the images of homeless people are another visual motif, used as a shorthand for ‘social inequality’. And the busy city scenes stand in for mindless urban activity. The sweet-melancholy music, a repetitive piano motif, reinforces the same theme. A meditation on love. Stop and look, notice, care, love. Overcome apathy and indifference.

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