Synecdoche, New York


Written by James Read
01 Friday 01st May 2009

Synecdoche, New York is about fear of death, introspection and the desire to make lasting accomplishments. It discusses these through director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who builds an increasingly complex living replica of New York over twenty years, casting actors to play his wife, his lover, his friends and eventually himself. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (who wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine), it keeps enough surreal humour not to seem too self-indulgently conceptual. You really should go and see it. Meanwhile, here's a selection of real artists who have dedicated their lives to a single project.

Untitled (Ridable), Charles Avery

Charles Avery's The Island

Over the past decade, Avery has imagined an island which he has brought to life through painting, taxidermy and sculpture. There are continuing characters, species and myths and the artist casts himself as their anthropologist. Parts have been mapped, such as the Plane of the Gods, where tourists go to gawk at local deities, including a headless, dual-bodied dog, joined at the neck. An end point is far from sight, but he doesn't seem rushed - "Finishability is a moot point here."

Codex Gigas

Devil's Bible

The Codex Gigas, the largest known surviving medieval text, was likely created by a Benedictine monk. It contains "a sum of the Benedictine order's knowledge", and it is estimated that it took a single author between 12 and 20 years to create the 75kg tome, written on the skin of around 160 calves. It is often referred to as the Devil's Bible, due to a full page (50cm) illustration of a demon (an uncommon choice at the time).

The Reichstag, Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

The married couple like wrapping things in fabric. Really large things. Like The Reichstag, a forest and a number of islands. Their The Umbrellas - Japan-USA piece involved planting over a thousand umbrellas in each country, each over eight metres wide. It took seven years and $26 million to complete, and two people died. In 1983 they decided to surround eleven islands near Miami with 603,850 m2 of pink fabric. Christo has said, "I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain."


Organ at St. Burchardi church

John Cage's As Slow As Possible

In 1985 the American composer wrote a musical piece for the piano (later adapted for organ) that was to be played as slowly as possible. Cage omitted to mention exactly how slowly, however. Most performances last around 70 minutes, but at a German church in 2001 a rendition began that is set to last 639 years. Unfortunately Cage died in 1992. The organ is currently playing the eighth note, which will last until 5 July 2010.











Synecdoche, New York is out now on general release

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