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Edvard Munch: what a cigarette means

8 minutes

Jonah stands up

16 minutes

Want a whole new body? Ask this flatworm how

5 minutes

ORIGINAL

Dance, dance evolution

4 minutes

Ins holz (In the woods)

13 minutes

When is art a better tool for understanding mental illness than science?

The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) – best-known for his painting The Scream (1893) – was a key figure in the expressionist movement, which emphasised subjective experiences over the natural world. Part of a rising bohemian class that rejected conventions in society and art, Munch’s unsettling work often reflected and refracted his personal struggles with mental illness, much to the alarm of Oslo’s prevailing conservative class. In this video essay, Evan Puschak (also known as The Nerdwriter) uses a short cultural history of the cigarette to explore how Munch’s Self-Portrait with Cigarette (1895) signified an impending revolt in both art and society – and how art allows for a ‘probing and nuanced understanding’ of mental illness that often eludes medical science.

Video by The Nerdwriter

Exit, pursued by Death: a young artist and rabble-rouser mines comedy from mortality

In her short documentary Jonah Stands Up, the US director Hannah Engelson profiles her friend Jonah Bascle: a creative, defiant spirit and New Orleans native who is dealing with a terminal heart condition related to his muscular dystrophy. The setup might sound familiar, but the short film and its subject are refreshingly subversive, refusing to fall into tired clichés about confronting disability and illness with bravery. A scrappy and heartfelt DIY production, the film uses animations inspired by Bascle’s artwork, footage of his standup comedy sets, and emotionally raw doctor’s visits to tell his story. Through Engelson’s tribute, Bascle is never presented as an inspirational force, but rather as the many things – a 20something artist, a disability-rights advocate, a rabble-rousing political candidate, a friend – he was in life.

Director: Hannah Engelson

The blob with a superpower: cut a flatworm in four pieces and watch it regenerate four-fold

Planarians are small flatworms that live in wet and humid areas around the globe. Although these creatures are relatively simple, their small, soft bodies possess one of the most amazing secrets in the animal kingdom. Cut a planarian into as many as 279 pieces and, within a few weeks, each bit will regenerate into a full new worm – head, eyes, digestive system and all. This incredible ability raises interesting questions for philosophers, who might wonder which, if any, of these worms is the ‘original’, and for medical researchers, who are hoping to harness the adaptability of planarian’s powerful regenerative stem cells to help regrow tissue, and potentially even limbs, on humans. Read more about this video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Gabriela Quirós

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

Dance seems to be the ultimate frivolity. How did it become a human necessity?

Every culture dances. Moving our bodies to music is ubiquitous throughout human history and across the globe. So why is this ostensibly frivolous act so fundamental to being human? The answer, it seems, is in our need for social cohesion – that vital glue that keeps societies from breaking apart despite interpersonal differences. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) theorised that ‘collective effervescence’ – moments in which people come together in some form of unifying, excitement-inducing activity – is at the root of what holds groups together. More recently, Bronwyn Tarr, an evolutionary biologist and psychologist at the University of Oxford who is also a dancer, has researched the evolutionary and neurological underpinnings of our innate tendency to bust a move. Drawing on the work of both Durkheim and Tarr, this Aeon Original video explores that unifying feeling of group ‘electricity’ that lifts us up when we’re enthralled by our favourite sports teams, participating in religious rituals, entranced by music – and, yes, dancing the night away.

Directors and Animators: Rosanna Wan, Andrew Khosravani

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Writer: Sam Dresser

Associate producer: Adam D’Arpino

Sound designers: Eli Cohn, Ben Chesneau, Maya Peart

Narrator: Simon Mattacks

Surgeons with chainsaws – the breathtaking craft of logging on a Swiss mountainside

In most of the world, logging is now largely the work of massive machinery. But in the steeply sloped woods above Lake Ägeri in Switzerland, a combination of chainsaws, jacks, muscles and gravity is still the most effective means of bringing down trees for lumber. Once every four years, skilled loggers travel to the area to collect mature trees in a sustainable harvesting tradition that, in turn, allows saplings to take in sunlight and flourish. After felling the trees at careful angles, the workers send them careening through the woods with spectacular speed and force until they reach the water below with a satisfying splash. From there, the timber is floated downriver into town. The loggers’ confident expertise masks the immense dangers of the job, which could easily turn deadly in an instant. With stunning cinematography, Ins holz (In the woods) offers a rare look at this nearly extinct practice and the culture that surrounds it, making for a deeply visceral and visually stunning celebration of a hard day’s work.

Directors: Thomas Horat, Corina Schwingruber Ilic

Website: Mythenfilm

When is art a better tool for understanding mental illness than science?

The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) – best-known for his painting The Scream (1893) – was a key figure in the expressionist movement, which emphasised subjective experiences over the natural world. Part of a rising bohemian class that rejected conventions in society and art, Munch’s unsettling work often reflected and refracted his personal struggles with mental illness, much to the alarm of Oslo’s prevailing conservative class. In this video essay, Evan Puschak (also known as The Nerdwriter) uses a short cultural history of the cigarette to explore how Munch’s Self-Portrait with Cigarette (1895) signified an impending revolt in both art and society – and how art allows for a ‘probing and nuanced understanding’ of mental illness that often eludes medical science.

Video by The Nerdwriter

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Essay/
Stories & Literature
The great disillusionist

In an age when so many people are at a loss to give life meaning and direction, Giacomo Leopardi is essential reading

Tim Parks

Essay/
Stories & Literature
Pagans against Genesis

Confused, inferior and philosophically unsound: the Greco-Roman critique of the Old Testament could have been written today

Pieter van der Horst