Ancient World, J. Paul Getty Museum

Prometheus Bound: A God Stands Up for Humans’ Rights

Prometheus Bound workshop at CalArts. This massive, 23-foot-tall wheel represents the remote mountaintop to which Prometheus is chained.

What happens when an individual stands up to the tyrannical rule of a new leader? What punishments are bestowed? What is accomplished, and what lost, by the act of defiance?

The play Prometheus Bound explores these questions, which resonate as deeply today as they did when Aeschylus (or possibly one of his contemporaries) penned it in the 400s B.C. The play is this year’s annual outdoor theater production at the Getty Villa’s Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, an outdoor performance space designed after the ancient theaters in Greece and Rome.

This year, the Getty Museum has partnered with the CalArts’ Center for New Performance to breathe vibrant, contemporary life into this ancient text. Featuring a new translation by noted poet and essayist Joel Agee, the production includes original music by composer Ellen Reid and celebrated jazz multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia, who will also perform live onstage.

But who was Prometheus, and why was he bound?

Prometheus was one of the immortal Titans, which in ancient Greek mythology ruled the world before they were overthrown by the better-known Olympian gods. During the struggle for power between the two, Prometheus attempted to counsel the Titans but was rebuked—they believed they could win through strength alone.  Through his gift of foresight, Prometheus knew that the battle could only be won through “superior guile, not might,” and chose to offer his advice to one who would listen, the Olympian leader Zeus. The Olympians won the war, and Zeus obtained ultimate rule. However, Zeus’s power quickly went to his head, and he decided to wipe out the human race in favor of growing “another one more to his liking.”

Mirjana Jokovic in a Prometheus Bound workshop at CalArts

This fateful moment is where the play begins. We see Prometheus chained to a desolate mountaintop at the edge of the world for all eternity. His latest transgression? Taking pity upon the suffering of humanity by stealing fire from the gods and sharing it with humans, along with the gifts of knowledge and awareness, letters and numbers, art and culture—all that gives meaning to human existence.

Though Prometheus Bound is probably the oldest Greek play still known to us, its timeless themes have influenced writers from Milton to Mary Shelley, who gave her novel Frankenstein the subtitle “The Modern Prometheus.”

In this production, the remote mountaintop to which Prometheus is chained is represented by a massive, 23-foot-tall steel wheel. Resembling an astronomical clock, the wheel represents man’s relationship to the cosmos and the unending passage of time. Throughout the play, Prometheus rotates around the wheel, interacting with different characters and raging against Zeus for his harsh punishment and disregard of their lost friendship. Accomplishing this remarkable acting feat is Ron Cephas Jones, who was most recently on stage in London as Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Look for these posters around town this summer. The photo shows Ron Cephas Jones performing the remarkable feat of embodying Prometheus while anchored to the 23-foot-tall rotating wheel.

Tickets for the production went on sale this morning. Throughout the summer we’ll bring you behind-the-scenes glimpses of how the production is progressing, including the installation of the 5-ton wheel the week of July 15, and stories from the cast and creative team.

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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