Get Zen @ Hamon: Enjoy Nature Outside and In

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On a 10 minute walk to Hamon from anywhere on campus, you can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of enjoying nature by slowing your pace and taking notice of the trees, flowers and water features. 



Here are a few reasons why this walk makes you feel better:

  • Being in nature makes you feel happier  

Spending just 15 minutes sitting outdoors may help you feel psychologically restored.

  • Being in nature may make help you concentrate better  

Taking a break in nature can improve your concentration by giving your brain a well-needed break. Leave your phone and laptop behind and let your mind unwind.

  • Being in nature limits your stress

Being outside, even if just in your own SMU neighborhood, can reduce stress in the body.

  • Being in nature lightens feelings of depression  

Spending time outside heals you in so many ways—including your mental health.

Nature outside of Hamon

Inside of Hamon, you can also engage with nature. Experience the benefits of studying with indoor plants and in natural sunlight on the first, second and third floors.

  • Indoor plants may help reduce stress levels

Plants in the library can make you feel more comfortable, soothed and natural.

  • Real plants may sharpen your attention

Studying in the library with real, live plants may make you more attentive and better able to concentrate.

  • Plants may boost your productivity

Multiple studies have found that plants in a workspace increase both productivity and creativity.

Hamon in nature

Find out other reasons why nature is good for you and the benefits of indoor plants:

Blog post and photography: LaGail Davis, General Operations Manager and zen master, Hamon Arts Library, SMU
Sources linked above.

Get Zen @ Hamon: Laughter is the best medicine!

Get Zen_Laughter

As you have often heard, laughter is the best medicine! This phrase may be quoted often because laughter relaxes the entire body. It temporarily relieves physical tension and stress. In fact, it can leave your muscles relaxed for forty-five minutes after a good, hearty laugh.

At Hamon, we recommend watching a romantic comedy to relieve your stress! The Library has a selection of rom-com movies on display in the Hamon Commons area on the first floor. If you are looking for a specific title, you may also search the SMU Libraries catalog. If you wish to browse across titles, you can search by subject using the term: romantic comedy films, and even limit by date range for older or more recent videos.

Hamon Arts Library has thousands of movies on DVD and Blue Ray! Reserve your favorite title and pick it up at the services desk or arrange for curbside or locker pick up through the Hamon home page.

If you need help finding a movie title, or anything else this spring, Ask Us. We’re here to help!

Blog post: LaGail Davis, General Operations Manager and zen master, Hamon Arts Library, SMU

Image source of two women laughing: Istock.

Get Zen @ Hamon: Stretching & Breathing

Chair Sun SalutationsWhenever you are in Hamon, we encourage you to take a break to quiet your mind with some simple Yoga poses and deep breathing. To help you, throughout the library you will see posters instructing you on how to hold Yoga poses and breathe deeply in a chair.

Hamon Arts Library is a great place to study for SMU faculty, staff and students in a quiet environment. The second and third floors are designated silent study areas and the first floor is where quiet collaboration can take place. Each floor has a number study carrels for a more secluded studying experience and open tables are near windows allow you to study with a view.

Bookable study rooms with various capacity (1 – 3 people) are available in case you need a little more privacy for Zoom classes or working on group projects. Reserve a study room through the Hamon homepage.

If you need help with booking a study room or have more questions about Hamon, don’t hesitate to AskUs.

Blog post: LaGail Davis, General Operations Manager and zen master, Hamon Arts Library, SMU

Get Zen @ Hamon: Listen to something relaxing on Naxos

During this stressful time, Hamon Arts Library wants to help you maintain your Zen!

A good way to relax is to listen to soothing sounds like that of nature or classical music, which can be found in the Naxos Music Library.


Access the Naxos Music Library with your SMU ID by completing a title search of the databases through the Hamon home page. As an authorized SMU library user, you may even create your own relaxing playlist.

It is almost like those other streaming music apps but without the commercials, and it’s free to students, faculty and staff at SMU!


Choose from titles like:

Mother Nature – Guided Relaxation

The Ultimate Relaxation Album

Blue Classics

Classical Yoga

Cello For Relaxation


For additional information on how to use The Naxos Music Library just AskUs.

Blog post: LaGail Davis, General Operations Manager and zen master, Hamon Arts Library, SMU

The best sound quality: African American musicians on CD in Hamon


Hamon CDsDid you know the Hamon Arts Library provides access to millions of music recording tracks? The Library carries multiple formats, but this post will highlight several of its recordings by African-American musicians, singers, and composers available in compact disc. But first, why is Hamon continuing to collect CDs when streaming is the preferred format for most music listeners?

The Hamon Library subscribes to multiple different streaming databases, which provide access to millions of tracks of music. However, the library also retains a collection of over 17,200 compact discs. Contrary to perceived opinion, compact discs are not dead! In 2002, CDs accounted for ninety-five percent of the market share. Now they account for less than seven percent of music recording revenues. Yet, producers continue to make them, and Hamon continues to buy and add them to the music collection for a few good reasons.

Continue reading “The best sound quality: African American musicians on CD in Hamon”

Archival Precedent: Walid Raad | The Atlas Group

Elizabeth Moran’s investigation into the origin of fact-checked news in the company archives at TIME magazine, Against the Best Possible Sources, concerns the (im)possibility of truth in both method and content. Henry Luce and Briton Hadden founded TIME magazine in 1923, we learn from Moran, as an “exhaustively scrutinized” alternative to the sensationalized, rapid-fire news media of the era. Luce and Hadden held fast to their belief not only that the public deserved verified, fact-based news, but that the facts of an event are, in fact, objective. The writers at TIME did not fact-check their own information, but rather depended on a group of young, well-educated women to follow up with extensive research to confirm “the truth.” So by the time of publication, a minimum of four people have interpreted a story through their own subjective lens: the writer, the fact-checker, the primary source, and the magazine editor.

Seeking more information about the earliest fact-checkers at TIME (the first publication to employ them), Moran turned to the source, the corporate archives of the magazine itself, expecting to find first-person accounts of their groundbreaking quest for verifiable information. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, she found almost nothing directly from the women who laid the foundation for TIME’s journalistic integrity, but rather gleaned their stories through second-hand accounts from their male colleagues. Through considered selection and recombination of these questionable materials, Moran composes a structuring narrative for Against the Best Possible Sources, that in its inherent subjectivity raises questions about an archive’s ability to contain any measure of historical truth.

Moran’s  self-professed “preoccupation with the subjectivity of facts” owes much to artists who have mined archives or mobilized archival structures to uncover lost historical information, but more importantly to investigate how we represent, remember, and evaluate history. These artists’ work projects provide an important context for appreciating Elizabeth Moran’s research-based practice. One of the most important is the Lebanese-born contemporary artist Walid Raad. Born in Chbanieh, Lebanon in 1967, raised until the age of 16 in East Beirut, Raad grew up in a country ravaged by successive civil wars (1975-1991). His work in photography, performance, video, collage, and performance is highly informed by his experience growing up during the wars, and the socioeconomic and military policies that came afterwards. He’s best known for his long-term project, The Atlas Group (1989-2004): a fictional foundation—and archival repository—established to house, preserve, and contextualize a variety of documents and images related to the contemporary history of Lebanon, specifically the civil wars. In 2007,  The Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin hosted the first large-scale solo exhibition of the Atlas Group works. Its catalog, The Atlas Group (1989-2004): A Project by Walid Raad, edited by Kassandra Nakas and Britta Schmitz, is included in the supplementary materials to Moran’s exhibition on the first floor of featured items in the Hamon Arts Library.

As the preface to the catalog explains, Raad’s work focuses on questions of subjectivity and personal experience, and how those individual memories might relate to the larger telling or fabrication of history.1 In her curatorial essay, “Not a Search for Truth,” Britta Schmitz underscores Raad’s starting premise that history isn’t constituted by clearly defined artifacts. She quotes Raad, “On the contrary, ‘The Lebanese Civil War’ is constituted by and through various actions, situations, people, and accounts.”2 The lack of an official account of what happened in the civil wars is compounded by the fact that until recently, the Lebanese government has surpassed any remembrance of the war, so its official truth has never entered public discourse, and any retelling of the stories are complicated by contemporary military and socioeconomic conditions in the Middle East.3

Taking a step back, for those who are not familiar with the complexities of the Lebanese civil wars, it is important to establish a baseline understanding of recent Lebanese history, however limited it might be in providing a structure to comprehend it. I admit here, that I am utterly outside of my breadth. My research to better understand the conflict sent me down rabbit holes trying to determine what I could understand to be fact. Events cited in one article as generally established truths, sometimes seemed impossible to back up—which is Raad’s point. In 1975, violence erupted between Maronite Christians and Palestinians as well as between Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups against a backdrop of a country deeply divided along religious and ethnic lines. As the war progressed, the fragile political system in the country (which was rooted in a French colonial agreement) fractured further along religious and ethnic lines, by some estimates into 186 different warring factions.4 How could any sense of a unified historical clarity ever come about from so many conflicting perspectives—when the number of reported casualties of the war varies by tens of thousands. Ostensibly, the wars ended in 1989 with the Ta’if Accord. The agreement established three key points – a modified system of the sectarian division of power that had been so tenuous before the war, the eventual passing of an amnesty law pardoning all political crimes up to that point, and the disarming of all militia groups with the exception of the Hezbollah in 1991.5

Unlike Moran, who worked within a preexisting archive of material, Raad develops his own—leaning on the public’s understanding of an archive as a politically neutral space of unquestionable historic authority. However, the content of the documents contained within the Atlas Group archive reflect the impossibility of recording historic events. Each document—photo albums, videos, recorded events—are identified as donations to the archive by a particular person (real or imaginary), and resemble private materials that one might add to a public historic collection. However, like the foundation that contains them, the documents are imaginary, and don’t provide many objective data points for viewers to piece together the narrative of the Lebanese Civil War. When looking at the extensive body of work contained within the Atlas Group archive, it becomes clear that none of the documents are totally fabricated. Raad appropriates and mediates primary source materials as well as his own photography to fit into his complex web of characters, stories and performances. His works deliberately confuse the real and the imaginary not to trick viewers, but in service of creating meaning. They combine details drawn from many sources, such that they become documents of collective memory rather than from the individual that they’re attributed to. In doing so, the fictional archive acknowledges a multiplicity of voices and the unreliability of memory than any single narration of history would be able to do.

An early project of The Atlas Group, Notebook Volume 72: Missing Lebanese Wars (1989/1998) is often cited as a particularly good example of the way that Raad uses fictionalized archival materials to interrogate the truth-making capacities of any archive. One of many documents attributed to an esteemed, but fictional historian, Dr. Fadl Fakhouri, it describes, in the form of a personal journal entry, an outing with fellow historians at the horse-races. Rather than wagering on which horse would win, these historians—identified as representatives from several religious or sociopolitical groups—put their money on “how many fractions of a second before or after the horse crossed the finish line—the photographer would expose his frame.”6 Here, all legitimate sources of information fail to provide indisputable truth. The photo of the racehorse, was taken from the Beirut-based daily newspaper, An-Nahar, but from many years after the war. These historians, supposed arbiters of history, place bets on the degree to which a photograph proves unable to represent an event or provide concrete, visible proof, and none of them guess the exact number. The winner of the race—or the events of history—become secondary to the efforts to approximate what happened.7 The Atlas Group project, as Nakas and Schmitz discuss in detail, uses appropriation and narrative to present historical truth as something constructed by many, rather than apprehended by a powerful few.

The tenuous peace that followed the Lebanese civil wars, one that divided power between the nation’s eighteen recognized religious sects, and according to the New York Times “effectively institutionalize[d] corruption, with each group able to dole out government jobs, contracts, favors, and social services to its followers,” reached a breaking point on October 17 of this year.8 Massive protests broke out following a proposed tax on voice over internet protocol use, a feature used by various messaging applications like WhatsApp, which is the primary mode of communication for most citizens.9 Though the tax was repealed, the backlash against a leadership bent on exploiting sectarian divides to hold on to power has continued. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens, from every background and class, are demanding new leadership, and an end to the cronyism and corruption that has ruled the country since the alongside its political legacy. Walid Raad’s Atlas Group works deserve a revisiting in light of these major societal changes.

– Allison Klion, Hawn Gallery Project Manager

1. [Kassandra Nakas, and Britta Schmitz, preface to The Atlas Group (1989-2004): a project by Walid Raad, edited by Kassandra Nakas and Britta Schmitz (Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König, 2005), 39.]

2. [Britta Schmitz, “Not a Search for Truth,” The Atlas Group (1989-2004): a project by Walid Raad, by Kassandra Nakas, Britta Schmitz, and Walid Raad (Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König, 2005) 41.]

3. [Ibid., 42.]

4. [Sandra Mackey, Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 119.]

5. [“The Lebanese Civil War and the Taif Agreement,”Hassan Krayem, American University of Beirut Libraries, (accessed December 6, 2019).]

6. [Schmitz, “Not a Search for Truth,” 43.]

7. [Ibid..]

8. [Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “To Make Sense of Lebanon’s Protests, Follow the Garbage,” The New York Times, December 3, 2019. (accessed December 6, 2019). ]

9. [Tala Ramadan, “Lebanon’s revolution on its 39th day: An ongoing momentum,”An Nahar, November 24, 2019. (accessed December 6, 2019). ]

Featured image: “Very Fast (Flying Horse),” by Mark Smith is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Film review: Parasite

While watching Tom and Jerry (or Beavis and Butthead, or Ren and Stimpy), I sometimes wondered if the animated mayhem turned truly physical, if the anvils dropped from upper floors landed with the effect those anvils would have on the unfortunates below in reality, what would be the shift in tone in the cartoon?  What if the tone had been originally slapstick, but then turned real?  How would I as the viewer react to the change?  How would I receive and process this shift, this altered tone?

In Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-hoo, I have at least a partial answer.  The film examines two, and then three families. The first and principal focus is on the quartet of father, Kim Ki-taek, mother, Chung-sook, son, Ki-woo and daughter, Ki-jeong.  They live in a dank basement apartment, searching for a free wireless signal in the apartment, cursing the neighbor who adopted a password and crowing when a signal from a coffee shop is located by Ki-jeong while crouched next to the toilet.  They fold, badly, cardboard boxes for a local pizzeria to support themselves, but receive a windfall when a school chum of Ki-woo offers him a reference as an English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy couple.  With a forged diploma, Ki-woo secures his position, and the rest of his family soon secures employment at this same household. His sister, Ki-jeong, spouting art therapy language learned through Google, lands the position of art therapist for the couple’s son, while father, Kim, becomes the family chauffer and mother, Chung-sook, the maid. Each displaces the prior occupant of that position through stealthy dirty tricks and expert lying.  All four conceal their family relationship (not to mention their fraudulent credentials) from the wealthy Parks, who seems blissfully unaware (“they are not nice despite being rich, they are nice because they are rich”) that something seems not quite square about their new assistants.

The third family is that of recently discharged maid, Moon-gwang, who returns to the home while the Parks are away to reveal that her husband Geun-sae, has been living in a secret bunker, unknown to the Parks, under the Parks’ palatial home.  The bunker was constructed years before, to allow the owner “to hide from the North Koreans, or his creditors,” and Geun-sae has hidden there, fleeing loan sharks seeking funds due from his failed bakery.  Father Kim Ki-taek has his own failed bakery in his past, and his own reasons for concealment, and each character knows his or her own relative comfort and security rests unfirmly on a series of lies, and the desperate evasions made to conceal those lies.

The slapstick begins as the violent but at first harmless struggles of the two families to wrest control from and force the eviction of the other from the Parks’ home before the parks return from a picnic.  The families race up and down from the home into the bunker, seizing household items as makeshift weapons in the increasingly brutal struggle to remain.

To this point the film has whizzed by, surfing on a froth of sharp dialogue in a comedy of manners.  The remainder of the film likewise whizzes by, but while clever dialogue continues, the circumstances and fate of both families, and then later the Parks, becomes gradually grimmer and darker.  There was no one moment when I was certain that the comedy had shifted to horror, or that the slapstick would not return, but the last of the film works like a film by Luis Buñuel, from a script by Goya.

The film is expertly done, with actions echoing earlier events without drawing attention to the parallels, and characters stripped second by second to their hard interior core.  No one is good, no one is blameless, including the less than affable Parks, and darkness descends into the most innocent and banal family gatherings.  At the end the fate of each character is fixed and inescapable, all lies and illusions are dissipated, and something like, but just like, a cruel justice comes to each family.

In describing the film, I would be remiss if I did not note the themes of class, both the thoughtlessness and self-assured barbarity of the wealthy and the self-abasing cunning of the poor, throughout the film.  Each facet of this interrelationship is carefully and coldly examined, with no quarter given to any party.  Indeed, the primary theme of Parasite is the cold dance of class acted out on the bodies and souls of the trapped participants.

As a fervent admirer of Bong Joon-hoo’s Snowpiercer, I found this work clearer in purpose and more focused in its course than the earlier film, which did tend to linger too long on doomy exposition by Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton.  This is a nasty piece of work, in all the best meanings of that phrase, and a near-flawless film by one of the world’s strongest working directors.  I was left wanting more, and looking forward to the next film, which I hope will demonstrate the ever-deepening artistry of Bong Joon-hoo.

Review: Courtesy of George de Verges.

Image:  Director, Bong June Ho and actor, Song Kang Ho on the set of Parasite; US distributor, Boon.

A deeper dive into archival practice and art

In some ways one could argue that every artwork is an archive in the sense that the accumulated knowledge of the artist is inherently embedded within the material of the work itself, both tangible or intangible. Another way to think about it might be in terms of the idea of a trace: some artists prefer to lay bare the evidence of their process–examples include visible erasures or corrections–such that the work itself becomes an archive of its own making. However, these two examples of process are largely self-contained and self-reflective; the archival qualities of the artwork are incidental or implied, but not the primary source material for the work, nor the primary content.

Elizabeth Moran, whose current exhibition at the Hawn Gallery, “Against the Best Possible Sources,” derives directly from the artist’s research at the TIME, Inc. corporate archives, is one of many artists whose practice reflects what the art historian, Hal Foster, broadly defined as an archival impulse. Artists working in this archival manner, according to Foster, “seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present.” He adds that they, “elaborate on the found image, object, and text, and favor the installation format as they do so.”1

To accompany Elizabeth Moran’s exhibition, I assembled a small selection of books from the Hamon Arts Library’s collection that offer further context on the installation. The selection offers a starting point for deeper research into archival practice–presenting canonical, theoretical texts and short essays on the archival practices of a variety of artists. Two significant exhibition catalogues, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, and Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art, seek to document the importance of collecting, archiving and storing in artistic practice. As such, they offer useful introductions in the elusive effort to define archival and research-based practices in contemporary art. These two exhibitions feature work by many artists using archival materials or structures in their practice. I’ve included an additional text, The Archive, which highlights a few of these artists as well. They will be the focus of an upcoming blog post.

The Archive. Edited by Charles Merewether. London: Whitechapel; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

This text is particularly useful as an overview of how critical and theoretical notions of the archive have changed over time. It also offers brief introductions to several different strategies that artists have used as engagement with archival material. Essays included examine how the archive operates in various academic disciplines, including anthropology, critical theory, and history, and how these disciplines inform contemporary artistic practice. Artists highlighted are Christian Boltanski, Susan Hiller, Ilya Kabakov, Renée Green, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Walid Raad’s Atlas Group, both of whom will be discussed further in the next blog post.

Enwezor, Okwui. Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary ArtNew York, N.Y.: International Center of Photography. Göttingen: Steidl Publishers, 2008.

Organized by the late, renowned Nigerian scholar and curator, Okwui Enwezor, in 2008 at the International Center for Photography in New York, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, is not only one of the most significant exhibitions on the ways contemporary artists have engaged with archival structures and archival materials,  but also serves as an exemplary model for the curator’s ideas about how exhibitions themselves are opportunities for interrogation and research. The exhibition, in other words, functioned as an extension of the archive itself. Because it was held at the ICP, Enwezor’s exhibition focuses on artists who use archival documents–specifically photographic archives–in their investigations of history, memory, identity, and loss, which is a marked contrast from the more expansive approach used by the curators in Deep Storage.

The exhibition included work by a geographically diverse group of artists, some of whom were not well known in the United States. While the artists in the exhibition use a broad range of strategies to investigate their particular areas of interest, Enwezor unites them through their shared focus on the role of photography and film as a documentary practice. Artists include Christian Boltanski, Tacita Dean, Stan Douglas, Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Jef Geys, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Craigie Horsfield, Lamia Joreige, Zoe Leonard, Sherrie Levine, Ilán Lieberman, Glenn Ligon, Robert Morris, Walid Raad, Thomas Ruff, Anri Sala, Fazal Sheikh, Lorna Simpson, Eyal Sivan, Vivan Sundaram, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbona, and Andy Warhol.

Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art. Edited by Ingrid Schaffner and Matthias Winzen. Munich; New York: Prestel, 1998.

Like Archive Fever, Deep Storage is a massive exhibition catalogue that provides a highly useful overview of contemporary archival practice, yet its focus is quite different. Deep Storage attempts to investigate artists’ use of not only archival structures and materials, but also the process of collecting and storage as related to museum practice. However, it shies away from arguing for a comprehensive definition. The curators divide their strategy into four distinct sites of investigation into storage: the storeroom/museum, the archive/library, the artist’s studio, and the data-space.  As a result, the exhibition covers a broad range of mediums and modes of working from over forty different artists.

For this exhibition the concept of storing information and material is the central point that unites the diverse group of artists. Organized alphabetically like an encyclopedia, it features brief essays on all participating artists, which serves as a solid starting point for deeper research.

  1. Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse,” October 110 (Autumn, 2004): 4

Book title selection and blog post by Allison Klion, Hawn Gallery Project Manager.

Film Review: Roma

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma begins quietly and thoughtfully with the character, Cleo, played beautifully by Yalitza Aparicio, who serves a well-to-do family in their home in a suburb of Mexico City.  Her life, seeming so insular and placid, will expand to engulf the film’s universe.  Every action and word of hers has a hidden meaning, and minor gestures seen early in the movie will be echoed by more serious and violent actions later.  

Continue reading “Film Review: Roma”

Pioneers of African-American Cinema

Kino Lorber recently released Pioneers of African-American Cinema, a five DVD set with extensive film notes.  An announcement of the collection’s release appeared in The New York Times (August 10, 2016), in which the film critic, J. Hoberman, stated that “there has never been a more significant video release” in cinema history.  This set includes films discovered and collected by the late SMU professor G. William Jones, which are part of the Tyler, Texas “race films” in the collection. It includes approximately 20 hours of feature films, shorts, interviews, trailers, and fragments.  Many of these films have only been circulated and seen in 16mm versions of inferior quality or have never been available for home video.  Each film has been digitally restored and reflects a wide-range of subject matter and styles.  Accompanying the set is an 80-page booklet with contributions from scholars.

Continue reading “Pioneers of African-American Cinema”