April 30, 2004
For Artboat 2004 at Art Chicago, a curatorial crew of Middlemanagement, Mixed Pallet and Andrew Rigsby have proffered a bevy of Chicagoans and Canucks, heavy on the new media, heavy on the collaborations. Perhaps heavy on the art cum science vibe? Heavy on the quotidian?
A bit of heavy Googling gives us:
I'd initially balked at the thought of shelling out $35 for this boat ride on a day when I would be otherwise overwhelmed by art anyways, but this list has really piqued my interest. I very much liked Versteeg's 12 x 12 exhibit at the MCA (link above), Leinberger's felt manhole covers at Zg a few months ago were surprisingly cool, and I'd really like to see what Woodrow and Dunning have in store, likewise Duke and Battersby. Too bad I have to work Saturday, huh?
If you plan on boarding, however, you'd better hop to it: the presale discount ends May 1st.
As if I didn't have enough to fret about... When re-upping on my car insurance this month, I received a notice regarding changes to my policy, which include the following:
There is no coverage for loss to any vehicle that results from:
(1) Nuclear reaction;
(2) Radiation or radioactive contamination from any source; or
(3) The accidental or intentional detonation or, or release of radiation from, any nuclear or radioactive device.
April 27, 2004
I appreciate, and to a certain extent agree with, Franklin's point that, while the "statements can't be proven true or even sensible,... it seems that for centuries, this one-upmanship has driven art's progress." The question of whether progress is always fueled through conflict, I think, is an open one. But do arguments like Hockney's serve any positive critical purpose? I'd say no, especially considering the willful blindness he indulges in regarding photography's strengths (in many respects common to both media) and painting's shortcomings (ditto).
How someone with such engagement with photography as Hockney's could say some of the facile things he does regarding that medium astounds me. (Lacking my hard copy at hand, I crib from Franklin's excerpt: that photography is only good for the documentation of paintings and drawings or that, absent a caption, we just don't know what to think of a photograph.) In general I find such discussions of 'which medium is inherently better' to be fundamentally beside the point, especially when considered so abstractly—that is, consideration of the fitness of means without consideration of ends. My further objections to such treatment of the topic of painting and photography in particular, are twofold.
First, such talk places our discussions in the distasteful territory of generic purism, a la Lessing. Further, as far as such oppositions go, this is a pretty weak one. The famous paragones of the past, of word vs. image and sculpture vs. painting (and even perhaps the more limited debates between drawing and painting, or disegno and colore/colorito), presented real apparent contrasts, thus making the recognition of similarities between the combatants all the more compelling. I'm at a loss for seeing such undeniable, essential contrast between painting and photography, taken in general. Certainly, I can recognize the differences between a particular painting and a particular photo and do not deny the aesthetic differences wrought by the necessities of medium, but I reject the notion of such a solid distinction considered generally.
Secondly (and following on the above), it makes it far too easy to search for a work's meaning at this abstract level of what really only amounts to a difference of technology and to leave it at that. How much disservice has been done to Gerhard Richter's work in trying to ferret out some rejection of either painterly or photographic modes by way of this opposition, thus avoiding confronting the work head on? Or, on the other hand, falling back on what can only be described as formalism—that his importance lies only in his adroit combination of the two?
Similarly, I recall reading recently a review of Eric Fischl's latest that seemed to find it remarkable that he manages to reconcile the competing forms of photography and painting. Sure, such a feat is miraculous if we assume from the first that the two approaches are indeed inimically opposed. But they are not so opposed in the least. Nor are they in any real way irreconcilable, as evidenced by the incredible ease by which artists consistently combine the two, to the point of overkill. But easy critical poses die hard. (I'd like to consider this issue in terms of the abstract truisms of the modern/postmodern critique of representation, but that's a topic for another time.)
In short, I find the view that painting and photography occupy the opposing poles of the world of art to be utter hogwash. Both are impressively flexible media capable of a wide variety of expressions. And I think there is far more overlap between the two than not. Painting and photography, by virtue of shared history, conventions and expression, share a common (if broad) pictorial space (and this is probably rooted, as Barthes points out in Camera Lucida, in that of theater). Indeed, Hockney argues as much in his Modern Painters interview (if only in order to declare photography irrelevant), pointing out that the camera as artistic technology significantly predates chemical photography. I would in fact stretch the point further, tracing the birth (both ideological and technological) of the modern paradigm of painting and photography back to the invention of mathematical perspective.
This opposition may have been tenable (at least in cultural terms) a century ago when painting's status as sole preeminent art form remained somewhat intact, and when photography had yet to be accepted as high expression. Not so in the age of spectacular, oversized C-prints and the abjection of post-"death" painting. When you get right down to it, painting never really lost its clout, merely ceding the crown to itself in the guise of chemical and digital photography.
Again, none of this is to say that the two media are identical. Nor is it to imply that a history of forms should not consider the two in terms of or in competition with one another. This is rather to recognize that they represent more or less technologically different articulations of the same broad aesthetic spaces, and to insist that we move beyond this weakest imaginable paragone to a criticism that is more attuned to the aesthetic particularities of each particular expression, painted, photographed, whatever.
April 14, 2004
Candidate Kodos: My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball, but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.
What staffer picked out that tie? The thing was strobing like a disco dance floor.
Seriously, my heart goes out to all those Fox News schlubs working to cobble together a highlight reel for the morning news: our beloved Rhetor-in-Chief gave you fellas little to work with tonight.
Quoth the scion: "maybe I need to learn to communicate better."
They let the guy off the ranch for a few hours and here's what happens:
...the truth of the matter is, most in the country never felt that we'd be vulnerable to an attack such as the one that Osama bin Laden unleashed on us... nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government, could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.
. . .
And the answer is that had I had any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country -- just like we're working hard to prevent a further attack.
. . .
Ed, I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And so -- part of it had to do with Genoa, the G8 conference that I was going to attend. And I asked, at that point in time, let's make sure we are paying attention here at home, as well. And that's what triggered the report.
. . .
Q Mr. President, why are you and the Vice President insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 Commission? And, Mr. President, who will you be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30th?
THE PRESIDENT: We will find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi is doing; he's figuring out the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over. And, secondly, because the 9/11 Commission wants to ask us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions.
Q I was asking why you're appearing together, rather than separately, which was their request.
THE PRESIDENT: Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 Commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them.
Let's see --
. . .
See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we've sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.
. . .
April 13, 2004
Saya Woolfalk has created her own visual language to illustrate how contemporary culture has been co-opted by consumer driven forces and manipulated by the western idealized goal of material wealth and power. Her works are composed of a cadre of overgrown plush toys, sexualized play things, and animated cartoon-like characters interacting in extreme scenarios of consumption and desire run amuck.
"Lovescape" is an installation incorporating sculpture, painting, performance, sound, and video investigating consumerism and desire in the context of race and cultural identity. Woolfalk states, "Visual media such as advertisements, television, and film are narrative technologies that do much to shape consumer perception. They order symbolic language, integrate themselves into our daily landscape, and help inform the way we perceive the external world. FAO Schwartz displays miniaturized versions of cars, clothing, houses, and an assortment of other consumer products so that a child can practice the manipulation of social icons. Victoria Secret photographs models and presents mannequins scantly clad in lingerie. These practices appeal to a hegemonic model of desire.
Informed by feminist, race, and cultural theory, my work is a visual catalogue and critique of my experience in a world whose mass media, projects one-dimensional, Eurocentric, and commoditized representations of desire. It recognizes the power of representational systems of gender, sexuality, and race and how these visual systems help to construct and reinforce social and political hierarchies. It invites the viewer both to critique the system and to look for a more multivalent vision of the world."
She hits all her points here, perhaps short one appeal to the Death of the Author/Artist and the end of the Tyranny of the Genius (but I guess rejection of those myths is just a given by this point). I count one sentence (the second) legitimately related to the actual work in her installation.
As easy as it is for me to disregard this rambling as irrelevant, a token of critical adequacy or institutional appeasement, it nonetheless continues to amaze me that artists feel the need to defend utterly compelling artwork with such trite rehash. Woolfalk's installation is a brilliant success on its own, and I can't help but feel that reiteration of such long-accepted critical platitudes can only serve to cheapen it, or at least narrow our appreciation of it.
But our institutions and audiences demand easy textual guides. 'Context!' they cry, as if the only context that matters is that which can be neatly summed up in a paragraph or two. And, for the artist, such tired generalizations promise to be institutional shibboleths, granting passage to the cherished ranks of 'criticality.' After the Artist's untimely Death, she's left to redeem herself as an intellectual—no craftsman of merely retinal pleasures, no mere ape, rather a Master of Discourse.
But enough of my grousing. Suffice to say, Woolfalk would like to frame this installation as a 'problematization' of mediated imagery or a subversion of innocence by desire, as a radical re-envisioning of conventional forms serving to critique the hegemony of Western Capitalist culture industry. Certainly, bland formulations like the above sit well with those who would define art strictly in terms of critique, but such critiques were already a dime a dozen decades ago.
Fortunately, the work itself is not as stridently and drearily political as all that, and in fact proves quite a bit more complex and ambiguous, I think, in both intent and execution. (To be perfectly explicit: if I came off a little harsh regarding certain theoretical points, it is primarily because they key into general issues I find distressing; as far as Woolfalk's sculptures are concerned in themselves, I offer nothing but praise.)
On the one hand, the sculptures do partake of an evident sexuality, often bizarre or grotesque, featuring penises, breasts and nipples aplenty, with not a minor dash of danger and downright violence added to the mix. Yet these plush monstrosities and libidinous beasties are eminently playful, no doubt owing much in this respect to the nature of their soft construction. In fact they are not repulsive in the least. They are occasionally off-putting, but always approachable and engaging.
I do not deny that there is a strong subversive element in evidence here, but simply claim that this is not, as some might choose to see it, flatly anti-status-quo. To see it as such—that is as a pure undermining of conventional children's worlds—is, I think, to not give due credit to our fine tradition in that domain.
The best children's literature for example, (and admittedly this involves a hefty value judgment) is itself almost always subversive in some respect. In it we are confronted with worlds of imagination where the veil of innocence is lifted and where conformity and docility are always trumped by desire. Just consider for a moment the characters and worlds conjured by the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Theodor Geisel.
In spite of an alleged innocence, these are worlds in which children exhibit true agency and thus, as a matter of course, subvert expectations of obedience, authority or simplistic morality. And far from being innocuous, this is the territory of imaginative desire with all its attendant dangers. These are worlds with teeth, the danger and darkness blunted only just enough through the comfort and security of rhymed meter, cartoon cats and happy endings. But make no mistake, these worlds remain far more similar to fictional adult worlds than we're generally prone to acknowledge. Perhaps this is why these stories continue to resonate with us as adults. (Further: informed as Woolfalk's work is by anime and manga, we can find ourselves considering a whole new can of worms regarding the coincidence and interpenetration of depravity and innocence, adult and childish forms, one that I can only superficially begin to appreciate.)
Woolfalk's work is in no way out of place in this context. Her sculptures, while certainly taken to something of an extreme in their articulation of these dynamics and transposed into a more explicitly adult vernacular, should only appear at total odds with the conventions of childhood to those who choose to mistakenly imagine these as being of a singular purity and innocence. Her work is not the perverse inversion of the values of conformist culture, but in fact the perfection of the perversity already staring at us from within the very heart of tradition, and presented here in what is possibly the most engaging form imaginable: plush toys.
April 10, 2004
Idiot Charles of Little Green Fruitballs took a break from heaving bile at the Muslim world, Kos and Western Islamo-fascists of every stripe long enough to offer a bit of praise for Todd Rundgren's new album, Liars. But... methinks he misseth the point.
Though I'd imagine Charles is focusing on Todd's calling out of the militant jihadists' lies on the song Liar (no argument here)...
Duty calls the faithful few
The infidel must pay his due For your family we will provide
You will fill them with empty pride And for you many virgins wait
Say your prayers, accept your fate
...I wonder, to whose lies could Rundgren possibly be refering in the following verse?
We need not the authority
Of some god of morality
Nor the aid of some skeptic land
Who puts truth before our demands
And to those who defy our law
We will bring them our shock and awe
For more on Liar and Liars go here (Re: Liar: "Well you certainly could and should say that it has the 9-11 subtext, which started out as a bunch of guys who believe something that we don't, but believe it enough to fly a plane into a building. They were encouraged to do that by someone who said 'Go ahead believe that...' And then somebody else turns around and says: 'These guys are the ones to blame for all of our problems and we should go and punish them for that and you should believe that' and that also is a lie."), here and here.
April 5, 2004
From Episode 1F17, Lisa's Rival
Marge: Homer, when are you going to give up this crazy sugar scheme?
Homer: Never, Marge! Never. I can't live the button-down life like you. I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. Sure, I might offend a few of the bluenoses with my cocky stride and musky odors—oh, I'll never be the darling of the so-called "City Fathers" who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about "What's to be done with this Homer Simpson?"
Marge: Look, just get rid of the sugar, OK?
Will winter never end?
Thanks to Gabrielle de Montmollin, Catherine and Jerome at The Tears of Things and William at Abstract Dynamics (where I seem to have popped up in the unsorted feedroll) for the links, and appreciation to Cinque Hicks for the mention.
"People," [Mitchell] said, "even children down to a fairly young age, know this is not fiction; they know these pictures come with the credentials of truth.
"There are psychologists who talk about viewers becoming desensitized to violence by seeing it in entertainment. The scientific studies, however, don't support that. I think that view has more to do with the politics of the regulation of entertainment."
Also see Billmon's take.
[Update: a reminder that by far the best place for Iraq blow by blow is Juan Cole's Informed Comment weblog]
By way of softening a bit of late-night harshness, linking to an interesting tale recounted at The Tears of Things (though I might take exception to the assertion that Picasso pales next to Duchamp "in every way that really matters").
A must-read at Easily Distracted:
I agree with conservative critics that itís a mistake to stress the continuities between the brutalities of Jim Crow and the subtleties of unconscious stereotype and subtle exclusion in present practice, but this is not to say that the latter is non-harmful, or just something to shrug off. One thing I learned by being a white man living in a black country is that it is an incredible psychic drain day after day to know that you are marked as a stranger, as socially different, by mere fact of your physiognomy. It exacts a real toll on you, and every subtle thing that people do to remind you of it, without any malice, digs the psychic claws deeper and deeper.
This innocent wounding, this cumulative stigma, is the core of the problem. Many look for, expect or anticipate hate crimes on campus as the visible signs of a pervasive malevolence, an illegitimate system of holding power, as an indication of a willfulness and agency that is the illegitimate and contestable cause of the sense of alienation and unease that some students, some faculty, some people have within white-majority campuses. Those crimes come less often than predicted, and when they come, they mostly donít seem to be the acts of Simon Legreeís spiritual descendents, deliberate acts rich in the intentionality of power, but accidents and oversights, misspeech and crudity. Some see in these incidents the secret of racial conspiracy revealed, rather like Eddie Murphyís brilliant sketch on Saturday Night Live where disguised as a white man, his character finds that white people give each other free money and privilege once racial minorities are out of sight. They overdeterminedly read a synecdoche, a single moment that contains a hidden whole. And when the right number and type of crimes do not come, some make them come, certain that even if the incident is false, the deeper truth is not...
At John & Belle, John gets wonky-analytic on the topic of 'imaginative resistance', poetic license and the possibility of morally deviant fictional worlds.
At Crooked Timber, Belle briefly discusses child pornography, pointing to the story of a Texas mother who had her children taken away after taking a photo of her 1-year-old breastfeeding. And perhaps you've seen this story: "State police have charged a 15-year-old Latrobe girl with child pornography for taking photos of herself and posting them on the Internet." [via I can't quite recall]
In science news: Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
Are you a Natural-Person?
For the latest on Prior's Achilles, Corey's Comeback, or Borowski's Diminishing Velocity, you can turn to the world of Cubs blogs... An incomplete list, in no particular order:
The Cub Reporter
The Clark & Addison Chronicle
The Northside Lounge
Let's Play Two
The Uncouth Sloth
...and another thing!
Cubs Fan Nation (do ignore the temporary April Fools makeover—update: April Fools design archived here)
The Big Red C
Merablog (do ignore the north of the border heresy)
94 Years and Counting
Any Team Can Have A Bad Century
Yarbage Cub Review
April 3, 2004
Jerome du Bois of The Tears of Things is back on his moral high horse. These days he is offended by Xu Bing, the winner of the first Artes Mundi prize at the National Museum and Gallery of Wales, whose installation there consists of dust collected from the streets around Ground Zero. "This is vampiric appropriation at its most visceral. On that horrible day, whatever else he did, Xu Bing took the time to plan an artwork." (That is, for Jerome this is yet another symptom of a morally debased art world throwing accountability to the wind.)
This guy's a ghoul, and he just won the world's most lucrative art prize.
Can anyone know what's in Xu Bing's dust? Could there be the pulverized remains of human beings nicely distributed over this gallery floor, carefully outlining the stencilled [sic] letters? Yes.
And indeed, we are entering chilling territory here, so I don't think his reaction is necessarily out of line. Still, and du Bois' graphic provocation notwithstanding, Xu's work does not strike me as all that exploitative (the best I can tell sitting at a computer screen in Chicago). It in fact seems downright modest—and honestly human. Xu Bing, in the Guardian [via greg.org]:
"When I am at a place where something special happens, I like to take something from it," he said yesterday. From Tiananmen Square he has a bicycle squashed flat under a tank. "When I saw the Twin Towers fall, I felt the world change from that day."
Surely we can all somehow identify with that. How many of us, wherever might have been, have hung onto things to remember that stunning day and its aftermath—newspapers, photos, drawings, shards of an airplane? How many of us, no matter how horribly wrong it felt, remained glued to the repeating video of the South Tower being hit (again and again...) if only for the sense of duty to not let that image escape, to not let the horror of those thousands of deaths go unnoticed. Isn't it human to want to hold close to tragedy in some respect?
Was Xu 'planning an artwork' in the pall of Ground Zero? Perhaps (though I'm not entirely certain). He was also doing what we all do, especially in extraordinary circumstances such as those of 9/11: seeking to grasp a piece of our common substance so as to give feelings form, thoughts expression and memory a foothold in the world. When our lips fail us we allow the objects around us to do the talking. (Indeed this hits something close to the very heart of the question of art: how is it that dead matter can come to speak?) Du Bois dismisses the dust Xu collected as a souvenir, however, implying throughout that the man is an amoral opportunist. I'd call it a memento mori in the most blunt sense—a relic or token of, if he'll forgive my artlessness, "the tears of things."
No doubt, the dust from Ground Zero is unlike other mementos from that day. Certainly, when we begin to deal with the rubble itself, the dust and ashes (and indeed possibly human remains), we threaten to cross a threshold of appropriateness. Still, it is not so beyond the pale, I think, that a careful, decent handling of the material would be totally inappropriate.
So the question remains, is Xu Bing's installation of sufficient artistic merit and thoughtfulness to ultimately justify such a potentially contentious act? There remain questions as well regarding propriety of the tragedy of that day. To the former, unable as I am to decide from a brief AP account and a couple photos, I opt to reserve judgment. To the latter, I think it's not asserting too much to say we all in some way share 9/11 (to a lesser or greater degree, of course). But to write Xu off from the first as a "ghoul," "slinking" coward or opportunist is to cynically dismiss the common humanity at the core of his gesture.
We may not all be in the position to be the hero, to rush into the falling buildings, or to provide care for the wounded, or even to face down a column of tanks. We can, however, strive to bear witness in this world—each in our own way—to tragedy, sacrifice, and life and its ultimate limit, mortality. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." [hat-tip: Spitting Image]