To his many students, Nericcio is best known as the director of the cultural studies graduate program known as MALAS (the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences) at San Diego State University–the program, known as the “MA in Curiosity” is an interdisciplinary studies program open to undergraduates with degrees in all majors. Additionally, he serves as a Professor of English and Comparative Literature and a member of the faculties in the department of Chicana/o Studies (CCS) and the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS).
Some of his works include his 1998 illustrated exposé on Speedy Gonzales, “Autopsy of a Rat: Odd, Sundry Parables of Freddy Lopez, Speedy Gonzales, and Other Chicano/Latino Marionettes Prancing about Our First World Visual Emporium.” Nericcio’s primary ongoing critical work is an illustrated history of Mexican and Latina/o stereotypes, Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the “Mexican” In America.
Nericcio is presently putting the finishing touches on EYEGIENE for UT Press.
AGITPROP: I thought I’d get your interview started off by asking you to expand on the program you teach in and your professional focus.
BILL NERICCIO: I am always out of focus, confused, on the march–that’s my obscure answer just to start things off. I teach in various guises at SDSU–I am an English professor, to begin, but I usually end up teaching lower and upper-division classes that are a mish-mash of 20th and 21st century cultural studies–novels, movies, critical theory, photography, oil painting, theatre, the web…. you name it, I teach it. The only rule of thumb for me when it comes to what is “literature” is that it somehow conveys a story. From gossip on the street, salacious hieroglyphs in the men’s room, advertising on the side of a bus, anything is fair game. My official title these days in (and it’s a mouthful) Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Chicana/o Studies, & Latin American Studies–but I also serve as Director for a Cultural Studies MA program called MALAS–The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences; and I work as an Editor for San Diego State University Press. Too many sombreros for this profe!
AGITPROP: So let’s turn to the topic of Chicano lit since that is one of your primary topics of expertise. I’m reading Homer’s Odyssey right now and am interested in how contemporary chicano authors who address the migrant experience construct their crossing narratives. Is there any connection, conscious or otherwise, between Chicano lit and the epic tradition of the Greeks?
BILL NERICCIO: “Cuando lleguemos, cuando lleguemos / When we arrive, when we arrive”…. the words, pulled out Tomas Rivera’s y no se lo tragó la tierra might have come from the mouth of Odysseus, on his epic return journey to Ithaca, to his olive-tree bed with besieged Penelope. But the words from Rivera’s cacophonous, chaotic novel–really a treasure trove of migrant narrative shards–are a haunting elegy. He goes on, the truth of is we’re tired of arriving, that we “never arrive”.
Rivera’s words signal the ambivalence of the migrant worker’s life–like and totally unlike Kerouac’s On the Road, it is a journey fraught with danger, filled with change and alienation. Odysseus knew all about the changes that migration bring, even for the hero. While Homer’s hero is more Don Draper than suffering undocumented migrant, Odysseus does share with our sojourners of the Americas an intimate knowledge of the costs and benefits of becoming diasporic, becoming other. It’s funny, I am the end results of Mexican and Sicilian sojourns, with crossings of the Rio Grande and encounters with Ellis Island firmly tattooed on my skin and imprinted on my psyche. Perhaps that’s why I teach Ulysses by Joyce, The Pillow Book by Greenaway, Flirt by Hal Hartley, The Century of Wind by Galeano, and City of Night by John Rechy–all are tales of displacement and knowing (and self-knowing).
AGITPROP: Can you tell me a little more about Rivera’s novel? Who is the main character? WHere is she or he from and what sets him/her off on the epic journey?
BILL NERICCIO: The unnamed itinerant protagonist of Rivera’s singular project is a sojourner, a traveler, a seer, sufferer. He is an invisible boy, to riff off of Ellison’s singularly inspirational novel, and he’s a little bit crazy. Or, better said, Rivera’s child ends up mad, under a house, waving at imaginary doppelgängers hanging out in palm trees as a result of his experiences and synapse/soul scarring witnessings. It is an avant garde novel, told with multiple voices and radical POV shifts; but the anecdotes are drawn from recent history with unattended migrant children burning to death and others shot for needing water. The novel speaks to the extremes of the Mexican American/Chicano experience in the United States and, at the same time, embodies the postmodern aesthetics of late 20th century fiction.
AGITPROP: This is a fascinating and reminds me of the story of Martin Ramirez. Ramirez was a young Mexican who fought in the Mexican revolution and was traumatized by his experiences. After the conflict ended he wandered across the US/ Mexico border and wound up in an asylum where it was discovered he had artistic talent. Benefactors provided him with simple art materials and he went on to lead a creative but institutionalized life drawing and painting. Not all odysseys end well and when they don’t, at least in the cases of Rivera’s fictional protagonist and Martin Ramirez, the subject seems more suited to the role of the artist instead of the hero. Do you have any thoughts on this reflection?
BILL NERICCIO: I love that you bring up Ramirez–I have always wanted to write about his work. You can see in his illustrations this ambivalence toward odyssey, towards travel in general: with movement, consequence, change, transformation, but with the danger that this dis-placement bring danger/violence or, as in his case, “asylum” (both meanings of course: safety, for the displaced refugee, but also, incarceration within the walls of a policed asylum). You can see this tension unfold in his drawings–two here are to the point:
Here in the first, the train tracks between beckoning tunnels promise no exit, no egress, almost, no movement, the lines of the mountains leaving the spectator in a Escher-like stasis.
In this possible self-portrait, Ramirez, or someone like him, sits at a drawing table–is he dreaming of the train, of movement, of escape, of diaspora, or does he contain it on the page, in a drawing, in art.
You’ve got me thinking now of the cost of diasporic transmogrification–how the ‘skin’ that is left behind carries the trace of an unrecoupable soul.
AGITPROP: When I see the word transmogrification I always associate it with the most excruciating images. It’s a very powerful idea when placed in relation to the human body. I’m reminded of Ovid’s Metamorphoses or the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin. It’s profoundly sad.
BILL NERICCIO: Transmogrification always raises the ante. You’ve got transformation, right. And transformation squared is metamorphosis. And metamorphosis cubed might be Transubstantiation (as a recovering Catholic, I have to go there). But all of them pale in comparision to transmogrification, a monster of a word. Joel-Peter Witkin’s uncanny tableau disturb to the point that I sometimes gasp–their marriage of photography, set-design, performance, and more are disturbingly wicked. These days, when I write or think about transmogrification, I am either teaching works like William Burroughs Junky, the Velvet Underground, Neuromancer, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and Lydia Yuknavich’s Chronology of Water–works where narcotics are the focus, and substance-propelled metamorphoses are the name of the game.
In contemporary art, Tara McPherson, an avatar for Pop Surrealism, comes to mind first–most obviously in works like “Trapped in the Narcissus Gaze”, but perhaps more hauntingly in pieces like “Dark Matter Witch.” I think, also, of your work, especially the Coatlique piece(s) and the work of Raul Gonzalez III. In “Benito” (produced with Elaine Bay), we experience a radical transmogrification of an iconic Mexican figure (left)–the late great Benito Juarez. A fixture in school rooms across Mexico, he is reborn and de-faced (literally) in Gonzalez and Bay’s iteration:
The transmogrification is radical and 21st century–the face is effaced, obscured, over-written… it’s still Benito Juarez and it is not. In lieu of face, we see a tag, a street tag, graffiti. A quick study might suggest some sort of statement about Mexico, it’s history, politics, etc. But I think more is afoot here–some sort of attempt on the part of the artists to update a ubiquitous cultural commodity and radically re-imagine it displaced in various ways (and frames)….
AGITPROP: Can you tell us about what you are working on these days?
BILL NERICCIO: The biggest ongoing project is the traveling Mextasy exhibition. Mextasy is a gallery version of my book Tex[t]-Mex . The next exhibition is at Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan this August and I will be traveling out there in early September for a lecture and closing celebration/party as well. After that, the horizon is hazy, but it may be traveling to Oregon later in the year and then on to Oberlin College in 2014.
As far as publications are concerned, I am busy revising and editing (and designing to a certain extent) my follow-up book to Tex[t]-Mex entitled Eyegiene: Permutations of Subjectivity in the Televisual Age of Sex and Race (also with the University of Texas Press). Like Tex[t]-Mex, Eyegiene focuses (pardon the pun) on issues of representation, but here the gaze is not so much targeted at Mexican and Latina/o representation. You can get a taste of the book here. After that, I think I will turn to Technosexualities (a work originally developed as a graduate seminar and undergraduate class here at SDSU) before moving on to shorter critical works on Salma Hayek and Gilbert Hernandez.
When I am not writing or designing (I do most of the webmastering and cover design for SDSU Press and Hyperbole Books), I am running a Masters Program in Cultural Studies called MALAS for SDSU. We recently celebrated the program’s silver anniversary and I love the freedom I have to curate intellectual madness there–my students come from all over the planet and the country, all with different majors and backgrounds.
AGITPROP: Thank you Bill, for talking with us!
BILL NERICCIO:Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat with you and your readers!]]>
The artists tend to blame this on the weather, without considering that the problem may be their art. San Diego has beautiful light, and people are outdoors enjoying it. For art to be an integral part of the regional culture, it needs to follow the people outdoors.
To a remarkable extent this has already occurred: art’s outside in San Diego, thanks to community action, private foundations, and city art programs.
But the region also has a history of civic controversies over public art: several high-profile proposals have crashed and burned, and in a few cases installed work was removed. Sometimes the fault seemed to lie as much with the artist as the unhappy public. Artists and audience alike need to learn: good art is hard, good public art harder.
And even the controversy itself needs to be put into perspective: about the proposed Statue of Liberty, the New York Times opined that “no true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances.” Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower. Veterans hated the Vietnam Wall.
To date most media coverage of San Diego public art has been event-driven, focused on proposals, installations, and any ensuing controversies. What’s been missing is a directory of public art: something that not only helps interested viewers find the community gems and learn more about them, but also shows just how much good public art there already is. This book reviews selected works from around the region, with the criterion for inclusion being that the work be worth the trip.
— From San Diego Public Art, a free ebook on www.sandiegopublicart.net
Sun God, Niki de Saint Phalle]]>
In 1983 the historian Paul Fussell penned a minor classic of social satire titled Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. In it he dissects a myriad of class signifiers – housing, decor, transportation, diet, dress, posture, physiognomy, demeanor, vocabulary, religion, career, education, recreation – and from this deduces the following:
– Nine distinct classes (top out-of-sight, upper, upper-middle, middle, high proletarian, mid proletarian, low proletarian, destitute, bottom out-of-sight)
– Gross disparities in how each class defines luxury (extensively mined for humor by the author)
– The relation between class and income (itself a function of class)
– Class anxiety (a middle affliction)
– The phenomenon of prole drift (the societal tendency for all things to undergo proletarianization)
Three decades later many of the cultural specifics have changed, yet the underlying principles remain firmly in effect. (In a 2009 , Sandra Tsing Loh beautifully channels Fussell in her analysis of the subsequent rise of hip and fall of the economy.)
Beside the principles, what else remains unchanged is the predominant role of the visual in class signifiers. The reasons for this are evident, especially in American society, where a putative democracy combines with a historically wide distribution of economic wealth to result in rich interactions between agents of differing class. To preserve one’s social capital in such an ecosystem, it’s obligatory for said agents to quickly and efficiently categorize any others they choose to interact with (or not). And vision as a perceptual domain offers both the richness of stimuli and the all-important operation at a distance that are prerequisite for efficient class sorting.
In the same year Class was published, Jean Lowe received her B.A. from Berkeley. She went on to receive an M.F.A. from UCSD, and her subsequent career as a visual artist is based on a body of work which works notions of class as they manifest in the visual deployment of class signifiers. Interestingly, Lowe’s signature humor perfectly echoes Fussell’s dry satirical style in Class.
This begs the question of whether class is ever explicitly invoked in the critical/curatorial description of Lowe’s work. The answer – perhaps anticipated by Fussell in his noting of class as the great unmentionable in polite discourse – appears to be “no”. Lowe is represented in Los Angeles by Rosamund Felsen Gallery. The gallery website helpfully includes a collection of twenty-two reviews and press releases covering Lowe’s work in the period spanning 2003 to 2011. A search for the term “class” in these texts yields precisely one reference: “the grandeur of French high class society”, which misses the point since the body of work in question is unspeakably clear in its ultimate referentiality to class-dependent notions of American luxury.
The rule-proving exception appears in a separate text, not on the gallery website, by former SDMA director (and fellow Berkeley alumnus) Derrick Cartwright. His brief on Lowe – ironically for the San Diego Art Prize – invokes “conspicuous display”, a core term in the work of Thorstein Veblen, whose Theory of the Leisure Class was a model for Fussell’s book (not to mention a must-read for any ambitious artist).
Lowe’s work through the 90′s and 00′s – which referenced McMansions, SUVs, and an endless stream of self-help books – focused on the middle classes, which (per Fussell) offer the best material both in their active striving for the next rung up, and simultaneous anxiety over slipping in the opposite direction.
Then the great recession hit, peaking in 2008 with the collapse of the housing market and failure of several major financial institutions. Among the collateral damage: the visual arts, and the American middle class.
Faced with this double blow to her practice, Lowe responded by going down-market. The first evidence emerged in 2010 at the Lux Art Institute, which launched a pop-up art store co-founded by Lowe and Kim MacConnel. The store, titled J & K Souvenir Inc., offered selected work by Lowe in the low-to-mid two figures. And the content referenced was now distinctly prole: decorative mugs, cups, plates, in sum the typical inventory of a 99-cent store.
Similar work has since appeared in shows at Rosamund Felsen and at Quint Contemporary Art in San Diego. At a recent Quint show the low-end work had edged up to a still-affordable low three figures, even while the large paintings remained firmly parked at a solid five digits.
Seeing such work in a high-end space like Quint can be dizzying. Is the aggressive insertion of prole esthetic into a rarefied upper venue a trenchant commentary on American caste? Certainly. Is it offensive to some viewers? Apparently. Or is it merely an opportunity for the 1% to amuse themselves over the bad taste of their inferiors? Apparently.
(Perhaps the only decidability proof for the latter is to wait patiently and see if Lowe ever offers a future show of, say, Lowe-fied Roman de Salvo‘s.)
Lowe’s pièce de résistance of class gymnastics: Discount Barn, a 99-cent store simulacrum presented by the upper-class Quint Gallery as part of the relentlessly middle-class San Diego Art Fair.
Photo credits: © Jean Lowe, photo courtesy Quint Contemporary Art
Koren has been a publisher of interesting books about design and aesthetics since the 1980s but what makes this book compelling is the insight with which he looks back on his singular experiences withWET. There is much to learn here for creative minds beginning on their path of growth and development. As honestly as possible, he has tried to evaluate the decisions he made along the way in an ethical light, whether they be aesthetic decisions, business decisions, or decisions made in relations with staff, friends and partners. The result is a book that is as critical of its author as it is beautiful to hold–filled with thoughts, ideas and images that will stay with the reader long after the book has been laid down.
Illustration: Back and front cover design by Emilia Burchiellaro and Leonard Koren.
As a young UCLA architecture student, Leonard Koren became obsessed with the physically built environment of the bath, including the rituals that support it and the truths that give bathing its metaphysical reality. “Every bathroom,” writes Koren, “no matter how crude or sophisticated, comes equipped with all elements of a primal poetry. Water and/or steam, hot, cold and in between. Nakedness. Quietude. Illumination.”
Illustration: Bathing cap people photographs by Guy Webster. Design and Art Direction by Elizabeth Freeman. From WET July/August 1978.
A fluid publication of creative visual production, critical thinking and intersecting obsessions, WET developed organically from Koren’s individual efforts into an experimental collaboration among his ephemeral community of friends and artists living in Venice Beach, California. Before starting WET Koren had no prior publishing experience, but was blessed with a daring approach, a strong sense of aesthetics influenced by Japanese culture, his architectural studies and his love of photography. Under his guidance, WET the Magazine of Gourmet Bathing became a legitimate expression of hip beach culture. It gave voice to a kind of bohemianized water-course way that had taken hold among Venice Beach’s most creative minds. At its best, WET offered its readers a self-aware and watery hedonism (and some cases skepticism) based on the myriad possibilities of bathing as a metaphor.
Illustration: Contents pages designed by Leonard Koren.
Marshall McLuhan famously noted the similarities between taking a bath and reading a newspaper – both being relaxing interludes given to randomness and reflection. Browsing through the pages of Making WET invokes the essence of WET Magazine’s original appeal through playful design characterized by the non-linear approach implied in McLuhan’s observation. It is a story told predominantly through a stream of images: photos, drawings and illustrations of all kinds, while the element of language floats through the book like bubbles clustered on the surface of a visual bath.
Koren has described himself as someone who makes books “not intended for electronic devices,” and Making WET has a distinct hand-made quality. As e-books have have become more popular, the physical characteristics of paper and the tangible experience of holding a book have gained traction among a discerning community of artists, writers and designers dedicated to preserving the bookmaking tradition.
Illustration: “Concerning the Metaphysical Nature of Cigarettes” by Sharon Hennessey. Photo by Larry Williams. Design by Roy Gyongy. From WET November/December 1979.
WET’s editorial slant was always an exercise in the balance of many cultural influences and contradictions. Koren defines his vision with succinct clarity in a chapter titled “Gourmet Bathing: A Long Overdue Introduction.” He writes, “In a state that is the capital of the monetary, the capital of the self–the inventoried and reconceived self, the disguised and decorated self, the conceptual fun self–the only season is Open Season. On Columbus or Sunset or the Venice boardwalk, the shifting cast of vacancy–faced rock punks, S&M tragedian, cowboys, lumberjacks, vestigial hippies, and attentive trend collectors, there is an unsortable repetoire of styles and counter-styles. There is such camp drollery here, such androgyny, such runaway eclecticism, that there emerges a ruling aesthetic of Whatever Works–whatever evokes the almost terminal dislocation of this long intermission in history; the feeling of having no particular place, time or person to be.”
Illustration: Covers. November/December 1979 with Sissy Spacek. Photography and illustration by Lisa Powers and Taki Ono. Typography, design and art direction by Roy Gyongy. Cover and back cover, March/April 1981. Collage and design by Bob Zoell. Art Direction by Leonard Koren.
WET covers consistently presented strong and unforgettable statements. Koren did not shy away from intellectually challenging or controversial material. The image of the copulating pigs that appeared on the March/April 1981 issue is visually unforgettable but caused great anxiety among the ad sales team who feared it would make their job more difficult. By this time, WET was beginning to penetrate the mainstream so it was sold inside a brown paper wrapper to avoid giving offense at the supermarket checkout line.
Much of the WET’s iconic identity stemmed from its remarkable logo which passed through several iterations before settling on the final version shown above. Using sheets of Letraset rub-on type, Koren mocked up multiple versions. “I liked the rendition in the all-uppercase Kabel font best,” Koren writes. “Then I tweaked it a little. The W, fashioned out of two Vs, had a defiant energy similar to a swastika–but without the horrible associations. The E was frisky. The middle tine was cut off at a 45 degree angle; it felt sexy in a reductive sort of way. (I thought it was the typographical equivalent of a sly erection.) The T possessed a magnificent solidity. Together, all three characters conveyed a distinctive Teutonic strength, toughness, and linearity–the exact opposite of the soft, fluid suggestions of ‘wet.’ ”
Illustration: Max Palevsky and Leonard underwater in Malibu “sealing the deal” to secure capital investment for the magazine. Photograph by Guy Webster.
Making WET sometimes reads as a morality play on the limits of sustaining a community based on common creative goals. Koren traces the changes in his personality and his relationships with his friends and collaborators as WET became more successful. The pressure to generate advertising dollars gradually forced him out of his role as creative director and into the role of business manager. The creative side of the magazine was being left more and more often to others. The final chapters describe how WET’s essence inevitably began to dry up. By the end of its run there was “…a profound existential crisis looming. WET had evolved out of an art-making impulse: a spontaneous response to a need for a particular kind of artistic expression. For the first four and a half years, making the magazine was intensely engaging, both creatively and intellectually. But now the learning curve had flattened out. The once vibrant WET project had metamorphosed into a marketing exercise.” Koren decided to fold the magazine soon after, choosing to go out while the magazine was still on top and to prevent a painfully drawn out decline. Six months after closing the magazine Koren packed all his belongings into his VW Rabbit and moved to San Francisco to begin a new life.]]>
His new book, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams features thirty-two pungent essays covering a range of topics such as Madonna’s big toe, the link between zombies and white supremacists, the selling of Nazism and the cultural appropriations of Lady Gaga and Jack Chick.
In the introduction to his book Dery invokes as his talisman André Breton’s epitaph, “I seek the gold of time” . Dery explains that Breton refers to “the ineffable mysteries of lost time, of time passing, of things to come” which recalls Dogen Zenji’s description of time as lending a “resplendent brightness” to all phenomena. Dery would reject any comparison to religious thought (Dogen was a thirteenth century Zen Buddhist monk), but because Dery himself searches for gold in the most unlikely of temporal and spatial places the intersection of these two ideas makes an intriguing entry point into the complex matrix of his thought and writing.
I walk out onto the desert floor in the middle of a bright April afternoon. I stand still in the sun, fully exposed, surrounded on all sides by cactus, sand and rocks. I feel the heat all around. I close my eyes long enough for my thoughts to stop their tossing and turning. Gradually, new sensations begin to impress themselves on my senses. I hear the wind. I hear the buzzing of flies and the drone of faraway traffic.
Time passes. After ten minutes in a state of suspension I open my eyes. I am confronted with a stark wavering prickly electric green thing shooting up out of the desert floor. Ten minutes ago it was an ocotillo tree but now all I see is its indescribably glittering essence. In an instant I am vomited beyond the boundaries of language. Beyond the “flaming wind-hairs of thought” where time turns to gold and everything becomes rich and strange. This other shore is where Mark Dery’s writing will take you. Where no thoughts are too alien, to bizarre or too bad to be turned to gold.
AGITPROP: In the introduction to your new book, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, Bruce Sterling calls you a “botanist of the counter-culture” who samples the Kool-Aid carefully but never fails to spit at the end. What are the origins of your thirst for sipping the dregs of human thought-juice?
MARK DERY: I’m not sure the subcultural margins are synonymous with society’s dregs, but that may be my punctilious Inner Felix Unger talking. As a cultural critic, I’m drawn to subcultural ethnography in the Dick Hebdige mode, or what David Brooks called “comic sociology,” although my variation on that theme is more of a black-comedic sociology. (And when I say Brooks, I mean the David Brooks of Bobos in Paradise, not the Neo-Tory Neuroscientist who offers moral homilies from inside the Beltway, via the New York Times [ Dery is referring to different aspects of a single author, David brooks] . I liked Brooks better when he was a conservative comedian, taking the piss out of lactose-intolerant, cruelty-free yuppies, as opposed to Brooks the self-appointed morality wonk.) I’m drawn to cultural extremes—fringe thought, perverse practices, Manson-approved sociopathologies, consumer culture at its most bodaciously depraved, Bizarro-World Web memes—partly because they’re the strange attractors in our chaos culture, so to speak. In the sciences of chaos and complexity, it’s when systems are far from equilibrium that things get interesting. Not necessarily good, mind you, but inarguably fascinating. They mark the gnarly edge, as the chaos theorist (and Phil Dickian SF novelist) Rudy Rucker would say, where one state transitions suddenly into another.
My fascination with edgy phenomena also has a lot to do, I suspect, with having grown up hard by the U.S.-Mexican border, in 1970s Chula Vista—on the edge of America, in two senses: California is “where we run out of continent” in the Westward-migration sense, as Joan Didion famously observed, and San Diego—one of the most hysterically Anglo, impregnably Republican border cities in our fair Republic—is where white America draws a line in the sand between Nixon Country and that Disneyland of donkey-show depravity, Tijuana. (At least, that’s how it loomed in the gabacho unconscious of my day.) Border consciousness is edge consciousness, and even in the circle-the-wagons all-white Chula Vista suburbs of my ’70s youth, there was a percolating fear that America’s Finest City would be sucked into the libidinal attractor of Tijuana or, inversely, be overrun by the brown hordes presumably massing on the other side of the border (for which the much-feared killer bees were a tabloid metaphor), switchblades and shopping bags at the ready.
But my interest in extreme cultural phenomena has equally to do with the fact that they hyperbolize America—caricature it, melodramatize it, push the envelope of the depravity, the sociopathy, the sheer weirdness hiding in plain sight until there’s no way to avoid it. Through exaggeration, they make the subliminal liminal and, ultimately, push it into mainstream consciousness. As I say in the book’s introduction, I believe in the theory of American exceptionalism, just not as my dear friends in the Tea Party and neo-con thinktanks understand it. America is exceptional, which is to say profoundly weird: it reeks to heaven of flat-earth fundamentalism (which makes us the laughingstock of Europe, where most well-educated urbanites view religion with embarrassment); it seethes with glittery-eyed Neighborhood Watch paranoia; it incarcerates and executes more of its own citizens than any other supposedly civilized nation; it elevates radically deregulated capitalism to a state religion; it criminalizes a ridiculous drug like cannabis yet allows the whackjob survivalist fringe to conceal and carry guns in bars; I could go on. It’s gothic, it’s grotesque, it’s over the top, it’s got TruckNutz dangling from its undercarriage, it thinks Obama is a Muslim and the moon landing was faked and 9/11 was an inside job and Darwin is a rotting heap of secular-humanist hooey and anthropogenic warming is a conspiracy theory foisted on us by the Sierra Club. How can you not love this place?
My cultural criticism patrols the borders of the American unconscious because America is extreme, and the only way to understand it is to venture as far as you can, out onto its wild edge, because that’s where the purest expressions of American dread and dreams live.
AGITPROP: Arguably the most hyberbolic legacy of the twentieth century belongs to Adolf Hitler. Your book has two essays dedicated to the appropriation of his image and the impact American advertising had on Nazi propaganda. Can you delve into your findings?
MARK DERY: The essays in question, “The Triumph of the Shill: Fascist Branding” and “Endtime for Hitler: On the Downfall Parodies and the Inglourious Return of Der Fuhrer,” look at the Nazis—specifically, Hitler and Goebbels—as pioneers of branding and marketing, fiendishly artful in their use of design and the media to manufacture mass consent through misinformation, disinformation, and potent myths conjured up out of the fog of fear and hatred hanging over the German unconscious. I was struck by the Nazis’ appropriation of market-tested tricks of the P.R. trade, employed by early public-relations Svengalis such as Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. Goebbels, especially, was a careful student of American advertising and public relations, which had taken the lessons of Freudian—and Pavlovian—psychology to heart. With a little help from Albert Speer and Leni Riefenstahl, he stage-managed the dream life of the Third Reich, dramatizing the virulent prejudices and half-baked theories that resulted, ultimately, in a Germany-shaped smoking hole in the map of Europe, not to mention the incineration of at least six million people.
Hitler, a failed painter and architect, emerges from the horrors of the 20th century as an Architect of Doom who dreamed the nightmare of Germany’s Gotterdammerung into awful reality and a Murder Artist on a genocidal scale. In using the term “artist,” I’m not mythologizing Hitler, and certainly am not applauding him. I mean, simply, that fascism (as Walter Benjamin argued) represented the aestheticization of politics—with unspeakably horrific results. Hitler’s dream was the dream of an antiseptic, genocidal utopia, a Wagnerian Germania populated by the kitschy Aryans in Nazi propaganda and purged of all ugliness, which is to say the troglodytic “subhumans” who teemed in Hitler’s anxious unconscious. It’s the Bayreuth-opera fantasy of a daydreaming sociopath who failed as an artist but managed to turn all of Europe into the stage for his dreams…and nightmares. And he did so through an unprecedented and, it must be admitted, virtuosic use of propaganda, stagecraft, and a bizarre theatrical talent that to the 21st-century eye looks laughable in newsreels but in its day whipped crowds into a mass orgy of adulation (for the Fuhrer) and ecstatic loathing (for the Other).
Not for nothing did David Bowie call Hitler the first rock star, a penetrating observation that earned him a fusillade of flak but was nonetheless dead-on. Hitler lavished endless thought on the insignias, banners, uniforms, movies, and above all architecture of the Third Reich, and branders and marketers and advertisers ever since have nursed a secret awe, even envy, for the Nazi branding machine. I mean, are Disney’s mouse ears, the McDonald’s golden arches, or the Apple logo as universally recognized as the swastika? Do any of them carry its third-rail jolt of fascinated horror (or is it horrified fascination)? The techniques perfected by Hitler and his henchmen are still used, albeit more subtly, by branders and marketers and advertisers. Long after the “thousand-year Reich” was reduced to rubble, the original mustachioed “Mad Man” continues to cast a swastika-shaped shadow over Madison Avenue, not to mention our political campaigns, reality TV, right-wing radio, and of course the attacking heads on Fox News.
AGITPROP: Two things…First, Hitler’s early life as a failed artist certainly adds a sickening twist to the origins of his need for control. How much should we rely on it as an explanation for his animosity toward the so-called degenerate artists of the Weimar period and marginal members of society in general?
Second, You seem to have a fascination with the intersection of conservative, even reactionary thought, and art. Your essay “The Prophet Margin: Jack Chick’s Comic-Book Apocalypse” is about the evangelical comic book artist Jack Chick. His “tracts” (pocket-sized comic books for the non-believers) were a staple in the Bible Belt churches of North Carolina where I grew up. Can we draw a direct line between him and the likes of Cotton Mather, or is Chick sui generis?
MARK DERY: I wouldn’t want to reduce Hitler’s moral depravity and psychopathology to an operatic tantrum over the fact that his hand-painted postcards didn’t go viral. I’m more inclined to the argument that sees him as an ectoplasmic manifestation of the uglier aspects of the German cultural psyche, at that historical moment. This isn’t to absolve him of personal responsibility, or to deny his unique evil. But Hitler gave shape to a toxic cloud of economic anxiety, bred-in-the-bone bigotry, right-wing fears of the Red Menace, and pervasive resentment over the punitive reparations demanded of Germany, after WWI, by the Treaty of Versailles. But this is the stuff of another argument. Interested readers will want to dig deep into Ron Rosenbaum’s masterful Explaining Hitler, which looks at the contesting theories about who Hitler was, and why he was.
As for my interest in conservative, even right-wing strains in American society, especially when they bubble up in the form of cultural expression, well, I believe in sleeping with the enemy. Meaning: I like to know what dark dreams trouble the sleep of the Michael Savage-Tea Party-survivalist-Alex Jones fusion-paranoia fringe, the better to understand our national id.
As well, I’m interested in art that’s marginalized by the transnational art economy and the curatorial and critical apparatuses that legitimate that economy. No less than the “lowbrow surrealism” showcased in magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose or the fan-culture illustrations featured on DeviantArt.com or the sorts of “happy mutant” neo-retro art spotlighted on Boing Boing, the evangelical tracts of Jack Chick can be seen as a form of pop art produced and distributed outside conventional channels of art production, consumption, and critique. I should italicize the point that I’m not necessarily interested in the aesthetic merits of any of the stuff I’ve mentioned, but rather its implicit (and largely unintended) critique of the highbrow artworld and the conspiracy of curatorial and critical opinion that underwrites the market value of certain forms of commodified expression, and not others. Why Damien Hirst’s pickled sharks, and not vernacular taxidermy? Why Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” (which I happen to think is brilliant, by the way), and not some of the fan-culture mash-ups on YouTube? But this isn’t just some Duchampian dialectical move on my part. I’m equally interested in Chick as a mutant cartoonist, appropriating the commercial mass-culture form of the comic book and turning it into a vector of transmission for his virulently hateful strain of evangelical Christianity. At the same time, as you point out, Chick sits not only within the historical continuum of popular media but specifically within the tradition of Christian media, whose earliest forms include the evangelical tract, and which has now appropriated the look and feel of godless consumer culture to produce its own looking-glass world of Christian pop culture, including a defanged, evangelical-friendly take on teen culture replete with heavy metal bands, Lollapalooza-style rock festivals, movies, YA fiction, and the like. What fascinates me about Chick, and about evangelical America’s canny use of the media tropes of consumer culture, is the weird spin they put on this notion of semiotic guerrilla warfare. Critical theorists are enamored of the cultural dynamic exemplified by Situationist and punk detournement, anti-consumerist collage music by bands like Negativland, and politicized appropriation artists like Banksy, all of whom rip off and repurpose, to politically subversive or social-satirical ends, the signs, symbols, and narratives of official power or consumer culture. But by hijacking mass-media forms like the comic book or pop-culture genres like heavy metal and the YA novel, Chick and the rest of the religious right remind us that two can play this game. The irony is delicious.]]>
The Port of San Diego is not historically known for making good decisions related to art. And today they made sure that this reputation was not sullied. The Board of Commissioners at the Port of San Diego voted 4 to 2 in favor of accepting a permanent copy, to be cast in bronze, of the statue known as “Unconditional Surrender” by Seward Johnson which is to be donated by private interests associated with the Midway Museum. Those donating the piece have a year to raise the nearly one million dollars it will cost to have the fiberglass piece recast in painted bronze. It is a sad day because it again shows, whether in art or not, that if there is one thing you can rely on in San Diego is that monied special interests, especially those related to the military, will always beat out rational arguments made by studied professionals.
For the past year, and beyond, the Public Art Committee, which works in an advisory capacity to the Board of Commissioners at the Port of San Diego, and Port curatorial staff have worked hard to develop a curatorial strategy that, if implemented in its full capacity, has the potential to be one of the most dynamic and interesting public art programs in the country. Because of the Board’s decision “Unconditional Surrender” will be the first piece of the Port’s new collection- despite the fact that the Public Art Committee voted 6 to 4 not to accept it. It is difficult not to think that the acceptance of this stolen piece of intellectual property, which has gotten off on a technicality, has set the art program and the new curatorial strategy at the Port back a year, if not years or even indefinitely. Many of the members of the Public Art Committee who went into this past year feeling hopeful that real change was going to take place at the Port’s art program (changes that included requirements that members of the Public Art Committee actually be credentialed arts professionals), now feel that it may be pointless to continue with a Port Board whose majority essentially stated today during deliberations that the fiduciary standards for art in the Port district should be nothing more than oceanside amusements to attract the masses.
Giant balls of twine, eat your heart out:
Below is a letter that I sent to the commissioners this morning. Additionally, five members of the Public Art Committee (including myself) attended the meeting and read statements against the acceptance of the piece. Two others, who could not attend, sent letters arguing against the piece as well. All of these arguments did everything that you are supposed to do in arguments: cited the Board’s voted upon and approved Curatorial Strategy, argued thoroughly why this work is sub-par and does not meet the Board’s approved standards, referenced precedents, pointed to the derivative nature of the piece, potential problems in its transference to another material, the inability of the donators to raise the money up to this point, and so on. What is most disturbing in this whole process is that the only argument I can discern that has been levied in favor of the piece is that “it’s popular”. Well, so is McDonald’s.
Given what this decision implies I think we should be on the look out in case any of the commissioners who voted for this piece, associates of the Midway, or anyone else in favor of this piece ever publish a book. If they do, I would assume, based on this decision, that they would have no problem with someone resizing it, printing it on a different kind of paper and, as long as it’s popular, selling it as their own work. Maybe that person could co-author with Seward Johnson….
Dear Port Commissioners,
I am a member of the Public Art Committee for the Port of San Diego. I was in attendance at the last board meeting on February 14, 2012 and am writing to express some concerns regarding “Unconditional Surrender”. First, I would like to give a brief description of my background so that you can place into context my following comments. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from the Ohio State University. This spring I will be awarded a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of California, San Diego with a focus on Multi-Media and Public Culture. I have shown in the Museum of Contemporary Art, The New Children’s Museum, am currently co-curating the Summer Salon Series at the San Diego Museum of Art and was featured in 2010 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. My work has been cited in international publications such as Wired and ArtForum magazines. Locally I have been involved with the development of multiple art supporting projects and community events including a local art festival, called “There Goes the Neighborhood”, and spent two and a half years as the Lead Art Instructor at St. Madeleine Sophies’s Center, a day program for adults with developmental disabilities. I am currently an Adjunct Professor at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in downtown San Diego.
Second, I would like to commend the board on the debate that took place at the meeting on February 14th. Several times during this deliberation I heard speakers and board members alike make comments or jokes to the effect that they “did not know much about art” etc. I would say that from the complexity of the argument surrounding this statue, those comments seem self deprecating more than actual.
I fully understand and am in agreement as to why people feel so strongly about what this image stands for in relationship to the original work of art, the photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, and the euphoric historical moment he captured on that day in 1945. This is one of the most publicly meaningful images in our nation’s collective memory. My concern with “Unconditional Surrender” is that it is so derivative from this original, meaningful, photograph that the work raises ethical issues in regard where, exactly the real meaning of this object comes from (item (e) in the Evaluation Criteria). I would submit that the popularity and meaningfulness that people are responding to in this work reside in the original work of art, the photograph, and recollection from the original historic moment. Seward Johnson’s statue panders to this memory and to the original work of art in order to produce it’s meaning. By any artistic standards copying the work of another artist as a shorthand for producing a meaningful object of their own is ethically questionable at best, and potentially legally problematic at worst. This aspect of the production of the piece also raises issues in regard to other Evaluative Criteria approved by the board, especially in regard to innovation (item (c)). A work of art cannot be considered innovative if it is simply taking the meaningful work of another artist and replicating it in an over-life-size form.
While in attendance at the meeting on February 14th it was clear from comments made by both speakers and board members, many of whom were in favor of the piece becoming permanent, that acknowledgement of the disputable nature of this object as a quality work of art was duly noted (Evaluation Criteria item (c)). This aspect of “Unconditional Surrender” has also recently been cited in the press by an article in favor of the work remaining permanent (Union Tribune Feb. 11th 2012 UT Editorial Staff). If it is acknowledged by even those in favor of it becoming permanent that the quality of the piece is in dispute, then this object does not meet the criteria approved by the board regarding the new Curatorial Strategy. Removing and/or overlooking quality as a standard sets a dangerous precedent if the goal of the new Curatorial Strategy is to produce a world renowned collection for the Port of San Diego and the city of San Diego as a whole. I feel strongly that the dismissal of these standards in favor of this object’s popularity ultimately does a disservice to the men and women which this monument hopes to commemorate. If the questionable nature of quality and innovation of this object are recognized by even those in favor of it remaining on site, I would argue that what is ultimately being endorsed is a policy of acceptable mediocrity in favor of popularity. I do not feel that what the sailor and nurse in the original photograph from 1945 were celebrating with that kiss was, in part, the defense of mediocrity in the public sphere and in individual self expression.
In response to comments made at the meeting that accepting works of this nature does not have a detrimental effect on the cultural community of San Diego as a whole I can say from my experiences being embedded in the artistic community that this is not wholly accurate. Over the last several years I have seen a significant number of very talented artists migrate out of the city based, in part, on the reputation San Diego has as a place that allows for less than the highest quality works to define it’s cultural identity. I would also venture to say that in terms of international cultural reputations both Los Angeles and Tijuana are thought of in higher critical terms than San Diego regionally. I think an internationally acclaimed public art program would be a major step in reversing this image and that the criteria and policies outlined in the new Curatorial Strategy are important steps in defining the standards that will accomplish this goal. While it may be true that it will always be possible to find someone to take a large commission, it seems to me that the ultimate goal should be to attract the most original and most innovative artists possible to produce the most innovative and original works of art.
At this time I would like introduce a case study as an argument for fidelity to the curatorial process that the board approved in the Evaluative Criteria and to the new Curatorial Strategy as a whole. Anyone who is familiar with the history and controversy surrounding the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C. will be familiar with the overwhelming unpopularity of the proposal when it was awarded with the commission in 1981 by a jury of credentialed arts professionals. If you are not familiar with this history I would highly suggested looking into it for yourself as it is a dramatic story and a fascinating piece of American history. As this controversy unfolded, activists against the Maya Lin monument advocated for a set of figurative sculptures representing images of striding soldiers to be placed adjacent to the black walled memorial proposed by Lin. While the sentiments of this addition are understandable, this grouping of figurative bronze sculptures placed on site to appease popular demands are now all but forgotten in the national mind, while the black granite wall, so much initially reviled by the general public is now recognized as being, arguably, one of the most significant, critically acclaimed, publicly attended and, most importantly, meaningful monuments of the twentieth century.
One of the basic tenets of living in a free society is the right of individual, unique, self expression. In no other field is this right more symbolically celebrated than in the arts. The un-creative use of another artist’s work by Seward Johnson to derivatively appeal to the legitimate sentiments of the public cheapens this fundamental tenet. By endorsing non-innovative work simply because it uses the predictably popular formula of appropriating an image of national sentiment from another artist and simply making it monumentally large trivializes the efforts many people have made to allow such important rights, such as innovative free expression, to exist. The question I would like to leave you with is this: Shouldn’t the ultimate goal of the Public Art program at the Port of San Diego be about advocating for what gets placed in the public sphere be of the highest artistic excellence as a way of honoring the right of free expression defended by those in public service and so fundamental to a democratic society?
Public Art Committee
scott b. davis has earned a national reputation for his night photography. The San Diego Museum of Art is currently exhibiting a survey of his work from the past decade. And a show of recent work opens in March at jdc Fine Art.
A recent profile of davis in the Summerset Review offers a wonderfully detailed account of his process in the field. But it didn’t address what has intrigued me most about his work: namely, the material properties of the work itself. Ordinarily this isn’t something one is concerned with when viewing a photograph. But in davis’s case the material properties of the work seem to embody its content in interesting ways.
Your work is noted for its use of platinum printing. What are the specific properties of this process, and how does it suit your subject matter?
platinum printing is a 19th century photographic process, closely related to traditional printmaking in terms of technical expertise and the choice of materials at one’s disposal. it was heralded by turn of the century photographers, and considered by alfred stieglitz to be “the prince of all media”. it earned this distinction for an ability to render exquisite tones, but also because it was kept as a kind of ‘private reserve’ by master printmakers for their finest work. photographers historically used the process to capitalize on nuanced, delicate tones in their images. as a 21st century artist i’m interested in exploring ideas untouched by previous generations of photographers. night photography, first and foremost, is an act of discovery and one that invites a keen sense of perception. platinum printing, simply put, most closely replicates the experience of how i see at night. the combination of the two opens a minimalist dialog i find important.
What about the choice of paper? In describing your work the New York Times noted how the “grainy, velvety quality makes them seem almost painterly.” As a viewer I’m fascinated by this textural quality—which is strongest in the areas of “pure” dark that frame the imagery—but I’m unable to determine whether the texture is a product of the paper, or the process.
the texture you see is platinum. it is the process drawing you in to a physical experience. i don’t say this to be facetious, more so to reference the fact that platinum prints appear three dimensional when compared to other photographic process (anaglyphs notwithstanding). in essence the physical work of a platinum print is painterly—it is applied as a wash, really—since every print is hand coated one at a time using a brush. the pure dark areas you refer to are the ones i’m most concerned with, the negative space that defines each image and challenges viewers perception. both the paper and the process are idiosyncratic from a maker’s standpoint… they are victim to heat, humidity, age, and a half dozen other things that would plague the average photographer/printmaker. what i’m left with, and what you see, is a unique print that holds its own surface quality, which is, of course, part of the image itself.
Related to the previous question—the work in the SDMA show exhibits significant variation in the visual homogeneity of the dark skies that frame your landscapes. For me this is where the complexity set in, as I realized the texture of the sky was potentially due not just to paper or process, but to the very source imagery itself: the low lumpiness of a coastal marine layer, or the silken purity of a desert night sky. And yet some of your desert images appear to have low clouds overhead! Why?
simply put, they might. but what you’re responding to is an edge i’m consciously working with every time i exhibit the work. viewers bring their own connection to visual art, this much is a given. by taking the medium to its physical and literal limit (printing pure black), the work takes on its own physical life, responding to light as much as anything else. it’s a wonderful oxymoron, though it can be a bit vexing for my work as an artist, i’ll admit. to create a tally of our conversation, we’re up to one nuanced photographic process, an artist exploring the limits of that process, the state of the physical environment the work was made in, the lighting the prints are shown under, and the viewers own capacity to look carefully. the latter being one of my primary motivations… to have people engage with the work as a physical object.
The source imagery in your night work seems lit entirely by dusk or human light. Since you’ve worked in the desert, you know moonlight. Can you use it? Or is there some formal reason why it doesn’t appear in your work?
photographers can use moonlight with great success, but for me it’s something of a gimmick. when i was a kid our neighbor had one of those framed posters with a black and white image in it. the image showed boats on the chesapeake bay by moonlight, but it was clearly a daytime shot made to look like the night. it was obvious to me then, but is a good analogy to your question. if you accept the fact moonlight tells us about a world we already know (one that kind of looks like the day but with deeper shadows, less color, and a little more mystery) then i’m not much interested in it. i’m most interested in looking at what we can’t see and what we choose to not look at, then figuring out a way to make others take note. while i’ve worked a lot in the desert at night, it is more often than not that human light defines each image, and increasingly images made in urban environments. it is this intersection that has, above all else, defined my work. working at night—moonlight or otherwise—was a starting place to expand a view of vernacular landscapes and in the process engage with the act of looking.
The typical lighting in a museum or gallery seems antithetical to what you’re trying to achieve—when this work gets exhibited, do you specify any nonstandard lighting requirements?
not really. i’ve found there’s a magic light level that makes the work pop, probably around 7 foot-candles. too much light kills the experience of negative space, too little light doesn’t allow the prints to glow as they should.
Edison to Kodachrome to Vegas: bright light is deeply embedded in the American psyche. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the foremost apostles of darkness are a Japanese writer (Junichiro Tanizaki) and a Hungarian film director (Bela Tarr). Have either of them influenced your work in any way? Do you have an affinity for theirs?
i’ve only scratched the surface of each artist, and i’ll be honest in saying they haven’t influenced me directly… which isn’t to say they’re not vastly influential! it may appear a strange practice from the outside but i often work in a kind of artistic celibacy. early in my career i found i was drawn to emulate the work of other artists i admired, consciously or unconsciously. once i tapped into a language that felt like my own it freed me in a way, and allowed me to focus more on the work itself and less looking for inspiration from beyond. it was a bit like sand through an hourglass… as i concentrated more and more on what i was doing it eventually opened an entirely new world for me. today, when i look at the work of bela tarr, joan didion, eric orr (the list could go on) it’s an enriching experience to ‘see’ and engage with other, wonderful dialogs i was never aware of.
Any last words?
turn off the computer. there’s a big world to discover.
On Saturday the U-T San Diego editorialized on the impending removal of a public artwork from the San Diego waterfront.
The editorial begins with a full paragraph quoting former U-T art critic Robert Pincus on his response to the artwork in question. It then states the following: “These criticisms discount the undeniable reality that, from the day the 6,000-pound sculpture was unveiled at the park at Tuna Harbor, it has been hugely popular with real people.”
The clear implication — that the artwork was disliked by Pincus, but popular with “real people” — is that Robert Pincus is not a real person.
Such casual dehumanization of an an arts professional is newsworthy, and merits the attention of anyone with a personal commitment to the arts in San Diego. When contemplating the U-T they must now ask themselves:
If a sign painter could paint my texts, why not ask somebody to paint a picture according to my indications? Every year my father and I used to visit county fairs. Despite the fact that he loved looking at tractors and farm equipment and I hated it, I developed a fondness for Sunday painters there that I shared with David Antin. I’d write down their names on my visits to the fair. Eventually, for the “Commissioned Paintings” I called some of them up…
— John Baldessari
With the blessing and support of her four grown sons, Anita Storck took off in her van to paint and draw the world, saying goodbye to family and friends from her home base in California. She lived, as she described it, “a gypsy life,” traveling and making friends wherever she went. She spent four years on the road, traversing Europe and North Africa, going as far east as Turkey.
Setting her sights back in the New World, she arrived in Antigua, Guatemala in 1977, “just passing through.” But something must have soothed her gypsy heart because before long she began growing roots within her neighborhood and the community at large. It is not unusual to visit homes in Antigua and, upon commenting on a particular painting, find out that Anita Storck did it. Residents could always count on her yearly art exhibitions. Her last show in Antigua, at age 86, was held at Proyecto Cultural El Sitio in December 2003. She not only created lovely artwork — she dispelled the generally held notion that artists are temperamental. One would be hard-pressed to have found a more pleasing, genial and truly beautiful spirit.
For years she made the weekly trip to Guatemala City to teach art to orphaned boys living at Mi Casa. Closer to home, she organized a neighborhood women’s co-op, teaching members how to use left-over material to fashion hot pads and other handicraft items; countless others were recipients of her generosity, and, of course, there was the annual Good Friday neighborhood alfombra, to which she contributed year after year, designing something beautiful that brought pride to the whole block.
Feeling the tug to be closer to family, she moved to California in 2001 but never lost touch with her friends in Guatemala. From her memoirs, More than a Thousand Words, she sums up: “A happy life with sparkling hills of good memories of family and friends — of my childhood — and the joys of my own sons. True, there are some sad valleys — as in all of life — but thus we appreciate the daily happiness of being alive and healthy and sharing the pleasures of life with family and friends.”
— Terry Kovick Biskovich
Anita Storck studio
Photos metmuseum.org, Lois Stecker]]>
The murals of Chicano Park tell the vibrant history of Barrio Logan and the Chicano community in San Diego. Born in 1970, as the result of a non-violent grassroots land takeover, Chicano Park officially became an Historical Site in 1980 and in 1987 the murals were recognized as public art. Over the years there have been several restoration projects funded by public sources to restore the murals to their original status as ageing and vandalism have taken a toll.
Chicano Park has grown an international reputation as the largest collection of outdoor murals in the world. Today, the Park is frequently promoted by the city as a part of its diverse and colorful cultural heritage. Tourists from around the globe visit San Diego to glimpse the impressive large scale murals painted on the pylons of the Coronado Bridge. But it was not always so.
Strategically located near the waterfront, Barrio Logan has suffered encroachment after encroachment by the military, Anglo-American businesses and autocratic city officials. In 1963, the construction of Interstate 5 bisected the neighborhood, pushing out families and business under the shield of eminent domain. In an act of appeasement the city promised that the land beneath the bridge could be preserved for a park, instead the city reversed course and attempted to build a Highway Patrol Station.
In April 1970, Barrio Logan rose up immediately and decisively, blocking the bulldozers with their bodies, occupying the land and forcing a halt to construction. Leaders organized and beat back city hall, forcing the transfer of the land to the community. By 1973 artists Salvador Torres and Victor Ochoa provided the artistic vision and leadership to make the murals a reality.
Given the enormity of the task and the cultural importance of the Park, I asked Todd to share some of his photos and talk about his experiences.
AGITPROP: Currently you are documenting the restoration of murals in Chicano Park. How did you get involved with this project?
TODD STANDS: My involvement with the Chicano Park Mural restoration project started in June of this year. It was the beginning of a year-long Cal Trans project that will include the restoration of 18 murals on the pillars under the Coronado Bridge. Five murals were begun in June and the other thirteen were scheduled for later in the year or the first half of 2012. I helped restore Michael Schnorr’s mural titled “Undocumented Workers”. I formed relationships with all the artists that were working at that time and was given access to the work in progress. When I could break from painting I often photographed the other four artists and their crews. When “Undocumented Workers” was completed I felt an affinity to the park and the project so I continued to photograph the artists as they completed the first set of murals.
The second set of murals included some of the artists from the first set but several were unknown to me. My connection to the project and the relationships I had developed, opened doors for me to have access to the new artists and their mural’s restoration. It seemed to be a natural path for me to follow.
AGITPROP: Can you please tell us about some of the artists whose work you’ve been documenting?
Whenever possible, the murals are being restored by the original artists that painted them in the 1970’s and 80’s. I mentioned my work with Michael Schnorr. Also included in the first set were Victor Ochoa, Felipe Adame, Guillermo Rosete, Carlos Lopez and Norma Montoya. The second set of artists are based around the Sacramento area Esteban Villa, Juanishi Orozco, Jose Montoya. All of these artists have continued to be very influential in the Chicano movement throughout their careers.
Each artists has very different techniques from watercolor to oil paint and even airbrush.. Their skills have been honed over thirty years of art making. They have worked as traditional muralists or even as commercial billboard painters. It is inspiring and educational to spend long hours photographing and watching these masters of mural painting.
AGITPROP: What are the challenges of documenting such large scale work?
The main challenge is access. I needed insurance to be able to be on the scaffolding and lifts. There is very limited space to back up and move around. I need to stay out of people’s way. I’m trying to show the artists in their working environment so I have worked mainly with very wide angle lenses.
AGITPROP: Is there anything you’d like to say about this project as it relates to your own career?
I feel privileged to have been able to paint in Chicano Park. As a mural artist it is humbling to be part of such a great collection of history and to be included in the impressive roster of artists that have worked there.
AGITPROP: Have you thought about what you will do with these images one the documentation is complete?
At this time I do not have a plan for the photographic work I am doing. Now is it the time to make the images while the work is being done. I think it will find it’s significance in the future.
AGITPROP: When will the restoration be complete?
TODD STANDS: No opening event is planned as of yet.. there is the annual Chicano Park Day celebration in april.. it will be around the time that most of the murals are done… they should be officially done by June if i remember correctly.
AGITPROP: Thanks for talking to us and letting us publish your photos!]]>
~ Water, steam, air, and mud—and the energy to heat them—are precious resources to be cherished and conserved.
~ Cleanliness is next to impossible (but keep trying anyway).
~ Nakedness is almost always an excellent idea.
~ In addition to all its other charms, bathing is an accommodating metaphor.
Full of youthful ambition, and desiring to become a part of the gourmet bathing revolution, I wrote Leonard a letter in 1981 and convinced him to let me be his design intern that summer. I was psyched. When I arrived in Venice, California with my t-square and x-acto blade in hand (in the days before desktop publishing), Leonard told me this was to be WET’s final publication. Like Billy Preston jamming with the Beatles on their last album, there was something bittersweet about having a part in WET’s swan song but I embraced every moment.
“WET never took itself all that seriously,” said Leonard. “To paraphrase one of its contributors, WET was a parody of all enthusiasms, or more accurately, a parody of all enthusiasms taken a bit too far. WET’s most endearing quality was its wholehearted embrace of the absurd. Each and every issue wrestled mightily with seriously silly propositions: Workable Extremist Thinking. Waste Everything Twice. We Eat Tuna . . . Take your pick.”
Leonard’s post WET career has gone on to include an eclectic array of gigs directing Japanese music videos, being a popular culture commentator and most steadily as publisher of fifteen beautifully crafted books related to design and aesthetics. Some of the titles are; Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (1994) and Which “Aesthetics” Do You Mean?: Ten Definitions (2010). His current project is Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing. It will be published this coming mid-March, 2012 and will feature selected layouts and covers from each of the issues as well as a narrative of the more interesting episodes and personalities along the way to making WET.
AGITPROP: What is your current job description?
LEONARD KOREN: A guy trying to make a living by producing and publishing books. That is, books made of paper, not books intended for electronic devices. My book subjects are primarily design and aesthetics related—though I hope to move a bit into ethics also.
AGITPROP: Do you mean the ethics of design or are you referring to ethics in a larger social context such as justice, courage, temperance and so on?
LEONARD KOREN: The domains of design and aesthetics, in and of themselves, really don’t have much to do with notions of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” in the moral sense. In fact “stealing,” as in incorporating someone else’s ideas into your work, is almost institutionalized as a “best practice” in fields relating to design and aesthetics.
No one involved in the fields of design or aesthetics is necessarily bound to a particular moral code. By “move a bit into ethics” I really mean I want to bind myself more strongly to a personal code of right and wrong behavior in terms of what I produce and its effect on the larger community.
AGITPROP: Can you expand on this?
LEONARD KOREN: When I make an artistic decision, I try to consider how the ramifications will play out down the line, say 50 years or more. I try to keep in mind “do no evil,” but not as a corporate marketing slogan, as a personal credo. Frankly, I’m not always successful. It’s hard to account for all of life’s unintended consequences.
AGITPROP: In December 1980 you published the Fire Issue of WET. The cover photo was of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Quảng Đức, emolating himself as a protest to issues related to the Vietnam War. Would you please comment on the ethics of publishing that image?
LEONARD KOREN: A number of creators associated with WET felt the image was in very bad taste—almost sacrilegious. I disagreed. Someone gave their life to make a very visual anti-war “statement.” The more that image is reproduced the better, I thought. If WET was making fun of the burning Buddhist, that would be a different story. But we weren’t. I think it was a quite sobering cover.
AGITPROP: I think it was Mallarmé who said, “Everything exists to end up in a book.” (Or maybe a magazine!) You’ve published fifteen books. What is it about books that has created such strong devotion in you?
LEONARD KOREN: I like the physical qualities: the kinds of paper, the tactility, the “objectness.” I also like that you can stare at an open page for as long as you like, without glare, and really get into an image. I also like the totemic aspects of the book as a thing: just possessing a book, without even reading it, confers some kind of value.
AGITPROP: Digital books are revolutionizing the publishing industry. Any thoughts on how this change from tactility to intangibility will affect the consciousness of tomorrow’s readers?
LEONARD KOREN: I’m not sure how readers’ consciousness will evolve. The future for critical, thoughtful consideration of information inflows doesn’t seem too promising though.
AGITPROP: What is essential for you to be able to do your work?
LEONARD KOREN: Reasonably good health, time, and a little (physical) space for a desk and chair.
AGITPROP: Speaking of space, you recently moved from a city to the country. How’s that working out?
LEONARD KOREN: I don’t miss the city, if that’s what you mean. I do like the quiet and beauty of the country.
AGITPROP: You’ve been in cities so long I was curious to know if you have noticed a shift in your focus and/or interests.
LEONARD KOREN: When in cities I find my concerns tend to be more reactive to the things around me; “responsive” is a more positive term. In the country, undisturbed by the noisier world outside, I tend to focus more on the perennial, existential thoughts that occupy my mind.
AGITPROP: How important is empathy for what you do?
LEONARD KOREN: Not much.
AGITPROP: So are your design solutions based on your own preferences or do you try and imagine a universal end user?
LEONARD KOREN: I try to satisfy what I imagine to be that universal part of myself that requires (1) clarity, (2) a sensual charge, and (3) some degree of novelty.
AGITPROP: During the 70s and 80s there was clearly a moment when Japanese culture was important to your development. Can you describe your first conscious encounter with it?
LEONARD KOREN: My mother was interested in the Japanese sense of order and beauty for as long as I can remember. I think she thought the Japanese aesthetic sensibility was smart, cool and, of course, beautiful.
At one point she had a Japanese carpenter build some furniture for my brother and my bedrooms. (Which I still have to this day). Then she instituted a rule that we had to take our shoes off at the entrance to our house, which made sense because we lived in the hills on a dirt road. . . . When I was around 16 or 17, my stepfather returned from a trip to Japan with a few books about Japanese architecture and design. I was fascinated by the concepts of asymmetry, refined rusticity, warm minimalism, et al, therein. I asked my mother if I could build a “Japanese tea house” on her property. She agreed and I set to work scavenging materials from the neighborhood. I designed as I built. I applied my interpretations of the photographs I studied whenever I needed to make a decision.
By the end of my teens I had moved on and was no longer consciously interested in things, or design systems, Japanese.
AGITPROP: Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing is your most recent book and it will be published in mid-March 2012. It’s the true story of how you created WET Magazine (1976-1981) and opened up a dialogue around the idea of “gourmet bathing” while pushing a pretty radical design aesthetic. Can you please describe the milieu WET was born out of and why it was important?
LEONARD KOREN: WET was born in Venice, California. I fell into Venice by accident. I grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles and Venice beckoned from high school on as a place of special freedoms. The Venice I lived in and knew was a community of artists and like-minded creators. Most of the artist/creators were open to having me come by their studios and hang out. I was able to study the degree of seriousness, both artistic and commercial, necessary to “make it” as an artist/creator. I learned that you had better make “success” happen yourself, because that is the only way it is going to happen, if at all. I also learned that each artist must create their own unique way if they want to have something of value to offer the world outside their heads. In sum: My time in Venice provided a metaphorical kick in the butt. And the permissiveness of the Venice culture allowed me to seriously pursue my silly work—making WET—and not feel like a complete idiot.
AGITPROP: Well, the idea of gourmet bathing certainly is a very silly and slippery idea in a perverse kind of way. What kinds of thinking and or activities were you hoping to encompass with it?
LEONARD KOREN: I wasn’t thinking out very far. I simply liked the semantic frisson of the conjoined “gourmet” and “bathing.” The term seemed to connote a kind of sensuous absurdity. I was, of course, interested in bathing as a source of artistic imagery. But I also knew that in the realm of art, any abstract notion can take on a solid existence if you plug away at it long enough, which is what I had hoped to do with the notion of gourmet bathing. Exactly how that would manifest, I didn’t know. That’s where putting one foot in front of the next, and not thinking too deeply about the consequences, comes into the picture. That is, start making something and the next step/s to take begin to reveal themselves.
AGITPROP: Anyone who remembers WET remembers that it was as mental as it was visual. What would you say was WET Magazine’s influence on the collective unconscious at the height of its influence?
LEONARD KOREN: I was too close to the enterprise to assess its influence. I do know that lots of art directors, designers, and many artists in the US and Japan were very into the magazine. I doubt if magazines like Ray Gun and Beach Culture would have emerged in the form they did if there wasn’t the prior example of WET. Also, there were some pretty high profile WET alumni, like Matt Groening who went on to co-create the The Simpsons TV show. And graphically, WET was once of the incubators for the style then known as “New Wave,” and later as “Postmodern.” Ultimately all of WET’s graphic and editorial innovations seemed to be absorbed into our visual culture. . . So to answer your question, I really don’t know how far or deep WET influenced the “collective unconscious.” If you have any insights into this question I’d really like to know.
AGITPROP: I discovered WET while I was an art director for a college humor magazine. It became my design bible. I think that was in 1979.I do remember that WET seemed to come along in that moment just before Postmodern style and New Wave came sharply into focus. My earliest impression of a Postmodern look was that it was about visual references to Classicism floating against a deconstructed grid! People were really having a field day with all the prefab graphics you could get on Letraset sheets and that fostered a kind of a collage aesthetic. Then when I did my internship at WET in the summer of 1981, I recall Matt Groening hanging around the office. He was doing Life in Hell and other comics. His visual style was humorous but primitive. His slightly misanthropic personality added a contrasting note to most of the other staffers I met. Wippo was another great character who really embodied the energy of the New Wave musical moment. Gary Panter’s work was also a revelation to me and referenced Japanese culture a lot, too. WET was not iconoclastic like punk. It always seemed to be more about bringing what was hidden into the open rather than destroying what was already in plain site.
LEONARD KOREN: Thanks for the snapshot!
AGITPROP: With so many talented people hanging around and contributing what did your experience with WET teach you about the value of collaboration?
LEONARD KOREN: I learned that people at a certain stage of their creative careers crave an opportunity to create, and a visible venue to show off their creations. In such circumstances they will work for free. I learned to honor and respect these contributions. I had fun as an art and creative director. I also learned that I need long stretches of solitude, away from these creators, so I can consolidate my own thinking and let my intuition come to the fore. In other words, I like collaborative environments and situations, but I need an equal amount of time away from them to recoup my energy and direction.
AGITPROP: Is there a connection for you between intuition and the conscious cultivation of a spiritual dimension of life?
LEONARD KOREN: I don’t understand exactly what you mean by the term “spiritual.” If you mean a non-rational poetic perception of the invisible underlying mechanisms of reality/realities, then yes, there is a connection between intuition and the spiritual dimension of my life. But I don’t consciously cultivate it.
AGITPROP: For me cultivating a spiritual dimension means being in a place that’s apart from the domain of ideas, words and logical thinking; a place where the mind can recognize itself again. Was gourmet bathing ever intended to fill that role?
LEONARD KOREN: Yes and no. Gourmet bathing was intended to engage your mind, to force it into an encounter with absurdity, so that you could no longer take your thinking or your ideas so damn seriously. Of course, it is easier to make such observations in retrospect. There wasn’t such a vigorously coherent agenda for gourmet bathing at the time I was publishing WET.
AGITPROP: How did you come around to the idea of making Making WET?
LEONARD KOREN: To make a book about the process of making WET was an impulse that has reoccurred to me about four or five times since the magazine’s demise. What was different this time, that is, why I finally made the book this time, are three factors. One, I have a young son, and I am an old guy. I wanted to impart some of the lessons I’ve learned about art, life, and business to my kid in a light, easy-to-digest manner. He won’t even know the book is for him, but it will give him some resonant clues about where he came from and how his DNA predecessor responded when confronted with certain circumstances. Secondly, the last couple of books I’ve made have been rather heady, veering toward the non-sensual. I wanted to get back to the sensual, the visual, the visceral, and Making WET allowed me to do that. Thirdly, I got an email out of the blue from an Italian bathroom fixture manufacturer abut a year ago asking if I would consider starting up WET again. I politely said no, but it made me realize that maybe the circle of culture had come around again and a dose of WET—this time in book form—was in order.
AGITPROP: Is there WETness after death?
LEONARD KOREN: Who knows?
Leonard Koren on the web
Leonard Koren’s books can be found on Amazon.com
A recent New York Times profile of Leonard Koren]]>
Like other art museums The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles hosts an annual gala event, with the goal of extracting surplus wealth from donors. The time-honored quid pro quo in this transaction is entertainment, and MOCA’s newly-acquired director Jeffrey Deitch has proven himself a master of pushing the notion toward the poles of art and spectacle. The result is proving a glorious mess.
For this year’s gala Deitch commissioned the 64-year-old society artist Marina Abramović to stage a performative matrix within which the gala would proceed. Abramović’s solution involved hiring attractive young people to pose in ways that would normally be identified as degrading and humiliating objectification: lying motionless on a dinner table for hours, naked and under a skeleton; or similarly stuck under a table for hours, with only one’s head sticking through, for that Bring Me the Head of John The Baptist effect.
Artist Yvonne Rainer caught wind of the upcoming event from a disgruntled hireling, and proceeded to write a letter to Deitch questioning the moral and ethical implications of MOCA underwriting an event so classically retrograde in aesthetic. The art blog HyperAllergic then broke the story.
In short: Rainer’s letter went viral, Abramović went into defense mode (e.g., hilariously insisting that gala attendees wear white lab coats during the event), the event went off as planned, certain attendees were duly offended, and MOCA netted 2.5 mil for the night.
The amoral of the story is one of people in the world with every power in the world, save one: the power of youth. The resulting dialectic plays out in many ways — some subtle, some not — across the arts.]]>
The awesomeness of Steve Jobs has been given a canonical accounting with the publication of Walter Isaacson’s 570-page authorized biography of his life. So just how did Jobs transmogrify the world? The CEO Messiah of User Experience claimed he did it by standing at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. But there’s much more to his story than that. By the end of the book one thing is clear – Jobs’ accomplishment at Apple Computer is the greatest legacy to come out of the Bay Area’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” hippie culture of the 1960s.
But at its heart this is also book about a man who was described by a former girlfriend as “an enlightened being who was also cruel.” To quote the dust jacket, he was “driven by demons. Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair.” Isaacson and Jobs agreed that the book should not sanitize his life and many episodes reveal a dark side to his personality. Jobs was given up for adoption as an infant and wrestled with deep-seated feelings of abandonment throughout his life. It is understandable how such beginnings might engender a defensive and spiteful attitude towards the world. But from Jobs’ point of view, his cruelty was not a psychological reflex but a form of truth speaking. He was given to rationalizing his rough manners as a way of ensuring quality control. He felt it was a part of his job description to be brutally honest when critiquing other’s work for the sake of the product and Apple’s reputation. For Jobs, being true to himself was a priority, no matter how ugly it might appear from the outside.
Isaacson has traced Jobs’ phenomenal guru-like influence over others through extensive interviews with friends, family and colleagues. Throughout his life, Jobs repeatedly inspired those working around him to go beyond themselves. In a burst of inspired geek-speak Bud Tribble, a software designer at Apple in the early days of the company, coined the term “reality distortion field” to describe Jobs’ effect over others. Chapter Eleven recounts a conversation between Tribble and Andy Hertzfeld who was a new Apple employee at the time.
Tribble remembered the term from an episode of Star Trek called “Menagerie” in which the aliens have the power to construct reality out of the sheer force of their mental powers. Job’s distortion field had a positive and a negative side. “It was dangerous to get caught in Steve’s distortion field, but it was what led him to actually be able to change reality.”
The launch of the Macintosh was one occasion in which Jobs deployed the distortion field in order to spur his engineers to hit a seemingly impossible deadline. The timing was critical. Apple had launched its remarkable 1984 Super Bowl ad campaign and expectations for a revolutionary product were running high. Any delays would have undermine the carefully constructed expectations surrounding the launch of the Mac. The only problem was the engineers were still behind schedule with the operating system. At a conference call they prepared to give Jobs a recommendation to send out a demo version of the software to be followed up with a final version two weeks later. They carefully pleaded their case and sat back…
…and he did.
Perhaps the most poignant example of the distortion field working against Jobs was when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. Isaacson observes, “The flipside of his wondrous ability to focus was the fearsome willingness to filter out things he did not wish to deal with.” After his initial diagnosis, Jobs put off medical intervention for nine months. He had been a vegetarian almost all his life and was known for his adherence to strict, some would say insane, eating habits, including binging and purging of food. He often spoke of the energy and mental power his diets gave him. Therefore he was reluctant to undergo what he considered orthodox medical intervention and instead pursued a series of diet cures and new age remedies. Despite a phalanx of friends and family members urging him to do what was best for his health, he resisted. In the end, facing death after an eight-year battle with cancer, he expressed regret he had not acted more aggressively in battling his illness when it was still in its early stages of development.
The word Zen is often associated with the ease of use of Apple products and is a direct result of Jobs’ study of Zen Buddhism that he began as an undergraduate at Reed College in Oregon. Chapter Three of the book describes the years Jobs lived on a commune after dropping out of college. He was responsible for tending a grove of apple trees on the commune grounds. He learned to prune, water and harvest the apples and sell them to earn money for the commune’s operating costs. During this time he also practiced meditation and dropped copious amounts of LSD. All this activity disciplined his mind in an intense way and honed his ability to sustain single point focus for long periods of time. “Jobs’ intensity was evident in his ability to focus. He would set priorities, aim his laser attention on them, and filter out distractions,” explains Isaacson. Nourishing the mind’s powers of intuition was at the root of his integrity as a human being and of his Promethean creativity. Jobs respected direct experience. He disdained decisions based on committees, Power Point presentations and market studies. He dismissed people who did so as “bozos.” His faith in the mind’s intuition over rational thinking and logical decision-making was the fruit of his Zen spirituality and it lay behind the design philosophy of all Apple products. Bodhidharma, the Indian patriarch renowned for bring Buddhism to China around 475 AD, identified the mind as the source of enlightenment. The following passage is from the “Breakthrough Sermon”
The mind is the root from which all things grow. If you can understand the mind, everything else is included. It’s like the root of a tree. All a tree’s fruit and flowers, branches and leaves depend on its root. If you nourish its root, a tree multiplies. If you cut its root, it dies. Those who understand the mind reach enlightenment with minimal effort.
The metaphor embedded in the quotation has obvious relevance to the history of Steve Jobs and Apple Computer Inc. But it is also indicates that at the root of his success in the field of technology was a worldview based on the idea of the universe as an organism. This binary narrative of the organic and the technological was woven deeply into Apple’s culture and distinguished it from Microsoft and other competitors.
Now that Jobs is no longer alive and the force of his distortion field begins to fade, the public image of the man and his company is bound to shift. But for the time being his legacy seems to be how he humanized technology by force of his will. Isaacson returns to this theme repeatedly. The final pages close with Job’s speaking in his own voice. “Edwin Land of Polaroid talked about the intersection of the humanities and science. I like that intersection. There’s something magical about that place. There are a lot of people innovating and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation.”
West on Chapo Marquez; South through the alley to Cuevas. I barely notice the wire mesh that Luis installed the other week to keep the cat in. Across Malaroq, wind up the ramp. The footbridge across the canal toward Centro.
Negrete to Juan Sarabia. Across Sánchez Taboada. One block more to Los Heroes. The Glorieta Independencia (traffic circle at the intersection of the Paseo de los Heros and Independencia/Juan Sarabia). Across the boulevard, a metal cylinder wraps around El Cubo, which “forms part of the architectural complex of CECUT.” Across decima (10th), a Commercial Mexicana announces its presence at Plaza Río in a bold, green sans serif. I look to the camellón (median) between Plaza Río and the Plaza Financiera. There is no one in the camellón. But I do notice people in the middle of the glorieta, facing traffic as it moves in the direction of the Club Campestre de Tijuana (a golf course), Caliente Hipodrómo (the racetrack), 20 de Noviembre (location of the municipal station where the 20 were detained after the police raid on October 18; (http://www.uniradioinforma.com/columnas/columna1319.html).
Drivers acknowledge statements in acrylic on cardboard and canvas, as they orbit the Tijeras (a monument constructed in the middle of the traffic circle). From the glorieta, to the camellón in front of CECUT. I take one end of a 4X12 piece of canvas. We move to the sidewalk. Vendors organize, in relation to the 29th Anniversary of CECUT. We move west, back east, on the sidewalk. Across the street, and then back to the camellón.
Constant movement. Advised. Necessitated by a conversation earlier that afternoon: “alrededor de las 13:50 horas, un agente de la policía municipal de Tijuana dialoga con una de las personas que fue detenida la madrugada del martes” (“around 1:50 PM, a city police officer spoke with one person who was detained on Tuesday morning,” from http://www.la-ch.com/). $100-$200 (USD, per arrestee) every three days is not sustainable. Is not affordable. Only 3 days in the camellón between Plaza Río and the Plaza Financiera, from October 15-18. 70 police. At 2AM. To arrest and detain 27 “indignados”: 20 men, 6 women, 1 child (of 3 years). In violation of a municipal code: sleeping in a public space.
Article 9 of the Constitución Mexicana of 1917: “No se podrá coartar el derecho de asociarse o reunirse pacíficamente con cualquier objeto lícito; pero solamente los cuidadanos de la República podrán hacerlo para tomar parte en los asuntos políticos del país.” (“You may not restrict the right to assemble or associate peaceably for any lawful purpose; citizens of the Republic (have the right to do so) to take part in political affairs.”) Is it legally possible for municipal code to supersede a constitutional article? Without doubt, Tuesday’s arrest “restrict(s) the right to assemble or associate peaceably for any lawful purpose.”
The next Asemblea General takes place Monday, 5 to 8, at the Vidriería Torre de Agua Caliente. It is important that the meetings take place in public space. To be publicly visible. To permit participation of a larger public. To maintain transparency in processes of decision making. But it is difficult to evade the police. Particularly in Zona Río. Where the presence of dialogue, which is separate from (in contrast to) that in the exclusive interest of empresas financieras y multinacionales (financial and multinational firms), is urgently needed.
Occupational poetry is practice that aims to use relevant
meaningful action to re-charge sluggish lives
Whether nurse waiter lawyer day laborer or cook
Occupational poetry provides hands-on creative responses to
Occupational poetry has proven effective against loss of function
onset of apathy and alienation from democratic processes
Is best when practiced in groups
Cannot be applied effectively at home alone or in the privacy of your own room
Should be practiced in public with others who share an interest in returning
humor love sanity and balance to lives jobs communities and beyond
Wake up! Realize you are not alone
Millions of others across the globe have already changed their lives
thanks to benefits of occupational poetry
Best thing about occupational poetry
Everyone can do it
Occupational poetry is D.I.Y.
Become an occupational poet by following four simple principles and four basic steps
The principles are
EMPLOY reason to penetrate obscurity of mass advertising and fog of media disinformation
VISUALIZE/ACTUALIZE life without corporate patterns of production and consumption
(less bland more flavor less processed more local)
ACTIVATE network of friends and collaborators who think and feel the same
CREATE enthusiasm for changing how America does business by
engaging in forms of mass occupational poetry
The steps are
STEP ONE Following the four principles compose a song or perform a skit
Write a poem or paint a picture
Invest in bold tip marker and poster board
Make signs that express conviction in short pithy messages like
B a n k r o l l A m e r i c a N o t K S t r e e t
STEP TWO Identify offices of bad corporate players in your neighborhood
STEP THREE Transport friends signs paintings poems performances funny hats
noisemakers skits & etc to sidewalk in front of bad corporate player’s office and occupy
STEP FOUR Relax and enjoy while occupational poetry happens
Gaining mastery of occupational poetry leads to application in other facets of life
Within short periods of time practitioners will be able to
Occupy heads while lying in bed
Occupy feet while walking on streets
Occupy eyes while looking at skies
Occupy time with presence of mind
Occupy space by standing in place
Occupy existence through acts of resistance
Since March 4th 2010 little has changed at UCSD with new tuition hikes rumored, libraries closing and services being cut daily; while students increasingly rack up large quantities of debt for what eventually ends up as a de-valued diploma due to degree inflation. Simultaneously Federal and State plans ($1.3 billion dollar plans) are underway to expand the I-805 freeway to further accommodate and expedite the transfer of cheaply produced goods across the border at Otay Mesa while increasing the capacity to regulate the passing of bodies across the same space and other border crossings. Its seems products have more rights to adequate infrastructure, free exchange and open passage than people do. That is, unless those people are paying interest.
Toward the end of this video Chomsky speaks to the fact that much of the opposition from elites toward Social Security is not so much economic concerns, but rather that Social Security implies a social solidarity among individuals. It implies that people should care whether the kid across the street has an adequate education etc. It seems, despite the lack of specific demands, that this is what “Occupy” is really about. Combating the atomization of the individual in order to begin the process of working against the forces stated above and mentioned in the video below. Tomorrow afternoon is a chance to begin this process locally.
OCCUPY SAN DIEGO: FRIDAY OCTOBER 7TH at 4:30 @ THE SAN DIEGO CIVIC CENTER!
OCCUPY SAN DIEGO INFO BELOW:
From Occupy San Diego Facebook page:
@occupysd We are peacefully occupying San Diego’s Civic Center in Downtown San Diego – the 99 % WILL BE HEARD !!
Only 1% of people in this country own and control the wealth, while 99% struggle, suffer while being denied a share of the wealth and quality healthcare.
In solidarity with the occupation of and vigorous protest on Wall Street, we are people of the 99% are occupying and protesting in the Gas Lamp Quarter and downtown area of San Diego, from October 7th 2011 beginnning 4:30 PM until indefinitely. Gas Lamp/downtown is in the same area of the financially corrupt San Diego County administration and financial hub.
ALSO: Since San Diego is one of many hubs of military activity, we are exercising this opportunity and right to protest and demand an end to corporate financial backing of the present useless wars being perpetrated by our country, which is inundated with greed and aggression . We support the troops, who are really a part of the 99% of the American people, manipulated by Wall Street and the 1%.
The plan is to actually camp out in the aforementioned areas until a list of our demands in solidarity of the Wall Street NYC occupation are met or sincerely heard and considered by representatives of the financial and county conglomerate of San Diego .
We must be open for ideas, sharing and horizontal, equal leadership and representation.
Map to the occupation area at San Diego Civic Center:
Occupy San Diego Facebook page:
On September 10, 2011 Dita von Teese performed her burlesque show at MCASD’s Monte Carlo fundraising event.
POEM FOR DITA
Dita’s in the art (museum)
Doing illicit things America
Divine intervening trance-angel
Dancing imploring titillating attracting
Devotion – is this Art?
Devolution? Innovation? Transcendence? Adult
Disneyland? Intelligentsia take aim!
Diotema in the alley
Daring imitation that’s assumed
Distraction in the attic
Denoting ill treatment always
Despite impulse to arouse
Dangerous instincts to alms
Dementia increasingly touches Artaud
Decoding information TN A
Dollars inscribe, thumbtacks approach
Dance improves terrific abs
Deleted instantly time accelerates
Dionysus – is that art?
Dominatrix inside Tolstoy’s angel
Danger is terribly appealing
Dharma is true activity
Damaged id thinking aloud
Does inspire tragic answers
Declaring insanity, trashing allegory
Drinking in tomorrow’s art angel
Drinking in teats of absinthe
Drowning in tumescent anatomy
It is the Monday night after the close of Art San Diego 2011 contemporary art fair and time to reflect on my pilgrimage to the ad hoc temple of art at the Hilton Bay Front. Four days of initiation into the rites of curated chambers and the sacraments of VIP access, of the esoteric doctrines of the buying and selling of cultural indulgences also known as collecting art; of the temporal and spatial homage to corporate patrons and the magical incantations of the holy brand; of supplicants, applicants, innocents, protestants and sycophants all gathered under a single roof in an effort to resuscitate, revive and resurrect an art market struggling to emerge from its sepulchre. In the aftermath, I am left with many questions about what art is and what it has been in the past and perhaps what it will be in the future.
But for tonight, my friendly reader, let me temporarily put aside these brooding questions to watch Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams with friends Douglas and Roman. Each of us is a disciple of St. Werner and we periodically gather to baptize ourselves in the pathos, suffering and dour germanic humor of his cinematic genius.Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a documentary film about the pre-historic art inside the Chauvet cave of southern France. The French government extended exclusive access to Herzog to film the interior of the caves and to tell the story of their discovery in 1994. It was a smart decision. Along with the anthropological, historical and scientific threads that tell the objective story of the caves, Werner weaves into this remarkable film, his own idiosyncratic narrative of the cave as a place that has the power to influence the dreams of those who enter into it.
Douglas, Roman and I settle down to break bread and watch. The film begins by establishing the beautifully austere and rocky landscape along the river valley below the cave’s entrance. Early on, we learn how the cave was closed off to the public by the French government very soon after its discovery by a group of speleologists led by Jean-Marie Chauvet. The cave’s fragile equilibrium is now preserved for scientific and scholarly research. The paintings are estimated to be 32,000 years old. Herzog interviewed several of the scientists involved in the project including one young paleontologist who was a circus performer before becoming a scientist. “Perhaps you tamed lions?” inquires Herzog, suddenly sensing a surrealist opening through which to pursue the interview. “No, not a lion tamer. I was an acrobat…a juggler,” comes the surprised reply from the gypsy-looking young scientist with a long ponytail and a wispy Johnny Depp goatee. He then recounts a series of revelatory dreams of lions inspired by the paintings of lions on the cave walls, dreamt during the time he worked inside the cave.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams was shot in 3D and although we watched on a flat screen at home, I can imagine how rapturous a vision it must have been to see it on an iMax screen. I was intrigued to find out that Herzog’s director of cinematography first proposed using 3D technology but Herzog rejected the idea as heretical – a gimmick of “commercial cinema.” However, once inside the cave, Herzog immediately recanted. The 3D technology takes full advantage of the ecstatic aura within, using light to conceal and then reveal the paintings, the stalagmites and stalactites, the calcium accretions collected on the surfaces of objects, and the curving, irregular surfaces of the cave walls. Besides being a temple of art, the cave was also a dwelling for animals. Throughout, the floors of the cave are covered with their bones. One room is named the Skull Chamber for a calcium encrusted bear cranium that sits on an altar-like pedestal of stone. In many sequences, the shadows of the film crew can be seen dancing across the cave walls evoking everything from the shadows of the original Paleolithic artists to the allegory of Plato’s cave.
So many of our myths about art and the artist, the painter in particular, are descended from these pre-historic paintings. The subject matter, gestures, textures, line, value and proportions of the paintings themselves seem entirely modern. Herzog comes back again and again to a series of horse heads painted on the wall. They overlap each other in an arching composition reminiscent of racehorses packed tightly together at the finish line. Even the idea of the image itself is contained here in a thick palimpsest of overlapping figures. After viewing the cave paintings at Lascaux, Picasso is said to have observed, “They’ve invented everything.” Some of the paintings show animals with multiple legs, creating the illusion of motion, as if the artist were attempting to animate the figures. Voicing over these shots, Herzog dryly and somewhat egomaniacally observes that they are a form of “proto-cinema.”
The sense of awe-inspiring silence that Herzog and his crew must have felt while filming inside the cave is palpable. In some sequences, the soundtrack uses choral music to capture the mood. In others, the soundtrack goes away completely as the camera pans slowly over the paintings. “Please, let us all be silent for a moment. And maybe we can hear our own heart beats,” requests one of the tour guides as the camera sweeps across the cave walls. With this scene, Herzog’s film subtly implies the origins of art as a ritualistic and spiritual practice. The first artist weas also shaman. Art itself is not only the paintings on the walls but encompasses the enchanted reality of its being inside the confines of the cave itself. Sequestered deep within the depths of the earth, the paintings are one element among others that combine to create the mood and contours of a phenomena to which we assign the inadequate term “pre-historic art.”
In a brief encomium titled “Origins – a false question”, Theodor Adorno decrees that speculating on the nature of the origins of art in the absence of historical facts is futile. But the urge to theorize is difficult to resist. In the film we meet an anthropologist who argues that the soul of the modern human being can be traced, if not to these paintings inside the Chauvet cave specifically, then, to the Paleolithic era from which they date. Through intelligent adaptation to the environment and the desire to communicate with the present and future by means of art, including images, sculptures and artifacts, homo sapiens first distinguished themselves. There are two other concepts that help in understanding the Paleolithic mind: fluidity and permeability. Fluidity can be understood as the ability of one thing to transform into another, for example an animal changing into a person and vice versa. Onto this concept Herzog tags the painting of a bison grafted onto one of a woman’s torso. Permeability refers to the ability of spirit to flow through and penetrate all things. The ability to grasp these concepts is what some modern anthropologists tell us set homo sapiens apart from their Cro-Magnon counterparts.
At the end of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog adds a surprising coda that brings into sharp contrast the abyss of time and history between modern humans and the homo sapiens of the Paleolithic era. Heated water from a nearby nuclear reactor has been routed to a biosphere where crocodiles live in a tropical garden enclosed on all sides by moats of steel and glass. Confined and cut off from their natural environment, the crocodiles have produced mutant albinos. Through a deft juxtaposition of imagery Herzog seems to raise the question; as we look back through pre-history to the origins of human culture and art, have we become so disenchanted from our original nature that we stand in relation to it like reptilian mutants gazing through a mirror at a distant reflection? The thought ripples like thunder over the terrain of our sense of self.
KUNSTMARKT 67 was the first contemporary art fair held in Cologne in 1967 and it continues to serve as a basic model for many art fairs today. Rudolf Zwirner who adapted a prototype based on the antiquarian fair in Stuttgart organized KUNSTMARKT 67. The fair’s ground plan was derived from the landestrasse (strip mall) with booths attended by gallerists, their staff and often the artists themselves – standard practices today. From the beginning Zwirner was unapologetic about the commercial intention of KUNSTMARKT 67. “Commodities can be herrings and [commodities] can be artworks,” he said. “Herrings will be forgotten, artworks will remain.” Such sentiments reflected his rationale for dispensing with art’s aura by reducing it to a commodity in order to market it more effectively.
Today’s art fairs have gone far beyond Zwirner’s vision by linking the commodification of art to corporate models of sponsorship, public relations, marketing and VIP pandering. This is not to castigate artists for wanting to receive compensation in exchange for their work, but artists should mindful about the morbid effect of operating under the sheen of a corporate structure and its negative effects on critical artistic practices over the long run. The art market is not immune to the reductive, self-referential calculus of the capitalistic culture at large. How well does this dynamic serve the interests of the artists and the communities they live and work in? It is up to artists to take control and to maintain a conscious awareness of the context of their art if they want to transcend the disenchanting logic of production and consumption .
Related articles and video:
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe A short film
Cave of Forgotten Dreams Wikipedia page
First Impressions Herzog became interested in the Chauvet cave after reading Judith Thurman’s New Yorker article.
The Birth of the Contemporary Art Fair by Christine Mehring
Puppy, Animals and Objects, 2011
Taxidermy, Mixed Media, Polymer Clay, Found Objects
16″ x 9″ x 9″
Wood, Drywall, Vinyl, Latex Paint
Installation – Linfield College Dimensions Variable
The following images are commercial advertisements from mainstream publications (both print and online). The three exceptions — a 16th-century painting, vintage comic strip panel, and contemporary pornograph — are from art/performance web sites and John Berger’s classic Ways of Seeing.
The images share a common image schema, and the schema itself begs several questions regarding its apparent absurd meaning, its function, and above all its cultural persistence. For lack of a better term, the schema is named The Designated Voyeur.
What is the history of The Designated Voyeur? Berger traces it back to the art-historical traditions of the European nude, and given the 1972 publication date of Ways of Seeing, and its subsequent pervasive influence on visual culture, TDV may well be a standard chapter in advertising school. However, Berger’s own explanation of TDV falls far short of covering the examples shown above:
It is true that sometimes a painting includes a male lover. But the woman’s attention is very rarely directed towards him. Often she looks away from him or she looks out of the picture towards the one who considers himself her true lover — the spectator-owner. (Berger, page 56)
Berger’s analysis — developed in the context of the female nude — asserts that the woman’s gaze towards the spectator underlines her role as passive object and property of the painting’s male owner. But from a patriarchal perspective why would a male wish to see “his” woman engaged in sexual activity with another male? And from a commercial perspective why would so many mainstream advertisements be based on a format so starkly sexist?
Other factors must be in play. Here’s what we know:
One tool for interpreting TDV is evolutionary psychology. Applying common arguments from EP to the data at hand yields the conclusion that Berger’s analysis of TDV, while superficially correct, is at a deeper level completely backwards. In particular, EP offers a unified explanation for both the appeal of 16th-century female nude paintings to their male collectors, and the appeal of 21st-century cellphone ads to both male and female consumers.
According to EP, female heterosexual partner selection is governed both by perceived ability to provide resources for child-raising, and by immediate sexual appeal (the two archetypes being colloquially known as Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now). Also according to EP, a woman wishing to maximize her genetic success will — in the absence of social and ethical constraints — maintain a long-term partnership with a nurturing male while engaging in periodic sexual liaisons with charismatic non-nurturing males. To these latter agents such an arrangement is ideal, as it offers the potential for genetic success with no outlay of nurturing resources: the cuckoo syndrome, to borrow from avian biology (which is in fact the etymology of the Elizabethan term cuckold).
Considering the EP perspective in the context of TDV, the woman’s outward gaze in the presence of a male partner implies for male viewers that the woman, far from signaling her role as male property, is in fact signaling her active ability to manage multiple sexual partners: the overt one in the image, and the covert one in the role of the male viewer.
Thus the viewer of such an image is designated not merely as a sexual desirable, but as:
Human nature being what it is, the depicted genetic advantage translates emotionally for viewers into a suitably heightened sexual frisson, which to return finally to the world of art, translates in turn to enhanced saleability, whether of 16th-century paintings or 21st-century cellphones.
This is best exemplified by the Tom-and-Nicole image shown above: it served as visual keystone of the ad campaign for the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut, whose story centers on a wife’s infidelity.
The Designated Voyeur appears to be a staple of commercial art — watch for it, and it will show up with surprising regularity. And if one accepts the argument from evolutionary psychology, marvel that commercial advertising depends not just on everyday sex and everyday violence, but on everyday adultery too.
You think I’m kidding?
Ok, well it well it’s not out quite yet, but it will be soon. The spiritual advisor and self-help guru (to the stars as well as to anyone with 10$) can now help gamers relax, work on their breathing, and play. The title of the “game” is Leela (which is said to mean “play” in Sanskrit).
Using your Xbox, your Xbox 360 Kinect’s technology to be more precise, you can interact with some pretty trippy-looking environments (see above and trailer) as well learn about the seven chakras, meditation, and Buddhist relaxations techniques. Humm, quite different from the world my brain conjures up when I think about Xbox.
According to an interview/article by Tracey John that I came across on an Xbox site, it seems Chopra has much grander intentions for Leela.
Taken directly from Tracey John’s interview– Chopra says:
“My biggest, loftiest goal is to see how this game will actually accelerate neuro-development into adulthood. I want to speak to people who are doing research on things like Alzheimer’s disease to see if we can do functional scans before and after people play this game. My hope is to be able to do a functional resonance scan on somebody’s brain and show in six months how this brain is way more evolved than when it first started playing the game. So that’s one end of the spectrum.”
Read Full Article, Xbox 360 Kinect | Deepak Chopra: Video Games Can Promote Higher Consciousness, Accelerate Brain Development
Leela “Game” website
Earthenware, Glaze, Plywood, Magnets
16″ x .75″ x 24″
Such are the thoughts that passed through my mind as I viewed Joe Yorty’s series of photographs titled “Neighborhood” at Agitprop Space. When I first walked into the gallery where the photos were hung, I was confronted with a reassuringly boring array of uniformly cropped, framed and hung photographs that were so unobtrusive as to resist being noticed at all. The force they exerted seemed more centripetal than centrifugal and this is very unusual in a world where most images seem to explode towards your eyeballs. But slowly they began to pull me in with their subversive power.
I was puzzled by the deliberate artlessness of the images until I realized the artist (can the label of photographer be accurately applied here?) had stolen the photographs from Google Map’s street level views of his neighborhood. I say stolen but is it really stealing if you pick up a dollar bill off the sidewalk that someone left behind? Each image was cropped to draw attention to a single figure – an anonymous person caught in the act of doing something boring such as walking down the street or getting into a car. As I said, each photo is very much alike and nearly interchangeable from the others. What makes their presence even more self-effacing is that Google has created an algorithm that scans all its street-view photos for faces and blurs each one out. Deprived of facial features these figures seem to float across the picture plane like ghosts. Google’s deliberate blurring comes in tandem with the naturally occurring artifacts, those funny crystal-like clusters of pixels, that appear in cases of extreme magnification. This lends the photos an impressionistic and painterly quality completely accidental in terms of any desired aesthetic outcome.
My sense is that Yorty is bringing to our attention a new source of artifactual images and a realm of reality that is pervasive yet relatively untapped. The photos are presented in a way that preserves enough of their boring, everyday quality to make them seem somewhat shocking when considered as art. After all, art is supposed to dynamically reaffirm our humanity rather than negate it. There is a kind of existential oblivion at play in these photos that keeps them from being easily forgotten despite their flirtation with invisibility. The people in these photos have been coercively stripped of any romantic notion of what it means to be an individual, an ego or a personality. Has the disappearance of privacy and identity that these images document become our new human condition? How will we respond to the revelation that our humanistic values vanish so easily when seen through the eyes of our prosthetic gods?]]>
My memory, at this point, has become a little hazy, but let me try to recount some of the adventure.
In the entryway was a car that had been converted into a kind of mobile art gallery (on the inside) and the outside was completely covered in writing– black Sharpie only. Beyond that was the toll booth. I don’t remember the fare, but it was well worth the price (the event on 7/29 is only 8$). As you entered into the space and your eyes adjusted, the scene unfolded into an amazing, carny-esque, theatrically-lit, dream-like, bizarre setting. And a stage at the far back wall came into view as the main focal point. Onstage, a costumed entertainer was jousting the (fairly large) feisty crowd, “…if I had a dollar, I’d take you on a date, ha ha”.
(video of April’s Adult Puppet Cabaret highlights: http://vimeo.com/27641261)
God chimed in….
And then… there were more acts. Puppet Karaoke, shadow puppet performances, and other indescribable forms of entertainment.
There was an interactive puppet-making booth, a bar, and some of the most incredible food for sale– Indian flavored and fabulous. People came in costumes. I think I had my mouth open, in awe, half the evening.
You will see me at the next one for sure:
A good hearty meal, all in one pill that can be carried in a vest pocket, is the dream of scientists of today, according to Hugh S. Cummings, surgeon general of the public health service. (Rock Valley Bee, August 17, 1923)
Whereas the visual arts of the past were strictly material (stone, canvas, paper, pigment), and those of the present increasingly electronic, expect the future arts to be biochemical in nature, as artists exploit advances in and the brain sciences to create well-defined aesthetic experiences with none of the undesirable side effects of today’s primitive psychotropics.
As part of the Summer Salon Series Border Corps will present Mexus Sexus Fluxus , a multimedia performance that attempts to cast a net over the question by exploring a set of three propositions that can be said to satisfy the needs of a city as we see them:
Economy:The proposition that without being there is no non-being and vice versa, can be expanded to include the proposition that without buying there is no selling and without selling there is no buying. Cities are communities where such transactional relationships drive economic growth and development. An economy needs some degree of freedom to operate in but how much?
Electricity: Without electricity the functioning of our cities would revert back to a pre-modern era. Think of all the technologies, operations, transactions, and services we take for granted that would go away without electricity. The ability to harness electricity is in some way the first step on the road to artificial intelligence. Why? Because it is the spark that somehow brings inert material to life.
Eccentricity: While the city may be thought of as a center of activity of one kind or another, eccentricity is a dynamic tension within the city away from the concept of its centrality. Eccentricity elliptically provides a definition of the norm by presenting an alternative to the centripetal force the city naturally exerts over its elements. A city’s eccentricity can arise from many different sources, however, it is usually associated with the behaviour of individuals. The class of citizens in a city naturally drawn to this role includes artists and non-conformists of all kinds.
Mexus Sexus Fluxus is an eccentric, electrified, economic attempt to clarify the nature of what a city needs.
A Bucketful of Lies, 2010
Acrylic on Canvas
64″ x 64″
In the sense that I have continued to dwell on the “Dignity of Labor,” I would say that it was a success. Featuring work by artists Brian Zimmerman and John Dillemuth installed amongst SDMA’s collections and spaces, a screening of the documentary Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class and a live performance by “primal party rock band” LUMPS, the evening’s events were meant to encourage us to consider the idea of the dignity of labor in the context of this year’s overall SSS theme: What does a city need? Each week is meant to offer another layer, proposition or answer to that question, so it seems fair to take the SSS at its word and entertain it seriously: What do dignity and/or labor have to do with what a city needs? And where and how does art enter into this conversation?
First off, this phrase: “the dignity of labor.” It is so very loaded, and yet imprecise. Is there dignity in all labor? For whom? What does dignity even mean, anyway? And, for that matter, what is meant by labor? Its connotations are specific, and its use requires consideration, particularly in the context of SDMA’s exhibition Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement. In my view, this phrase refers to particular kinds of labor, and particular kinds of laborers. What kinds? Well, perhaps the kinds described in Class Dismissed: the so-called working class or blue collar. We do not speak of computer programmers or office managers in these terms, though they certainly perform labor. When we speak of dignity in labor, it is usually in reference to the farmer, the mechanic, etc.—manual laborers. Similarly, there is also the artisan, craftsmanship strain of this discourse, seen in carpentry, woodworking, masonry, etc.
This is where Gustav Stickley, a furniture manufacturer who “offered customers a complete lifestyle based on his philosophy of simple design and quality materials,” becomes relevant. Stickley and the Arts & Crafts Movement generally, were very much a product of turn-of-the-20th century nostalgia for a supposedly simpler and more just pre-industrial era. Nostalgia was accompanied by a romanticization and aestheticization of the working classes, and of the products of their labor. This nostalgia, and the romanticization, should be quite familiar to us in the 21st century. The more stuff we acquire, the more shackled we are to electronic devices, the more “work” conjures up images of overflowing email inboxes and never-ending Skype meetings, the more we seem to be wistfully looking back to an imagined past where people made things and had tangible skills. The white-collar economy, built on speculation, inequality and hype, falters. What replaces it? I’m not sure, but judging from the popularity of “handmade,” “locally-sourced/produced,” “DIY,” etc., narratives and products these days, I’d wager that some of the answers floating around aren’t so different from those Stickley and his peers came up with over a century ago.
But what of art, museums and cities? While I was unable to view the Stickley exhibition—it was closed for a private viewing by the Circle Donors and their guests—I would guess that the exhibition of his furniture in a museum space would run somewhat counter to the ethos under which it was originally produced. In contrast to Brian Zimmerman’s impossible chairs, low and precarious, crumpled in corners, and towering on stilts, Stickley’s furniture is, by definition, for use. John Dillemuth’s hybrid sculptures require that we interact with them, but they are not exactly utilitarian. Instead they are fantastical and absurd renderings of functional objects: a wheelchair rocking chair, a pedal-powered bellows (of sorts), etc. The hand and labor of the artist are evident in all three, as indeed they are in the surrounding works of art in SDMA’s collections. What is also evident, however, is the scarcity of other types of labor (and other types of laborers), particularly of the “dignified” variety addressed by Class Dismissed and invoked by Stickley.
Fundamentally, these are questions of class. Class Dismissed asks us to consider how the working class is represented and framed by television; I would encourage us to also consider how the working class is represented and framed by museums, through this event and overall. “Dignity” in the context of “labor” is generally charged, and becomes even more so in certain settings. In attaching “dignity” to “labor,” it is possible that we participate in the erasure of a history of elevating some types of work and some types of workers over others, and of romanticizing class and class interaction. There are real consequences to such erasures and wishful thinking; they affect people’s lives, particularly in an urban setting. In the end, dignity and labor—as real things, not abstract notions—have a lot to do with what a city needs. Acknowledgement of the value and importance of all workers and all forms of work, as demonstrated through services, legal protections and representation, is integral to the success and vitality of a city. We all contribute, and we should all be included and addressed with equal consideration, and on equal terms.
Age change is a legal act, recognized in practically all legal systems, which allows a person to adopt an age different from their age at birth. The procedures and ease of an age change depend on the jurisdiction. In general, common law jurisdictions have rather loose limitations on age change, while civil law jurisdictions are quite restrictive.
State laws can regulate age changes in the United States. Several specific federal court rulings have set precedents regarding both court-decreed age changes and common-law age changes (changing your age “at will”).
Usually a person can adopt any age desired for any reason. Most states allow one to legally change one’s age by usage with no paperwork, but a court order may be required for many institutions to officially accept the change. Although the States (except part of Louisiana) follow the common law, there are differences in acceptable requirements; usually a court order is the most efficient way to change one’s age (except on birthdays, which have become a universally accepted reason for age change). It is necessary to plead that the age change is not for a fraudulent or other illegal purpose (such as evading a spouse or lien, or for defaming someone).
The applicant may be required to give a somewhat reasonable explanation for wanting to change his age. A fee is generally payable, and the applicant may be required to post legal notices in newspapers to announce the age change. Generally the judge has limited discretion to grant or deny a change of age, usually only if the age change is for “frivolous” or “immoral” purposes, such as changing one’s age to 13, 18, 21, or 39.
Until recently my exposure to anime had consisted primarily of a satisfying addiction to anything Miyazaki. But then I learned of Neon Genesis Evangelion, an anime series written and directed by Hideaki Anno which spans 11 hours of television episodes and a concluding movie.
If Miyazaki’s work embodies classical art cinema à la Kurosawa, NGE comes off as a kind of mad dog masterpiece which strains so hard at its genre seams that it finally bursts into something entirely one of a kind. (Think Wagner making Saturday morning cartoons.)
NGE themes include rampant Christian symbolism, sex, opera, penguins, budget battles, gods, angels, robots, Nevada, domestic chores, death battles, clones, computers, mental illness, the United Nations, hubris, teen angst, global warming, bad parenting, motherly love, mushroom clouds, beer, Antarctica, spies, aliens, poetry, human extinction, crotch shots, Tokyos, origin myths, psychoanalysis, Beethoven, the Dead Sea scrolls, global conspiracies, existentialism, homosexuality, watermelons, and more, all set in a plot line as elliptical and labyrinthine as any novel you’ve ever tackled, and laced throughout with a pervasive underlying sadness.
Anno, who clearly knows his art house, created such a compelling pop series that when in the final episodes he abruptly took the story in a 720-degree left turn, the resulting viewer uproar included not just blistering criticism, but death threats. Hence the concluding feature film, End of Evangelion, which attempts to tie up various loose ends. See this one for the ending alone: a hallucinogenic apocalypse unmatched in the history of cinema.
If you’re willing to invest 12 hours in close-attention viewing — a task made considerably easier by the oft-beautiful imagery (Anno launched his career working for Miyazaki) — you’ll come out with a pretty good handle on how far anime can be pushed as an art form. The general consensus on the net is polarized between WTF and “the most moving story I’ve ever experienced”, which given the work is only to be expected.
The TV series and movie are available on Netflix, and can also be found (in bits and pieces) on YouTube.
David White: Can you give a brief summary of the overall ideas and strategies behind your work? Can you also describe the concepts and history of your current show at Agitprop?
Tim Schwartz: My intention with this work is to engage with the space of the archive, specifically the archive’s transition into digital. Digital is different. The form is something that is quite new in terms of human history, and yet it has been adopted incredibly fast. It is clear that everything will one day be digital, including our collective history and the artifacts that document that history. It is this shift into a digital history that I am interested in. Each of the pieces at Agitprop investigate this shift in a slightly different manner, but each tries to play with the current lost space in-between physical artifacts and their new digital surrogates.
DW: In your investigation of different archives, what typically happens to the originals, and/or what do you think will happen to the originals in the long term?
TS: So let me be clear that archivists are a good lot; they’re trying to save artifacts for the future. Of the places I visited, none of them were throwing out or physically destroying objects because they had been digitized. In general I would say that it is too early to trust digital archiving and most of the archivists realize this. Of course, there are some “famous” instances or perceived instances of libraries deaccessioning newspapers after the first wave of microfilming. This was all discussed in the book “Double Fold” by Nicholson Baker. His book is quite one sided and unfair, but hey, it’s a good read. There are reactions to the book published by various archivists, the main one can be found here (http://www.archivists.org/news/doublefold.asp) on the Society of American Archivist’s web page. This is a really fantastic battle, fighting tooth and nail, and its archivists and writers, so it’s even better. In general, the longevity of archives worries me, from the basic case that everyone thinks digital solves everything. Money that goes towards hot new digital tools will continue and the money that goes to physical archiving and conservation will dry up. This doesn’t stand well for physical archives.
DW: It seems that once all of these archived materials become digitized, it creates a problem in terms of software obsolescence, and the rapid pace in which this takes place. Will we be able to read all of these archives in 15 years?
TS: Sustainability right? It’s scary. How long do you think Microsoft will support the Word Document version 1.0, not too much longer I assume. So this in general brings up the idea that we must all be shepards of our own digital archives. Let me compare the amount of work and time associated with being able to see photos from your great-grandfather. He had to basically put a shoebox of the photos in the attic and as long as the attic didn’t burn down, you would get them and be able to see them. Now, for you to make sure your great-grandchild gets your images is another story. You need to save them in formats that will be readable when he gets them, or every five years convert them to a new format. They can be saved on a DVD or some sort of offline system, but they must be checked and copied every few years, because we don’t have a long-term digital storage medium. You can put the images into the “cloud”, but then you are entrusting the longevity of your archive to one company, particularly a company that has not been around for over20 years! So the bottom line is, it’s really hard, scary and confusing to keep digital archives, especially personal ones. I would say who the hell knows and make it a priority to not loose your data. Sorry to be a skeptic of digital technologies, but this is really complicated stuff, and no one knows what should really be done, everyone is just trying out different things. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just put it in a shoebox?
DW: Does this change the role of the Archivist as a distributor of information? If so, how?
TS: I think this is the perfect moment of archivists to reexamine their role in society and how they are going to fix these new problems. But I don’t have any answers.
DW: A large portion of your work is about data visualization and/or the transference of digital information into physical representations of that information. Why is this important to you? Why is this a necessary thing to translate into a work of art, as opposed to, say, just turning that information into good graphic representations?
TS: We are constantly engaging with digital information (or information in general), and currently it is almost all delivered or consumed through a digital device (think screens!). I am trying to remove that mediating device and let people experience the content through other older forms (holding a book in your hand or watching a needle tick off). Hopefully by pushing what could be digital information back into older forms, it not only enables a deeper understanding of the information, but enables reflection of the digital.
DW: What is it about “holding a book in your hand” that is significant in terms of communicating information? How does touching the object, in this example, enable a deeper understanding of that material that is contained within it? I’m typing this on a Mac and, to a certain degree, it’s a pleasurable experience.
TS: I think in this case I’m talking about levels of mediation. We as humans started with language, then signs, then the written word. The written, or shall I say printed word, lasted for thousands of years. This was the technology and mode of communicating information that moved the world forward. Knowledge could be shared, stored, and saved over generations. So about twenty years ago we get a new mode for communicating knowledge, digital information. Very quickly, many layers of mediation were added between an individual and the knowledge they were trying to understand. So at this point in history the physical written word has a huge history and a lot of implications built into the physicality of its presence. We know how to engage with this type of information and now these older forms hold a nostalgic value for us, because they have physicality. As an artist I can use this melancholic feeling for the lost artifact as a way to encourage contemplation.
DW: Within the context of the relationship between Science and Art, there is a lot of current talk about artists being potential “interpreters” of highly specialized scientific information for the public. One criticism of this stance is that Art itself is a highly specialized field in its own right and that it should not be viewed as simply a mediary field. How do you see your work in relation to these differing points of view?
TS: Art is it’s own field, but it allows for many different forms and research under its umbrella. My work is conceptual and research based, but because my ideas take the form of objects or representations, not journal articles or formal scientific studies, I consider my work closer to the Art world, but my research practice comes out of a scientific practice. I should be clear here that I believe there is much to be gained by Art that adopts scientific techniques and actually produces scientific research, rather than just works that visualize or artistically represent scientific techniques. In the last ten years “collaboration” has become a huge buzz-word for the science and art communities. Instead of pushing individuals from different backgrounds together, I think it is more important to place inspired individuals that have excelled in one area in another discipline to build upon their knowledge in new ways. Collaboration must develop naturally, not be forced.
DW: “Collaboration” does get thrown around very readily these days. How would you define the extent of your collaborations, if any? Would you consider one of the Archivists or Librarians you encountered on your travels around the country a “collaborator”? This a question that I frequently think about: How do you define the boundary between collaborator, participant, and assistant?
TS: I think my own definition of collaborator is pretty liberal, but that’s why I’m not writing a grant. I would definitely consider everyone that I engaged in conversation during my trip and presently you (David White) to be a collaborator. Now would I put you on a grant, I’m not sure:)
Random Objects, 2011
Wood, Grip Tape, Scuff Marks, Gouges
36″ x ½” x 8″
Rhonda Trotter: In “Inner City Blues” the poem “This Evening…”, where did that come from?
Gil Scott-Heron: A brother named Mark Essex, from Kansas – I believe – a navy gunner, sharpshooter, came back from Vietnam. The only thing he knew how to do was kill people. He couldn’t get a job, and his reaction to that was to more or less demonstrate how prolific he had been at what he’d been taught to do. And it was attributed in several instances to the Black Liberation Army. It seemed very appropriate at the time that we did the poem – back in 72-73, during the Nixon administration – it seemed to be a comment on what was happening to our veterans since most veterans were out at that time. A lot of confusion, a lot of questions about what this society was turning our young folks into.
RT: Would you in any way describe yourself as part of a community of musicians who are working in a similar way, and who are these people?
GSH: Well, I know that a lot of artist that I’m familiar with do benefits and community programs of the sort that we do … But you find out when you go out to play that there are a lot of folks everywhere who spend a good deal of time doing things like that if they are concerned about it. It’s just that what I’m describing, a lot of artists don’t get into those sorts of programs because they’re generally so poorly done, from the point of view of having it together, having the advertising together, having the sound and lights and things that go into producing a concert and these people are very rarely familiar with that. And you risk not only not making anything for the organization, but at times not even covering the expenses that you put up to get there. That’s happened to us on several occasions working for different social organizations. You just have to be qualified or be prepared to reach into your own pocket to cover whatever it is that can’t be covered by the organization, and then you feel like you really didn’t make any sort of point that you were trying to make: you didn’t help the organization, you didn’t pay your fellows, you didn’t even get the groceries together. So I feel that a lot of artists are reluctant to get involved in those kinds of things because they know it’s going to be risky just in terms of having the basic requirements.
RT: More than any other artist/musician I think you exemplify the fact of Black folks in terms of how we deal with the situation in our art forms as being revolutionary. Can you briefly speak to that in terms of art-for-art’s-sake – the art and music that keeps us in our current situation, versus revolutionary art, music and poetry. The other thing is related to Amiri Baraka and the recent harassment he’s had in New York.
GSH: I don’t see any independent position that I’m in; it’s rather inter-dependent. It hooks up with a tradition that is thousands of years old, the great tradition; the tradition of the artist, at least literally, dates back to the 1780s in this country with Phyllis Wheatley, and Martin Delaney to W.E.B. du Bois and Paul Robeson. I would say if you are familiar with our history and the history of our art and literature that you see a clear cut pattern of people wanting to contribute, not only artistically, but in some practical purpose, for the benefits of the community. Paul Robeson once said that the artist has the responsibility to either help liberate the community or further oppress it. And I think that when Eldridge Cleaver wrote it down it was interpreted as his, but there’s a history of people saying things of that nature and meaning it. And what I do is in that tradition, in that mode. I don’t suspect that in many instances the artists who are dedicated in that fashion to the progress of that community are as well protected by the community as might be necessary. I think that not only what happened to Baraka recently, but the way the Philadelphia police fell on sister Sonia Sanchez and tore her house up looking for drugs. I think that down in Philadelphia is a pretty good indication of the vulnerable position most people, artists included, are in when they do things that can be interpreted as not necessarily anti-white but pro-Black in this country. Oftentimes, the way it seems to be is that our artists in particular point themselves out as spokesmen for a certain constituency in a community, and thereby place themselves in that vulnerable position.
B-Movie, Gil Scott-Heron
But the truth is that in this country you here you’re more likely to be harassed, hurt, or killed if you’re a minister speaking about progress for Black people than if you are a sure enough revolutionary. They’ve shot and killed more preachers than they have revolutionaries. You see Martin Luther King is dead and Huey Newton is not. And Malcolm X is dead and Bobby Seale is not. And Vernon Jordan was shot. The thing that revolutionaries, or even people who want to claim they’re revolutionaries, often forget is that it doesn’t make no difference what kind of wardrobe you wear, and if you speak up about Black people doing better you just risked your life. And there are folks out there who will take it. I think the only answer to that kind of thing is more artists doing that sort of thing so that it’s not so easy to identify which one or which two you can do something to to slow down a movement, or to slow down some sort of progress. I think that the more people who speak out, and say things and take stands on positions that will better our community, the better off each and every other individual artist or otherwise, will be.
RT: You keep mentioning and referring to the fact that it’s difficult to get information and accurate information about Black people and other Third World people, both history and current events, and yet in your poetry and your music you always seem to be right on time with what turns out to be revealed by the time your music hits the record stands.
GSH: Strange, isn’t it?
RT: Do you have any comments on your sources of information?
GSH: I do research. You know, a lot of folks are so busy trying to get their groceries together that they don’t have time to do research. I have time. Maybe that’s the main difference. In other words you can have a poem like “B-Movie” and sum up thirty conversations that people have had on the subject, but I wrote it down, and other people didn’t. When we were doing the “Angel Dust” thing we got information from the National Institute of Drug Abuse because we knew that if we went out and said something about angel dust people were going to ask questions about it and we wanted to be sure we had all the information to deal with it when those questions came up. So it’s all a question of being as prepared as possible out front, so that if you are going to deal with information it’ll be correct. A lot of people won’t check it out but some people will.
RT: There was some controversy about “Angel Dust” and some stations decided not to play it in that they mistakenly or intentionally said that it was promoting the use of drugs instead of decrying their use. I found that whole controversy very strange. What was your perception of it?
GSH: Well, see, it’s the difference between hearing something and listening to it. We got jumped on a couple times in Buffalo and Miami; they were taking it off the stations saying some preachers had petitioned that it be taken off the station the same week that Reverend Jesse Jackson sent us a proclamation for thanking us for doing it. I think a whole lot of stuff gets by people – I could name half a dozen groups that do songs that are openly supportive of experimentation with drugs, nobody ever said anything to them. I find it not just strange but almost ridiculous that people could take a song like the one I was doing and interpret it is corroding anything. Folks have the feeling that oftentimes if you don’t talk about something it will go away. Angel dust won’t go away. Somefolks who were smoking it were going away. I think that music is for the young folks in general; a whole lot of old hardheads who were going around talking about how it was promoting smoking it, they didn’t smoke it. They didn’t know anybody who did. So far as they were concerned it was out there somewhere. But it was right in their churches, in their community, right on their block, and in many instances tight in their house. And the young folks appreciated us for speaking on it more than they appreciated them for trying to act like it didn’t exist. So I try not to take people who haven’t really thought out what they’re doing too seriously. I try not to let them get in the way of what I feel I need to do.
RT: So you did not interpret it as a move by those in power to discredit you such that “Angel Dust” and future songs you make won’t be played?
GSH: I don‘t think people in power have the potential to do anything like that to me. I feel as though as long as our music is available, folks are going to hear it. We’ve been here twelve years. And a lot of people who have not tried to do the things that we do are no longer in the music business. They’re driving taxis and washing dishes. So we understand what the difference is between what we understand and what the community understands about what we’re doing because they have supported us long enough for me to stay out here, while other people who are doing other things have not. A lot of people have trouble pinning down what it is we do and how. But we don’t have any trouble with that. As long as that’s their problem, it’s their problem.
*Negative Dialectics By Theodor Adorno
Suhrkamp Verlag © 1970 Frankfurt am Main
Original text is copyright © 1997 by Suhrkamp Verlag.
Ceramic, Liquid Graphite
8″ x 12″ x 2 ½ ”
The key to the show — and the conflation — is the use of duct tape as a primary medium. If this sounds implausible, behold the impoverishment of your knowledge of the world of duct tape, which is available in a myriad of colors (~35), patterns (leopard, plaid, Hello Kitty), and grades (utility, industrial, military, nuclear).
What duct tape offers artists is intriguing: the pieceability of textile; the luster and saturation of paint; and a variety of surface textures ranging in visual effect from fuzzy nubbin to reptile skin.
When viewed up close, these surface properties (fully exploited by the artist) combine with the high-def intercolor seams to lend the work a material heft unachievable through paint.
More unexpected is the effect these same properties have on the work when viewed from afar, which manifests as a near-ineffable deviation from the look and feel of paint, keeping the work slightly off-center, and so remarkably free of the cliche that op can so easily fall prey to.
Most unexpected of all: how well neon op harmonizes with the traditional Spanish architecture of the Athenaeum space. There’s simply no good reason for this, but there it is.
Photos David Fobes
Mixed Media Installation with Video Projection (8 min. 23 sec. looped) and Kinetics
Two monks sat meditating in the woods. Suddenly one called out to the other with a laugh, “They call that a tree!”
Since first reading Emerson’s essay on Transcendentalism in high school, I have been interested in Eastern philosophy and meditation. Back then I thought the object of meditation was to make my body float, literally. For several nights I sat in my darkened room surrounded by the artifacts and conditions of my teenage delirium and attempted to levitate – but I could not get off the ground! Gradually I lost interest. I don’t recall why I even thought it was a good idea to begin with. Perhaps it had something to do with my 15-year old boredom, or more likely, it just sounded like an excellent magic trick.
Over the years, my experiences with Eastern thought and meditation have evolved. I’ve practiced Taoist meditation with the goal of developing longevity and health, and Buddhist meditation with the goal of developing compassion. From time to time I meet artists who express interest in using meditation for the sovereign development of their own creative minds. Foyan, a twelfth-century Buddhist Chinese Zen master, was known to exhort his young students with an enticing paradox: “When you can see without seeing, objects and cognition merge, substance and function are one.” Could it be that seeing without seeing is the Zen equivalent of X-ray vision?
Back in the pre-modernist days, Western intellectual categories existed to keep art separate from non-art. The art object itself was defined as an artifact made by the hand of the artist. It was thought to be as distinct and disconnected from the artist and viewer as a bicycle is from an elephant. Gradually, over the course of the 20th century, the web of relations between artist, artwork and observer became more evident. Allan Kaprow famously declared that he wanted to blur the boundary between art and life. John Cage, who was a student of the Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki, said he was interested in observing that there actually is no barrier between art and life.
Today it’s safe to assume many artists have meditated or studied some Eastern philosophy. However, the discourse between Buddhism/Taoism, and contemporary art practice seems somewhat underground even though, or perhaps because, it has been fifty years since John Cage and Allan Kaprow first opened their minds to Zen as a way of structuring their art.
Jacquelynn Baas and Mary Jane Jacob have edited a book of essays, Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, which is a fascinating attempt to chart the connections between art, psychology and Buddhist ideas and practices. One of the ideas investigated is what psychologists and cognitive scientists refer to as field dynamic phenomenology. It is being aware of everything seen and felt within the sensorial field without focusing on any particular aspect…of seeing without seeing through the noise of cognition while becoming attentive to the big picture. Zen has a very nice term for this state of awareness – big mind. Athletes refer to it as being in the zone. Artists regularly enter this state of mind when engrossed in their studio work. It is the fruit of the meditative or aesthetic state.
The centipede was happy / Until the toad in jest asked / “Pray which leg goes after which?” / This worked his mind to such a pitch / He lay distracted in a ditch / Considering how to run
In Mark Epstein’s essay, Sip My Ocean, he talks of how James Joyce used the word “beholding” to describe the proper attitude for experiencing art. Through beholding, the observer gains access to and “catches the drift” of an artwork. If you pull the artwork in too closely, Joyce warned, the aesthetic experience becomes pornographical. On the other hand, excessive distance invites a critical attitude that spoils the mood. The optimal experience happens in the neutral gap between these two extremes.
Joyce’s guidelines for experiencing art can be turned around and used to develop the conditions for creative insight. Artists intuitively understand how to do this, though they may not be aware of it. The mind, in a receptive aesthetic state, is something like an empty sky waiting for the lightning strike of a manifesting idea. The more empty the sky, the greater the flashing of insight. All that’s required is patience and clarity of mind.
There is a particular kind of creative personality that seems to always be in the midst of this mental continuum (Tibetan Buddhists call it “spy-consciousness”). Their internal dialog seems to be suspended for long periods of time as they listen in on their environment, waiting for the lightning strike of inspiration. One of the challenges of simultaneously being an artist and being in the world is how to manage this state: how and when to summon it, how to keep it, how to teach it, and how to use it to lead a more integrated life.
Two kindergarteners were eating lunch when the first one put on a pair of X-ray glasses. “What are those for?” asked the second kindergartener. The first replied, “They let you see through all the poop.”
Bill Pay Desk, 2011
Embroidery on Felt, Wood
14″ x 14″
Balloon Form: Spiral #2, 2009
Ink, Lexan, Steel Pins
7″ x 9″ x 11″
John Dillemuth‘s work that was on view at the Palomar College Boehm Gallery was another tour de force offering by one of the most innovative and creative practitioners in the San Diego visual arts community. Mr. Dillemuth is a mid-career artist producing an array of well conceived, mature works of art. The show is titled, un/bridled and in his own words: “explores two aspects of a linked theme related to nature and culture, the wild and the tamed, the unruly and the domesticated. In the play room interactive contraptions act out pleasure and pain scenarios. These crude mechanisms are attired with intimate apparel, skin, that alludes to desire and the drive, references the body, and tickles the funny bone. They also function as toys embedded with boyish narratives, and quirky movements. The whimsical, playful, and interactive nature of the work invites the viewer to actively participate in these stories.
In the other room, the bridled space, are mixed a number of different materials, styles, and applications to create a comic and romantic version of the home. This is a tamed space; a complete piece of staged Americana, partly constructed with materials from Home Depot and decorated with items from thrift stores. The car and sofa are my own handiwork. While this space is not a playroom, the car and washing basin do contain moving parts, and function similar to toys. Like the playroom, there is also a suggestion of a presence, not the boyish, but grandmotherly and the feminine.”
The contraptions that Dillemuth constructs are a combination of either large, wooden machine forms fabricated out of hand carved/whittled sticks, branch and board and joined with tinker toy like connectors with fabric additions, while the other objects are wholly sewn forms without any wooden structure. The machine forms all have articulated joints allowing the parts to move with a variety of nonsensical but visually, logical functions. These works are interactive and invite the viewer to complete the creative process by becoming the activator/operator of the machine or contraption. The wholly sewn forms are much more passive in that respect. It is in the articulation of the joints that imbues Dillemuth’s work with deeper meaning. To the casual viewer we are at first struck by the sheer delight of these objects, the color the scale and the movements, but with a more sensitive inspection of the relationships between the various parts, a deeper psychological implication begins to emerge. The skins of fabric are pulled and stretched across, over and through the lattice stick structures as in the piece titled, ‘Double Decker Long John Minimal’ Men’s, white, cotton, long underwear have been cut and stretched in various directions across two, stacked, cubed space frames. The upper stick frame is joined to a twin lower stick frame at a common hub at each vortices and the entire structure rests on four bedsprings. When activated by a foot pedal and a small motor, the entire structure begins to shiver and shake, and the stoic minimalism of the cubed forms is instantly transformed into an anthropomorphic gesture of sexual innuendo.
Mr. Dillemuth’s allusions to boyish or girlish bodily innocence are loaded with psyco-sexual drama, and his craft of joinery and articulation of parts goes far beyond their material means. Symbol is joined to symbol, the movement of one form in relationship to another creates symbolic gestures which in turn often set in motion a stream of thoughts or ideations triggering the funny bone which in turn creates that wry smile you see throughout the gallery audience. We are taken from our initial Rube Goldberg, Dr. Seuss perceptions of these colorfully exotic and absurd images into a mental construct, closer perhaps, to an artist like Henry Darger, with all of the implications of the dangers of childhood innocence. Dillemuth’s ability to invoke and decipher profound symbolic meanings about gender, relationships and our own sense of innocence is masterful and delightfully pure, both in concept and expression.
un/bridled ran through March 2nd.
Mr. Dillemuth is represented by theKunstRaum H&H Gallery in Cologne, Germany he is also on view at the Z-one Gallery in Osaka, Japan.
Trolley Dances is authentic homegrown San Diego culture: an annual event of site-specific dances linked together by the city’s light rail system.
Like San Diego’s other indigenous art forms — surfing, sailing, scuba — Trolley Dances is site-specific in a larger sense by happening mostly outdoors, and in environments far less organized and more dynamic than the typical performance hall. As a result, Trolley Dance viewers seeking to optimize their esthetic experience are obliged to work hard at siting themselves, at the risk of just plain missing the show.
At this level of commitment one does not attend Trolley Dances so much as surf it: the crowds are thick, the sight lines few and shifty. You have to plot strategy, keep your eyes open, and stay light on your feet.
First and foremost: Thank you to all those who participated and made Art Tap Out a success.
Thank you’s to:
Kevin Freitas – critic
Omar Pimienta – artist Round 1 presenting “Lady Libertad”
Suzanne Wright – artist Round 2 presenting “The Whole Future”
Micha Cardenas and Elle Mehrmand – artists Round 3 presenting “technésexual”
Also thank you to:
Megan Willis, Eddie Miramontes, Il Young Son, Josh Bellfy, Joy Boe, and Mike Lohr
and of course the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Also, as usual, the audience played such an important role in this event. Thank you all who participated.
Art Tap Out 3 is over and in post-event conversation there seems to be some ongoing dialogue about some of the issues raised during the event by each artist’s work. This dialogue also raises questions about the positive aspects of Art Tap Out as well as it’s limitations. Each round contained interesting questions. Some of these, from my point of view in the ring, were:
In practices that purport to create works which are socially beneficial to a certain group, would those resources used to create that work be better allocated by the people within the targeted group rather than filtered through an artist? Does this create a heirarchical situation? Is the role of the artist to create conditions rather than simply distribute resources?
Is amateur psychoanalysis a good starting point for the critique and defense of a work of art? Should childhood experiences be so thoroughly examined and expounded upon when what is presented is clearly addressing issues other than this subjective interpretation?
Is it still an effective strategy to use the image of an “idealized” woman in the critique of the representation of women? Does this continue to perpetuate these stereotypes?
In a culture where violence is so prevalent that the form of the “ring of combat” is so easily recognizable and accepted, why does the performance of two naked, embracing bodies still create such visceral reactions? What is the relationship between virtual embracing bodies and material embracing bodies? Can the virtual (second life and performance) convey the intimacy of two beings together? Was this gratuitous sex or an intimate moment made public through performative actions? or both?
If the safety of institutions removes the possibility of a work of art engaging an audience at the level of the social and/or the political in any real, lasting terms, doesn’t that make the forum of Art Tap Out itself redundant?
All interesting questions and of course not comprehensive.
Additionally, people continue to call for the declaration of winners. In my opinion deeming one side a winner circumvents the underlying idea of what Art Tap Out is about to begin with: dialogue, with art as its starting point.
These are the thoughts from the perspective of being inside the ring. Below are images and video of the work to assist in the conversation. Comments gladly welcomed.
technesexual excerpt // Duke University // Micha Cárdenas and Elle Mehrmand from azdel slade on Vimeo.]]>
Half-consciously, though, there is the more indigenous dream that the adventure is everything…
— Kaprow, Happenings in the New York Scene
Last month Agitprop presented Coatlicue mi Amor, a performance by The Border Corps, a group of San Diego artists, musicians, and performers. In its density of information and feeling, Coatlicue was by far the most ambitious and successful event I’ve witnessed to date at Agitprop, and not by coincidence it’s taken me a month to figure out how to write about it.
Billed as a happening, Coatlicue felt more closely positioned between traditional performance art and current trends in interactive theatre. Its hybrid nature made for a wild ride: rather than simply disappearing, the fourth wall seemed to be in constant motion throughout the Agitprop space, flying up, down, or inverting polarity as various scenes unfolded.
Throughout the fourth-wall gymnastics, backstage remained overhead and crucial, as Border Corpsmen Armando de la Torre and Anthony Vasquez worked full-time through the performance spinning a dense web of real-time audio and video around performers Endy, Perry Vasquez, and Shondra Dawson.
The work was structured in three parts: the dreams of two vividly REM-state dreamers; a satirical review of recent and ongoing commercial crypto-genocides (the gods are more subtle these days); and a traditional Catholic liturgy recounting in lurid detail the historical genocide of the Island Carib people at the hands of conquistadores.
At this point I’d normally attempt a detailed description of these parts, but doing so would require more pages than could fit on this blog, and would only lead the reader further and further away from the intense theatricality engendered by the performance. Words fail me — you had to be there.
Never overplaying its hand (except perhaps in the topical Haiti references), the entire production displayed subtle signs of being well-thought-out to the n’th degree:
I know of several people who missed this event and regret it. Word is that a repeat performance may occur at Agitprop in the indefinite future — watch for it.
Machine Project is a Los Angeles based non-profit arts organization, a storefront exhibition space, and purveyor of DIY workshops in the spirit of the Maker Faire.
LACMA is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest encyclopedic museum west of Chicago, and a patchwork complex of seven buildings ranging in style from 30′s streamline moderne to Jetsons 60′s to bad 80′s to Wright-ian organic to bland contemporary. (Hold that thought.)
Machine Project at LACMA was a one-day event where MP took over the LACMA campus, inserting Machine esthetic into a museum setting to the tune of 55 artist projects.
MP’s artistic logic was straightforward: counterpoint the classic museum attributes of stasis, high art, and quiet contemplation with ephemerality, low craft, and sonic assault.
LACMA’s institutional logic for hosting such an event proved cagier and ultimately more satisfying artistically: in a word, demographics. Anyone familiar with current art museum programming knows of the various special programs designed to lure anybody under 30 into the galleries. Compared with such events, MP at LACMA was a veritable Burning Man of youth programming.
And the primary lure was all too familiar: the dominant global art form of the past half century, aka music. To MP’s credit there was not a DJ in sight; instead we got tablas, glass harmonicas, feedback loops, ambient drone remixes, elevator marching bands, barbershop hum quartets, mid-century modern folk song, speed metal guitar solos, and build-your-own synthesizers. In sum, everything necessary to retool the museum’s traditionally contemplative space into the kind of high-stimulus environment necessary to captivate a generation of electronically-enhanced short attention spans.
What made so much of it work so well (recall held thought) is the structural irregularity of the LACMA campus: the very same irregularity that the LACMA trustees once dreamed of razing. But bad architecture can make for good ecosystems, and the LACMA campus offered dozens of niches for MP interventions that in their siting showed signs of acute intelligence operating behind the din.
The speed metal guitarist was planted on the second-floor patio of the Art Of The Americas building, enabling his blissfully context-free sonic projections to blat through various museum courtyards like thunder through the canyons of the High Sierra.
Similarly, the elevator marching band could be heard continuously as its elevator car floated up and down the atrium lobby of the Ahmanson building, changing only in volume as the door opened and closed on various floors, revealing the heretofore unknown acoustics of elevator cars and shafts.
As the day wound to a close, natural processes contributed the strongest project of the bunch, wafting the entire LACMA campus with the delicate scent not of popcorn but burning chaparral, conceptually fulfilling the prophecies of troublemakers from generations past.
One of the big surprises of the 2007 San Diego wildfires was the instant rise to international fame of Qualcomm Stadium as shelter, haven, and general beacon of humanity for tens of thousands of refugees. Photojournalists the world over descended on San Diego, and their collective photographer’s eye discovered a little-known fact: the Stadium is in fact a stunning and historically significant piece of mid-century modern architecture.
Tickled by the stadium’s proto-Bilbao-esque forms, the photojournalists proceeded to invent a new genre of architectural disaster photography, equal parts Shulman and Salgado. The resulting images carry the story, and they look great.
The irony in this sequence of events is that ever since the city built the new Petco Park downtown, Qualcomm Stadium has been framed as a civic white elephant in need of extensive and architecturally fatal multi-use redevelopment.
But now that the stadium has received (both in name and in image) an inestimable amount of solid-gold international media exposure, any future efforts to bury the existing stadium beneath high-density housing and parking garages could easily be reframed as the civic equivalent of tearing down the Statue of Liberty. It would make for interesting media coverage.
Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Robyn Beck (Agence France-Presse); Chris Park (Associated Press Photo); Stan Liu (Reuters); AP Photo.