(Sally McKay is on blog-sabbatical, writing her PhD.)
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Power Plant brochure with painting by Daniel Richter
|It takes me forever to go to art shows. I recently went down to see the current show at The Power Plant and because I'd already heard everybody else griping about how bad it is, I ended up liking it much more than I thought. In fact, I actually got caught taking pictures of Daniel Richter's work and had to erase them in front of the gallery attendant. D-OH! I'm not easily mortified, but that did it. Later I realised that the shot I wanted is the exact same one they used on the cover of the free brochure. So here's a picture of that instead, as it looks sitting on my window ledge.
Enough anecdote...on with the art review! Daniel Richter's paintings caught me off guard. I spent a full five minutes in battle with myself, saying "these are horrible, and everyone knows it" while at the exact same time digging them quite a bit. They are scratchy and ugly and too big for their britches. They are animistic, apocalyptic doomsday carnivals that remind me of Euorpean science fiction and revolution. The one on the brochure, titled, "Das Missverstandnis" (now that I have the spelling right, I think the translation is "The Misunderstanding" ... any help with this would be appreciated), depicts a motely crew of feathered, costumed folk, come up from town to pay some sort of strange homage or serenade to a big tree full of birds. Yet all the while a predatory, knowing, radioactive cat is stalking the scene and giving us art viewers the nod. An interesting note on Richter is that he used to paint abstraction, and recently, suddenly, took on rendered space, representational form, and content. It's an unusual transition. There is an image of one of his abstract works from 1999 here.
Cloaca, image stolen from artnet.com
|The main event, of course, is Wim Delvoye's "Cloaca", a big machine that has been exhibited all over the world, and takes food (in this case table scraps from a fancy downtown Toronto restaurant) and, through a complicated process that replicates human digestion, produces small, demure portions of poo. One of my friends who saw it early in the run complained that it was too clean and sterile. I believe the exact words were : "much too clinical for an ass-licker like me." But by the time I got down there the damn thing stank badly and I was kind of impressed. I could barely stand in the room for the time it took to tour of the mechanism, and fled before I'd seen quite as much as I wanted. The gallery attendant (a different one) was very generous with information, and shared with me that when she goes home from work, people sitting next to her on the streetcar wrinkle up their noses and go "sniff sniff." Geez, thanks, Wim. I liked the sad cyborg aspect of this work, but I think the digs at both corporate culture (see the Mr. Clean w/bowels icon and "buy feces now" slogan) and art world preciousness are add-ons, making up a shaky, ironic patina that fails to function as subversion, but gives the piece a detrimental sheen of political correctness.|
Last night as I was watching TV my normally restless clicky-thumb stopped on a show called The Fifties, The Fear And The Dream. The imagery that caught my eye was Levittown, a model new community in New York for GIs returning from the war to have their families. Thank you for the f88king ugly suburbs, William Levitt. The show, however, a simple straightforward Canadian-made history, cast these middle-low income burbs in a contextual light that made more sense to me than usual, the extreme social value placed on an affordable patch of lawn a reward for enduring wartime: enough with catastrophic world events, time to look after me and mine. It was an understandable reaction, too bad it's now an internalised, systemic ideology. There's a good website on Levittown here (where I stole the picture above).
My friend J. reminded me today that the USA is based on single heros doing big things, while Canada is based on groups of individuals doing small things. My reiteration here is oversimplified, but this idea somehow oddly helped me in my current anxiety about the USA. The grand symbolic gesture of the nuclear bomb...too much power...is a singular icon. Nuclear physics also employed powerful, charismatic, and icnonic personalities. In some lights Oppenheimer is the most romantic, tragic anti-hero I can imagine: responsible for the A-bomb and the deaths of cities of people, remorseful and politicised, arguing passionately against Teller's (who, I just found out, is the inspiration for the Dr. Strangelove character...makes perfect sense, duh) plans for the H-bomb and the potential deaths of countries, continents, even planets. There is footage of Oppenheimer in the documentary, a man in pain in an impossible position, speaking, imploring his country to see people in other lands (ie: potential victims of hydrogen bombs) as "men like ourselves". I've been looking for the quote and can't find it. But I did find this (below), I think from the same interview with Edward R. Murrow in 1954.
Oppenheimer on secrecy: "The trouble with secrecy is that it denies to the government itself the wisdom and the resources of the whole community, of the whole country, and the only way you can do this is to let almost anyone say what he thinks - to try to give the best synopses, the best popularizations, the best mediations of technical things that you can, and to let men deny what they think is false - argue what they think is false, you have to have a free and uncorrupted communication.
"And this is - this is so the heart of living in a complicated technological world - it is so the heart of freedom that that is why we are all the time saying, `Does this really have to be secret?' `Couldn't you say more about that?' `Are we really acting in a wise way?' Not because we enjoy chattering - not because we are not aware of the dangers of the world we live in, but because these dangers cannot be met in any other way.
"The fact is, our government cannot do without us - all of us."
Common Dreams has an excellent, cheering (in a hell-in-a-handbasket kind of way) essay by 81-year-old Kurt Vonnegut.
"By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."
My neighbourhood has Nighthawks. In the summer I sleep with my head next to a window, and I can hear them going peent peent* as they dart around up above the rowhouses, conducting their nocturnal flycatching activities.
*according to Roger Tory Peterson (actually the cry really does sound like that, which is part of the reason I like them)
* Krazy Kat was supposedly genderless, but I guess the guy is entitled to his opinion.
Excerpts from Naomi Klein at rabble.ca, Mutiny Is The Only Way Out
"The last month of U.S. aggression in Iraq has inspired what can only be described as a mutiny: waves of soldiers, workers and politicians under the command of the U.S. occupation authority suddenly refusing to follow orders and abandoning their posts. First Spain announced that it would withdraw its troops, then Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Kazakhstan. South Korean and Bulgarian troops were pulled back to their bases, while New Zealand is withdrawing its engineers. El Salvador, Norway, the Netherlands and Thailand will likely be next."
"And then there's the U.S.-controlled Iraqi army. Since the latest wave of fighting, its soldiers have been donating their weapons to resistance fighters in the south and refusing to fight in Falluja. By late April, Major General Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armoured Division, was reporting that “about 40 per cent walked off the job because of intimidation. And about 10 per cent actually worked against us.”
"And it's not just Iraq's soldiers who have been deserting the occupation. Four ministers of the Iraqi governing council have resigned in protest; and half the Iraqis with jobs in the secured “green zone” — as translators, drivers, cleaners — are not showing up for work. Minor mutinous signs are emerging even within the ranks of the U.S. military: privates Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey have applied for refugee status in Canada as conscientious objectors, and Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia is facing court martial after he refused to return to Iraq on the grounds that he no longer knew what the war was about."
"There is a way that the UN can redeem itself in Iraq: it could choose to join the mutiny, further isolating the United States. This would help to force Washington to hand over real power — ultimately to Iraqis, but first to a multilateral coalition that did not participate in the invasion and occupation and would have the credibility to oversee direct elections. This could work, but only through a process that fiercely protects Iraq's sovereignty." [details follow: ditch the interim constitution, put the money in trust, de-Chalabify Iraq, demand the withdrawal of US troops]
rabble.ca is a new kind of publication, one built on the efforts of progressive journalists, writers, artists and activists across the country. We launched rabble on April 18, 2001, just before the protests against the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, and leapt onto the Net with the kind of coverage you could only get from the point of view of the rabble. We have covered events and issues in ways you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else ever since. rabble.ca fuses the hot energy of activism with the cool eye of journalism. We feature some of the best progressive writers in Canada. Some will be known to you; others are the new and emerging voices you've been straining to hear.
Common Dreams is an eclectic mix of politics, issues and breaking news with an emphasis on progressive perspectives that are increasingly hard to find with our corporate-dominated media.
Democracy Now! has launched an expanded, two-hour War and Peace Report in order to meet a growing demand for trustworthy, independent news and information in this time of war. The War and Peace Report provides our audience with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the U.S. corporate-sponsored media, including independent and international journalists, ordinary people from around the world who are directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, grassroots leaders and peace activists, artists, academics and independent analysts. In addition, the War and Peace Report hosts real debates – debates between people who substantially disagree, such as between the White House or the Pentagon spokespeople on the one hand, and grassroots activists on the other.
TalkLeft is not a neutral site. Our mission is to intelligently and thoroughly examine issues, candidates and legislative initiatives as they pertain to constitutional rights, particularly those of persons accused of crime.
I recently saw Logan's Run again for the first time since I was a teenager. It's a curious film. I remembered it as a tight little dystopic narrative, a neat, discrete vision of the future to stack up with Andromeda Strain and Planet of the Apes. The first third fits this model, but as the protagonists approach and breach the boundaries of the city, the story becomes more and more surreal. Eventually Peter Ustinov shows up, talking in cryptic verse. There are serveral highly choreographed modern dance type scenes, such as the carousel, where costumed folks in tights are hauled upward on not-so-invisible wires.There is also a truly strange A.I. moment in which the computer at a security checkpoint grills Michael York about consorting with lefties (Runners) while at the same time re-assigning him to a top secret mission, and changing the colour of his palm crystal (or life clock), thereby significantly shortening his life. The computer, passive/aggressive and omniscient, says very little while Logan stumbles and staggers through a series of "questions" that seems far too evocative for effective communication with a machine. I've excerpted this discussion below. The entire transcript has been made available online by Joe Rauner. There is a pretty thorough synopsis of the film (with images) here, at transparencynow.com.
C: Logan 5, approach and identify. (APPROACH AND IDENTIFY) Sit facing the screen, Logan 5. (IDENTIFY) Identify. (IDENTITY AFFIRMED: PROCEDURE: 033-03). Logan 5, do you identify this object?
L: Negative. Question, what is it?
C: That is the name of the object, "ankh". (ANKH, SANCTUARY) Do you identify this word, "Sanctuary"?
C: “Sanctuary” is a pre-catastrophe code word used for a place of immunity.
L: I don’t understand.
C: The object “ankh” has been identified with the code word “Sanctuary”. The object and the word both relate to runners who have not been accounted for.
C: Hold. (UNACCOUNTED RUNNERS: 1056) Unaccounted runners 1056. You may state your question.
L: 1056 unaccounted for?
C: The number is correct.
L: That’s impossible. Question, maybe they weren’t all runners. Maybe most of them reached life renewal on Carousel. (UNACCOUNTED RUNNERS: 1056) Question, nobody reached renewal? But, everybody believes that, that some ...
C: The question has been answered, Logan 5. (PROCEDURE: 03303)
L: You mean, nobody’s ever been renewed?
C: The question has been answered. You are authorized to penetrate City seals and search outside the Dome. (PROCEDURE: 033-03)
L: Umm, seals? Question, what seals? Outside? Well, there’s, there’s nothing outside.
C: You will find Sanctuary, and destroy. (PROCEDURE: 033-03)
L: Question, what if I need help from another Sandman?
C: Negative. You will begin assignment by becoming a runner seeking Sanctuary.
L: Question. I’m only a Red 6 now. How can I pretend that I’m approaching Lastday?
C: Identify. (PROCEDURE: RETROGRAM) [Red crystal below Logan glows. He is age-progressed. His life clock now blinks]
L: My life clock. Question. My life clock!
C: (RETROGRAM COMPLETE) Retrogram complete. Proceed 033 03.
L: But am I still Red 6? But I had 4 more years! I will get them back, won't I?
C: You will take the object "ankh" with you for identification.
L: Question. Do I get my 4 years back? [computer falls silent]
|Please have a look at my ongoing art and physics project, The Trouble with Oscillation. I am launching this phase of the storyboard as part of this weekend's weewerk exhibition in Toronto (with Rebecca Diederichs, Gordon Hicks and Corinna Ghaznavi). Please have a browse through the story and leave your trace (ie: make comments, post links). If you are in Toronto, come down and see the show.
Many thanks to everyone on Digital Media Tree, Joe, Kristin, Mark,Tom, and other posters to this blog who have been helping me shape the project since November.