(Sally McKay is on blog-sabbatical, writing her PhD.)
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Maggie MacDonald's the Rat King Mini Rock Opera
The time will come to pass / when wealth and social class / will be as meaingless / as rat's feet over broken glass
I went to see the Tin Tin Tin performance (curated by Carl Wilson at Toronto's new Drake Hotel ) on a whim, and came away stunned and moved. The music was good. I liked Three-Ring Circuits quite a bit although Jonny Dovercourt's stagey attempt to shush the talkative audience was unfortunate. It's your job to win our attention, Mr.Guy-On-Stage. I liked Act 3 (Polmo Polpo, Great Bob Scott, & Chris Gartner) okay: live jazz to a projection of super 8 film (baboons with a warthog and a leopard) that was being aesthetically slowed, paused and melted on the spot, to nerve-wracking effect. Kinda like a snuff-film, only its the film itself that's getting snuffed (plus, maybe some baboons, when the leopard shows up).
But all this is preamble to the main event: the Rat King Mini Rock Opera, by Maggie MacDonald (sorry for the lame link - I know there must be better out there), which was grEAt! This performance was supposedly a 'workshop' or 'rough' run-through, but it captivated and transported us (we audience), bad wigs, funny rat-hats, gawky on-stage props, reading-from-scripts and all. The music was great and Magali Meagher took performative control with such poignant panache, that we all surrendered our disbelief en mass. Jes Singer was calm and confident as the lanky, scary dad with daughter issues, and John Caffrey made a lovely rat king, complete with jiggling third-hand, protruding from the torso. This was very fine, small-venue, scary/funny, cathartic theatre the way those ancient Greek dudes made it up to be.
Canadian Art Quote #3
Dowler is writing here about the controversies that arose when the National Gallery of Canada purchased Barnett Newman's "Voice of Fire" in 1990, and then again when they exhibited Jana Sterbak's "Vanitas" (aka. meat dress) in 1991.
From the "In Defense of the Realm: Public Controversy and the Apologetics of Art" published in the anthologoy Theory Rules published by YYZ Books and University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1996. pg.82
The collapse of the distinction between, on the one hand, the sphere of aesthetic production and reception and, on the other, the spheres of everyday social and political interaction, even if only brief, can produce some interesting and unanticipated consequences. Until recently, the uselessness of art, its pure negativity, ensured its freedom to function as critique, since it rested beyond (and therefore was incapable of infecting) the horizon of everday life. However, with the erosion of the autonomy of aesthetic practice and the broadening of the scope of reception (once encouraged by the avant-garde), art can no longer hold the priviledged position that was the sign of both its freedom from constraint and its lack of utility.
Ironically, the occasions which do seem to produce some social effects and which would indicate a certain success as regards the claim for the centrality of aesthetic experience have led instead to a shrill rhetoric in defense of artistic (and, concomitantly, institutional) freedom. This appears to run into a contradiction that emerges in relation to both aesthetic practices and discourses: the persistent desire, first expressed by the avant-garde, to reunite aesthetic experience with quotidian experience, and the insistence that art remain immune to the social and political criticism of its contents.
I started the day ready to post something cynical about valentine's and red dye #2. but then I read today's beautiful post over at Mr. Wilson's Arboretum. Thanks for this Alex: "Sex is Nature, while Love is Culture, but a connective tissue of metaphor (which is to say, meaning) grows between, and knits our bodies to our souls. "
Michael Frayn's very good play, Copenhagen, revolves around a strange socio-political event in quantum physics. In 1941, patriotic german physicist Werner Heisenberg went to Nazi-occupied Denmark to visit his past mentor and collaborator, Neils Bohr. For Bohr, Danish and half-Jewish, to welcome a German into his home at this point in time was a deep compromise. For Heisenberg to present himself in the role of dinner guest was a terrible imposition.
The top-notch Jewish phsyicists were out of Germany. No scientists in occupied Europe were able to communicate with the US or Britain, yet physicists all over the world were working on nuclear fission. Nobody had the bomb quite yet. So why did Heisenberg come to Copenhagen? This is the central question of the play, which has only three characters, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohr's wife, Margarethe.
Did Heisenberg go to Copenhagen to warn Bohr that the Nazis were near to having the bomb? To find out if Bohr knew whether the Allies had the bomb? To get Bohr to stop the Allies from building the bomb? To get Bohr to stop him, Heisenberg, from building the bomb? To get absolution from Bohr for building the bomb? To test himself in the presence of Bohr, to force the issue of whether he, Heisenberg, was going to build the bomb or not? Did he trick himself into thinking that the chain reaction would take too much U235? Did he truly neglect to do the calculations? Was he lying? Did he really have that much power? Heisenberg spent the rest of the war trying to build a reactor. Hitler never got the bomb. Bohr went on (among others) to help USA build the bomb*. The US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The main strength of the play is that it spins a web of possible interpretations, like an electron cloud, around the central event of the visit. It is surprisingly emotional, threading physics in and through huge cut-to-the-bone politics and the charged, potent, initimacy between competitive old friends and colleagues.
The weakness of the play is its romantic individualism. Heisenberg is saddled with the power to advocate to the Nazis for or against researching the bomb. He feels the fate of the worlds in his hands. Perhaps it was to some degree, but the fiction-like narrative structure makes too much of it.
Heisenberg is given some lines to the effect that his uncertainty principle is the advent of a 'new humanism' because it puts humans back at the centre of things. (As soon as you measure something, you introduce a new element that dictates the state of your measurement, so that, in effect, you create the world as you measure it.) I didn't buy it in semiotics, and I don't buy it here either. But, as in semiotics, the idea that our perception of meaning is meaning can be an extremely generative thought experiment. Too arrogant, however, when translated into big theatre about big important men.
*An interesting follow-up to Frayn's play is that Neils Bohr's estate released into the public domain a letter that he wrote to Heisenberg about their visit. Of course it is in hindsight and only tells Bohr's side of the story. But it's worth reading if you see the play!
Atom Bomb Chronology by Tokyo Physicians for Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
Doomsday Clock by Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
guess I'm still a newbie. I had the admin wrong on this page so anyone could post, thinking that was required for comments to be enabled. Just got an anonymous post that probably should have been a comment (below), though I'm not sure to what thread. I've fixed it now, sorry everyone.
Ursula Franklin from The Real World of Technology Massey Lectures, Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1990
Looking at technology as practice, indeed as formalized practice, has some quite interesting consequences. One is that it links technology directly to culture, because culture, after all, is a set of socially accepted practices and values. Well laid down and agreed upon practices also define the practitioners as a group of people who have something in common because of the way they are doing things.
. . . I sat in the back of a large meeting room, listening to a long and boring discussion. I began to knit. A young woman came over, sat down next to me, and whispered, "I'd like to talk to you. You knit just like my mother." Of course, her mother was also German, and there is a German way of knitting.
I think it is important to realize that technology defined as practice shows us the deep cultural link of technology, and it saves us from thinking that technology is the icing on the cake. Technology is part of the cake itself.
Like democracy, technology is a multifaceted entity. It includes activities as well as a body of knowledge, structures as well as the act of structuring. Our language itself is poorly suited to describe the complexity of technological interactions. The interconnectedness of many of those processes, the fact that they are so complexly interrelated, defies our normal push-me-pull-you, cause-and-consequence metaphors. How does one talk about something that is both fish and water, means as well as end?
clockwise from top: "Flutter Nutter" (detail), 2003, "Crushed" (detail), 2004, "Neapolitan Sunset" (detail) 2003
As part of the now disbanded collective, Bucky and Fluff's Craft Factory, Allyson Mitchell has been using this over-the-top artsy-crafty style for awhile, with a blowyourmind, sequins and macramé, girl-positive, glitter-glue and plastic toys, quantity over quality approach that's always been fun but pretty light fare. Now, in The Fluff Stands Alone, Mitchell has focussed that frenetic energy into a really solid body of work. This big, ambitious series of wall hangings and bedspreads reinvents the women of Playboy cartoons as fuzzy, happy, flocked and fun-furred beasts. Mitchell's sense of kittenish play is still here in spades, but the work has taken on a satisfying weight and presence. I resisted the tempation to rub my face on the art, but I'm sure others did not.