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From the press release for "Icon," a two person exhibit at homeroom, Munich, Germany:
homeroom presents new “object paintings” by Munich-based artist Tom Früchtl and a selection of C-prints from the photographic series, Electric Mind, by Los Angeles-based Jennifer Stratford. The work of both artists deals with symbols of late-1970s and early 1980s youth culture—namely, amplifiers and video games whose iconic status derived from their association with play and leisure time, independence and power.
For the exhibition, Früchtl, who is both an artist and musician, has created two life-size, cardboard amplifiers which he calls Pappstar 1, Marshall and Pappstar 3, Orange, word plays on the German term for cardboard (Pappe), the English term “pop,” and the names given to the machines by their commercial manufacturers. Even as stand-ins for the originals, Früchtl’s “loudspeakers” carry nostalgic emotional content and weight (Marshall was virtually synonymous with the “wall of sound” music and stage shows of bands such as Judas Priest and AC/DC). But in their reincarnation as open-backed doubles, Früchtl’s amps are more walls of surface that deliver new content on borrowed style and question what the role of painting can or should be.
By contrast, Jennifer Stratford’s 20 x 30 inch C-prints chronicle every aspect of video game culture from darkened parlors to entranced players, boxy machines to low-tech graphics. The photos are part of an ongoing project Stratford began two years ago after seeing a cast-off Asteroids machine on the back of a pick-up truck on a California freeway. She was struck by “how American it was to waste a big hulking giant that once gave us the feeling of outer space.” Her search to understand and perhaps reclaim that liberation has produced a body of work that, by turns, abstracts the games into visually pleasing patterns and records the banal and introverted dimensions of play, where feelings of pleasure, excitement, and involvement are closely linked to states of pathological immersion and escape. A limited edition CD, We're All Players, a collection of music inspired by video games and compiled by Stratford is available for €10.
The show runs from 22 March - 16 May 2003; for information contact Courtenay Smith at email@example.com
Noam Chomsky is one of the few people who bucked the conventional wisdom that bombing Afghanistan was good--before and after we "won." He also opposed the Kosovo war back in Clinton time, earning him the scorn of liberals who support humanitarian intervention. The MIT prof is the subject of a passive-aggressive hatchet piece in the New Yorker this week. It's one of those mini-biographies, where a staff writer talks about Chomsky's academic battles as a linguist, his current schedule of intensive travel and speechifying, his wife, his grooming--while subtly reinforcing the official line that he's a bad egg. For example:
Chomsky is not a pacifist on principle, but when it comes to the United States he has never supported an intervention. The country's record is just too damning, he says: to expect better in the future is to indulge in willful self-delusion. States, he believes, can never be moral actors. But when asked to suggest a better way--an alternative to intervention in, say, Bosnia or Kosovo or Rwanda, to stop massacres currently taking place--he has no ideas to offer. Those are, he says, difficult cases. He does not know how to think about them.I recommend perusing Chomsky's writing archive at znet to see whether he "doesn't know how to think" about Kosovo, in particular. He points out that there was no "flood of refugees" there before the start of the war, as interventionists claimed, and attacks the double standard of the US arming the Turks against their own Kurdish population at the same time as we were "protecting" the Kosovars. He argues that Milosevic would have been toppled eventually through his own political blunders, and that the US bombing was an unnecessary aggravation. In general, he thinks it's better for countries to remove their own bad leaders a la Ceausescu than suffer the indignity of having it done for them. Whether one agrees with any of this or not, it's kind of deceitful to say it's not a position.
Wireframe Aesthetics (Part 1)
Escape from New York, 1981. John Carpenter couldn't afford wireframe computer simulation for his low budget film, so a model of New York City was constructed for the sole purpose of being photographed and rendered as a negative image. Escape from New York. Image as it appears in cockpit of Snake Plissken's glider. Still from Tron, 1982 (flipped vertically). Steven Lisberger's entirely computer-generated landscape set the standard for wireframe aesthetics. Critics often refer to this film with tongues in cheeks, but they do refer to it. Stephen Hendee, Inertial Field, 1998. Sculptor Hendee makes Tron-like walk-in environments with foamcore, electrician's tape, and backlighting, thus bringing the idea full circle, to a Carpenter-esque simulation of a simulation.
Escape from New York. Image as it appears in cockpit of Snake Plissken's glider.
Still from Tron, 1982 (flipped vertically). Steven Lisberger's entirely computer-generated landscape set the standard for wireframe aesthetics. Critics often refer to this film with tongues in cheeks, but they do refer to it.
Stephen Hendee, Inertial Field, 1998. Sculptor Hendee makes Tron-like walk-in environments with foamcore, electrician's tape, and backlighting, thus bringing the idea full circle, to a Carpenter-esque simulation of a simulation.
Paul Berman, the "liberal hawk" who I posted about earlier, just published a NY Times magazine piece on Sayyid Qutb, an obscure (to us) Islamic philosopher, who apparently is the key to Berman's "Islamic fascism" hypothesis. We've been discussing it over here. In so many words, Berman says that Qutb's brand of militant religious fundamentalism has the potential to unite secular and spiritualist Arab factions that have traditionally been opposed (and still are, judging from Osama bin Laden's recent condemnation of Saddam Hussein).
Ellen Willis reviews Berman's book in Salon today, and says he's wrongheaded to support Bush's war--she calls him "naive." Berman treats Bush as a mere instrument to bring Enlightenment (i.e. liberal democracy) to spiritually mature but politically ignorant Arabs, but Willis reminds us that Bush has a fundamentalist agenda of his own. I'd say Berman is doing Bush's intellectual spadework: in his research and exegesis on Qutb, he's trying to forge a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that Bush has so far been unable to prove.
Berman says the antiwar movement makes fascism abroad possible, but by giving Bush philosophical legitimacy, he's abetting its spread here at home. The "reluctant hawk" argument (espoused by the likes of Joshua Marshall, who rah-rahed the war 'till a few days before it started) is "We need to take out Saddam, I just don't think George Bush is doing it the right way." This seems totally unrealistic and hypothetical to me. For all the center/left's blather, the only plan on the table is Bush's. And the left's first priority should be removal of that right wing nutjob by 2004 at the latest. Supporting his war helps keep him in power.
I've been a bit shy about putting pictures of myself on this site, but every once in a while someone takes a photo of me that causes me to say, "People gotta see this." So here it is. Please don't clog the comment board with praise or jealous jeers--I want to be appreciated for my ideas, not just how I look on cam.
From The Agonist, here's some news from the last country we liberated:
9:53 CST Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Laghman, a provincial capital in Afghanistan, on March 23 to protest the U.S.-led war on Iraq. An estimated10,000-plus people chanted slogans like "allah akbar" (God is Great) and burned U.S. and British flags. Many protesters were chanting "death to America, death to Britain, " the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press agency reported.
Well, I wasn't planning to include this picture in my post on the March 22 protest, because the cops had a minimal presence from what I could see. But according to bloggy, they got a little rowdy late in the day, when the protesters didn't disperse as fast as they'd like. This picture shows New York's finest in their riot helmets (behind the women), waiting for marchers near the endpoint. If ya got power, ya gotta use it, I guess.
I attended the march to protest the invasion of Iraq today in New York City. The crowd of 100,000 to 200,000 stretched from Times Square to Washington Square--this thing was big. As with the Feb. 15 rally, the mood was passionate and upbeat, with spontaneous cheering and chanting: "Money for health care! Not for war! Money for schools! Not for war! Money for libraries! Not for war!" As you can see from this picture, it was a family event, on a beautiful Spring day, and you could almost close your eyes and believe that the suits weren't raining death and madness on a faraway country, at hideous cost to all of us.
The crowd was mellow but a lot of the signs were angry. How could you not feel that way if you'd spent a couple of days watching Wolf Blitzer and Peter Arnett screaming "Whoa! Whoa! Look at the size of that one!" as downtown Baghdad was ripped to shreds? Here's the grrlpower antidote to the wargasm boys: one of the signs said "Eat my Bush."
And then there was this guy. This is a bold piece of agitprop, but of course it represents an extreme view that this page cannot in any way endorse. Can you imagine, comparing Bush to you-know-who and the WTC massacre to the Reichstag fire? Irresponsible, irresponsible.
Unlike Feb. 15, cop presence was at a minimum. I guess they figured out that the crowds of kids, moms & dads, and seniors that turn out for these events don't merit the plastic handcuffs and riot gear. Also, virtually no "pro-war" demonstrators to be seen: just a couple of disgruntled souls standing on the sidewalk shaking their heads or holding thumbs down. No hardhats screaming "Death to hippies!" I certainly have the impression that this city, which you'd think might be baying for militaristic revenge for 9/11, in fact feels emphatically the opposite. Maybe that's why Bush has decided to sacrifice us.
Salon has just posted a super-smarmy interview with "liberal hawk" Paul Berman, who espouses the Christopher Hitchens line that "Islamofascism" is the deadliest threat facing the world today. Forget that we're talking about mostly Stone Age countries riven with tribal and nationalist infighting, and forget that what he calls Baathist (pan-Arab) and Islamist tendencies are utterly opposed (he describes them equivocally as "rivals/cousins"). Yes, henceforth these people will unite and goosestep together in one great, monolithic nation that will make the Ottoman empire look like a high school chess club. That is, unless we stop them. And by "we" Berman means George Bush, even though he whines that the interviewer is "trying to pin him down" in expressing support for the Iraq takeover. He spits venom at antiwar protesters, comparing them to the French socialists who ignored the Nazi threat, and asks a loaded question: How horrible must they feel seeing photos of tearful Iraqis embracing their "liberators"? (Duh, don't you think those are precisely the images Bush & Co want us to see?) Berman thinks protesters should stop demonstrating and start agitating for more democracy in Iraq. It rattles the brain that he's so focused on stopping fascism abroad he can't see it growing at blitzkrieg pace in his own country.
Ironically, those alarm bells are being rung much more loudly by the hard, libertarian right than the "help others even if it kills them" left. An essay in the Moonie-owned Washington Times, by archconservative Paul Craig Roberts, actually compares Bush to Hitler! Here, at least, is someone who is worried about the Administration's use of forged evidence as a pretext for war.
The news media are really into this war thing, huh?
I'm following all this on the Internet because I can't bear the TV coverage. I don't have much to say that other weblogs aren't saying more eloquently, except, if you're reading this outside the USA:
Sorry, not all of us agree with the current government. We're having a little "Nazis taking root" problem and hopefully we'll have it fixed by the next election.
Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy (Blue, White, and Red) was recently released on DVD, and I just watched White again, after having seen it in the theater in '94. It's the least discussed but for some reason my favorite of the trilogy--it's certainly lingered longest in my memory. The plot in a nutshell (spoilers): Karol Karol is a Polish hairdresser ditched by his beautiful French wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) because he can't "consummate the marriage." Dead broke and on the lam because she has falsely accused him of setting fire to her shop, he ships himself back to Poland in a suitcase. Communism has just fallen and he uses some lucky inside information to get rich in a real estate deal. Still desperately in love with Dominique, he hatches a weird plot, making her co-executor of his estate, faking his own death, and framing her for murder. After the funeral he shows up in her hotel room and they make passionate love, but she goes to the slammer nevertheless; at the end of the movie he visits her in prison (presumably by buying a guard's silence) and she communicates a message, using Charades-like hand gestures, from a barred window high above him: "When I get out, I will not run away; I will (re)marry you." In the last shot of the movie, Karol lowers his binoculars and we see tears of happiness streaming from his eyes.
The commentary track clarifies the confusing, albeit moving, ending. When I first saw it I just assumed Karol was wealthy and influential enough to officially resurrect himself and have the charges against Dominique dismissed, once she'd sworn to be faithful to him. She cried at his "funeral" so he knows she still loves him, even though the renewal of her vows is coerced. The audio commentator (a Kieslowksi expert) says that deleted scenes make it clear that Karol tried and failed to get the charges dropped and was still "dead" when that last scene takes place. A Spanish critic opined that Dominique's hand gestures were only Karol's fantasy, and the movie ends with him just as frustratingly removed from his wife as he was at the beginning. Yet the DVD commentator notes that in an earlier (non-deleted) scene we hear that "the lawyer is making progress" (toward Dominique's acquittal) and in the movie Red, you see Karol and Dominique together among the ferry survivors, so there's a belated happy ending.
Feminist film critics have condemned Kieslowski (and this movie in particular) for misogyny, and it's true Dominique is one-dimensional--she serves mainly as Karol's tormentor and object of longing. The plot revolves around him, and he's enormously sympathetic. Dominique is a memorable harpy in the film's first reel--when Karol fails to satisy her, she files for divorce, cuts off his bank cards, and accuses him of arson. In view of this terror campaign, Karol's use of the Polish prison system to break her will seems like a perfectly reasonable countermeasure. But, then, once he gets his mojo back she becomes genuinely affectionate. In truth, they're both strong and determined people, even though he's the better drawn character; the movie's more about him conquering his co-dependency than shackling her. And his bounce back in the middle of the film from utter humiliation truly exhilarates.
Here's a quick cultural core dump for the past couple of weeks. Sorry, it just builds up. Also, trying to keep my mind off the horror that's about to unfold abroad. I just don't understand how pundits like Joshua Marshall can sit and talk about this calmly, as if nice, normal people were running the government. Everyone should be standing outside the White House right now, holding signs and screaming at the top of their lungs. As someone who lives within a couple of miles of Ground Zero, I have to say, frankly, our leaders scare me shitless.
Armory Show, NYC. Times are hard: beautiful abstract painting sells, and so does lasciviousness, I guess, judging from the photos of attractive young people I saw sprinkled throughout the many booths (I have to admit I do like Katy Grannan's work a lot--for all the wrong reasons). Enjoyed Austrian artist Constantin Luser's installation of adolescent, pseudoscientific wall diagrams and matching sleeping bag (playing the Beatles' Something over and over on his portable stereo gave the work a touch of the nightmare). Lots of Martin Kippenberger paintings, which is always good.
Road trip to Pittman, NJ to see a double bill of The Evil Dead and Equinox. The latter may be the best film ever made--and no, it's not the 1992 Alan Rudolph movie but the Dennis Muren/Jack Woods trash horror classic from 1970. Woods himself plays the sinister park ranger, Asmodeus, who promises "All the money in the world, kid!" to Frank Bonner, who would later play Herb Tarlek on WKRP in Cincinnati. The tree r4pe scene in Evil Dead is possibly more shocking now than it was in '82. Hard to believe Raimi's now directing superhero blockbusters.
Saw David Cronenberg's Spider yesterday. The closest thing I can compare it to in terms of look and theme is his fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey. Lots of English gloom and bad teeth. Good, though.
Picked up a new Dopplereffekt 12" and Barbara Morgenstern's Nichts Muss CD yesterday. Enjoying both. Also noteworthy is The Mover's Frontal Frustration on Tresor, which Simon Reynolds describes as a "glorious slab of doomcore." The best things I've bought lately, though, have to be the reissues of The Black Dog's Parallel and Temple of the Transparent Balls. This was music I knew had to exist 10 years ago but didn't have a clue how to find. I used to stand at the Techno bin and just gape (or tape stuff off the radio without a clue what it was). Now there are books and websites that can steer you to the absolute best music from that period.
Here's another picture from Useful Photography #2, which I posted about earlier. These are images of things being sold by everyday entrepeneurs on ebay, saved and re-presented by the curators as found photography. My friend John picked up a copy of this book at Printed Matter and was carrying it around with him as he made the rounds of Chelsea galleries in NYC. A young woman working the desk at one of the biggest spaces noticed it and asked if she could look at it. John said she held onto it for about 15 minutes, slowly studying each picture. When she handed it back she said, in so many words, "This is what photography should be, not the big lavishly-produced objects we sell in this neighborhood." My sentiments exactly.
Sealab, 1997, acrylic paint, ink, paper, linen tape, 21" X 29"
Media Hos, Do Your Thang
Today's AP story on the Bush ultimatum to Saddam subtly favors the Pres, as usual. Check out the wording of this paragraph, near the end of the story:
The American public, by a 2-1 margin, generally supports military action against Iraq to remove Saddam, a slight increase from recent weeks, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll out Monday. Opinion was evenly divided when people were asked about an attack without an attempt to gain U.N. backing.But why phrase it that way if Bush has ditched the UN? I'd say my rewrite below is more fair--and, yes, free of "liberal" bias--now that the UN is out of the picture.
The American public is evenly divided (50/50) on whether military action against Iraq is proper without UN backing, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll out Monday. Military action with UN approval, which Bush makes clear is no longer an option, was favored by a 2-1 margin.
Back in October I posted the names of the Senators and Congresspeople who gullibly (or cynically) approved Bush's war plans: if you want to take another look they're here. It was completely foreseeable at that time that Junior would immediately start moving troops to the Gulf, thus making the invasion a fait accompli (note French phrase), just as his father did in the last Gulf War. But here was Sen. Hillary Clinton's morally convoluted rationale for her vote, stated to the NY Times: "She concluded that bipartisan support would make the president's success at the United Nations 'more likely and, therefore, war less likely.''" From the news today it looks like Bush just gave the finger to the UN, so instead of making war less likely, she made it inevitable. Thanks a lot.
Yipes--some stuff I saved from the New York Times later got censored by the paper! Apparently the NYPD's use of snipers on rooftops and plainclothesmen in the crowd during the Feb 15 protest has gone down the Memory Hole--reported on February 15 but deleted the next day. Here's what I highlighted and saved sometime late on the evening of the 15th and posted at 12:59 am on the 16th (scroll down just past the photos to see the original, with sarcastic comments):
The police did not disclose details of their security operation, but did say that 5,000 officers were involved. [It was mounted during one of the most intense national security alerts since the attacks of 9/11. In addition to the thousands of uniformed officers in the streets, it included sharp-shooters on rooftops, mounted officers, radiation detectors and other hazardous-materials detection and decontamination equipment, bomb-sniffing dogs and plainclothes officers mingling in the crowds.] (brackets added)The article I quoted those words from, as it currently appears in the Times online edition, no longer contains the bracketed language; the two paragraphs have been combined into one, which is now the last graf of the article. The changes occurred sometime on Feb 16. And here's another version saved on Feb 15 by the website Unknown News:
It appeared that the police had not anticipated such a large crowd. At 1:45 p.m., Chief Joseph J. Esposito, the highest-ranking uniformed officer, ordered the department's highest mobilization, a rare measure that brought 1,000 officers from precincts and other commands around town. The alert was last used in November 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in the Rockaways.
The police did not disclose details of their security operation, but it was mounted during one of the most intense national security alerts since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and it included thousands of uniformed officers in the streets, sharp-shooters on rooftops and plainclothes officers in the crowds.Interestingly, the verbiage I saved included more detail than what Unknown News quoted--perhaps because I captured it earlier in the day on the Feb 15? Their version makes no mention of mounted officers, "radiation detectors and other hazardous-materials detection and decontamination equipment," or bomb-sniffing dogs. It is incongruous that the second paragraph doesn't appear in their version, though, if in fact mine is the earlier save.
March 15, 2003 Update: Both the Memory Hole and Unknown News have added the version I found to their accounts of this. Russ Kick at the Memory Hole found independent verification of what I saved here.
The thought train that would not die. I added the following paragraph as an afterthought to my essay on Jim Lewis' Slate piece on William Eggleston (that's four prepositional phrases in sequence!):
It may well be that Eggleston's "breakthrough" enabled photo departments to collect color photos for the first time, but this is really a minor achievement, important only within the rigid, internecine structure of the contemporary art museum, since color photography *was* being collected a few doors down the hall, in the painting department. Thus, what he really did was give photographers who wanted to use color permission to do something, a handful of years early, that artists were already doing. But to be important, we expect artists to rewrite the rules of the game, not just a few intramural regulations.
If I had to pick a "great man" it would probably be [Richard] Prince, for finally, belatedly extending the logic of Duchamp and Pop art to photography (and being a malicious wit). The reason breaking the color barrier was important was that at last photography could be as permeable to the everyday (commercial, media-defined) world as painting had become under Warhol. More than a color progenitor, it might be interesting to think of Eggleston as a proto-appropriator, photographing banal commercial subject matter in a landscape setting before Prince et al came along and just removed the setting. But that's a stretch--I still think Eggleston is mainly an art photographer, whose principal contribution is injecting the poetry of color field painting into mechanically produced images.
And what comes after Prince? Found vernacular photography, culled from the internet and smartly curated. Highly recommended is a book series called Useful Photography. It's some Dutch curators (artists?) compiling photographs taken from a wide range of sources. Issue #2 is all pictures of things people are selling on ebay. It's mostly abject crap lying on blankets--stereo speakers, model kits, old shoes and hats--but the photos are magical, and all they seem really sophisticated in this context. Here's what the authors wrote on the back cover (the book's sole bit of text):
MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE NOW OWN A DIGITAL CAMERA. MANY THOUSANDS MORE SELL THEIR PERSONAL ITEMS THROUGH EBAY EVERY DAY. EVERYONE IS A PHOTOGRAPHER AND ALL THEIR HOMES ARE STUDIOS.
The folks behind this project are Hans Aarsman, Claudie de Cleen, Julian Germain, Erik Kessels, and Hans Van Der Meer. Buy the book! Eschew photo fetishism!
Here are some concert photos from PSYCH-OUT 2K3, taken by Aya Kanai. Top to bottom: Nautical Almanac, Extreme Animalz, LoVid.
More artist web pages: Some stalwart art types are still troubled that digital painter Claire Corey's work is "just abstraction" (i.e., no hidden messages saying "smash the state"), but that's like saying Stravinsky is just a composer. Scott Hug included one of her paintings in the second issue of K48 with a handwritten prescription for Ritalin on the page opposite, because the work is so psychedelified. Claire had a show recently at the Aldrich Museum--here are a couple of installation shots. (And I have to say that Bonnie Collura sculpture in the foreground looks intriguingly abject. The poor woman got trashed recently by Roberta Smith in the Times, after a lot of too-early hype, as if to say, with a diabolical laugh, "We made you; we can unmake you.")
The artist web pages highlighted here the past few weeks are very smooth and professional looking, but of course work can be presented "badly" and reflect a certain personality or attitude. For example, I really like this dirt style page by British artist Jon Davey. Check out his photos of "réadymades," and many good links.
Oh, yes, and speaking of Claire Corey again, I redesigned the page documenting the exhibit we were in at the Aldrich in 2000 called "Ink Jet" (with Matt Chansky), adding more pictures. This groundbreaking event left press, curators, and even our fellow artists largely speechless. ("Is this good?" "We don't know." mumble mumble.)
Die Mensch Maschine, 2003, jpeg
Bush vs. Zeon Pigs. I missed the press conference, but a friend reports that GWB looked like John Gill on the original Star Trek series, "kept drugged by his Jacobin lieutenants while they recreated the Third Reich." The difference, though, was that Gill was actually a good, albeit doped up guy, who was sequestered in a locked studio and never interacted with the press, and here, from what it sounds like, the reporters had rifles pointed at them from off camera to keep them on script (with the occasional token "hard question" for credibility). This inspired a daydream where one of those gutless bastards actually stood up and said, at the beginning of the Q&A:
"Excuse me, Mr. President, but you didn't let Helen Thomas ask the first question. That's been something of a tradition here for six Presidencies, and all of us feel as a matter of protocol you should do it. Otherwise you'll get no more questions from us tonight." (Murmured assent from press corps.)
If this person wasn't immediately felled by an Ekosian bullet, the Boy Emperor would be forced to deal on camera with this unexpected revolt, and we might get to see him in a full blown alcoholic rage. The press conference would be a disaster, Bush's poll numbers would plummet, the troops would be recalled...
And then I woke up.
Last night (March 6) I attended PSYCH-OUT 2K3 at Anthology Film Archives, which was part of the New York Underground Film Festival. Here's the blurb from the organizers, followed by my notes:
BEIGE and Seth Price Collective present:
Cartoons & consumer electronics in the 70s and 80s were bigger and trashier than ever and they had freaked kids out to the point of a whole generation got A.D.D. so now they are older and freak every person else out using this same old throw-away trash shit culture mind warp reversal....MESSY. You're either with us or against us.... Never fess.
PSYCH-OUT 2K3 = one night only live performance freak out featuring live music/video by the Extreme Animalz / PAPER RAD crew, NAUTICAL ALMANAC, and LOVID
In between bands there are videos by Leif GOLDBERG and Matt BRINKMAN, Forcefield (from the archives), Devin FLYNN, MUMBLEBOY, Ray Sweeten, Andy PULS, Seth PRICE/Michael SMITH WEB INFANTILISM, Billy Grant and Joe Grillo, US Military Games and anon. Commodore n64 video HACKERZ. MTV circa 1990,
That's LoVid in my underexposed photo at the top of the post, with Kyle Lapidus standing on the right wearing a video monitor cap and Tali Hinkis, also capped, disappearing into the murk on the left. They video-projected sizzling static patterns made in real time with a sound interface that disturbs the raster scan in the guts of the TV; these minimal-but-eye-assaulting patterns towered behind them on a fifteen foot screen. Nautical Almanac and Extreme Animalz also played live, with prerecorded video accompaniment. Extreme Animalz (logo above right) is an offshoot of PAPER RAD, out of Providence RI: to get a flavor of their visual presentation, check out the dense psychedelic jungle of blinking gifs on this home page (while you're there, be sure to look at the cartoons). Nautical Almanac's video was more performance based, with the two masked artists doing eccentric body art type things (e.g., trying to climb into a cabinet wearing a leg brace) inside a ruined building at night. Think Paul McCarthy meets the Blair Witch Project. Their music, which I described here, is intense, bleeding-edge noize that synched well with the frenetic video.
In between acts a variety of short vids rolled: a lot of high-speed, insanely pigmented hallucinations, as promised, heavy on recycled/mutated kid imagery: Ronald McDonald on acid, My Little Pony in slo-mo, and some butt-awful karaoke footage. Other highlights included video art legend Michael Smith in full-on diaper mode destroying a birthday cake and blowing on a noisemaker till he got bored, an Army training film defaced with an 8-bit "PSYCH-OUT 2K3" logo (right on), and Devin Flynn's manic vision of everything in the world competing with everything else. One video really stood out, enough that I want to describe it in a separate post: a ten minute work called Assassins Ride, by Forcefield, another Providence collective which has apparently broken up recently in the (disgusted?) wake of the Whitney/Artforum/NYTimes' drive to turn them into stars. In this eerie piece, three masked figures in overcoats stand around a trash barrel fire, unmoving, while an industrial/tech score pulses. The fire flares erratically, and every so often the screen fills with glowing green light, as if some weird energy is breaking through From Beyond. The mood is hypnotic and unsettling. More later, but above is a frame I snapped off my TV at home, after I picked up a copy of the tape.
[More (or rather, better) images from this event, taken by Aya Kanai, are here.]
I gave Richard Prince a hard time in that last post--yeah, really threw a spanner in his career path--but I like his work, just not those upstate NY photos. The framed celebrity pics and collectibles in a recent Barbara Gladstone show (hmm, a lot of black and white there) were smart and hilarious. Also, he has a great "cranky man" interview in the March 2003 Artforum. Here are some excerpts:
Did you feel a kinship to the artists in the "Pictures" show?
I've never said this before, but Doug Crimp actually asked me to be in that show. I read his essay and told him it was for shit, that it sounded like Roland Barthes. We haven't spoken since.
Do you think the critics [in the '80s] understood what you were doing?
I wasn't aware that there was much critical writing in the '80s about my work. I think people were more focused on David Salle, Schnabel, Fischl, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer.
Well, I remember one person gushing about your work's "complete eventlessness."
That sounds like cartoon language. Kind of like when Susan Sontag describes taking a photograph as a "soft murder."
WILLIAM EGGLESTON: NOT COLOR'S DAD
Make the rounds of the Armory show in NYC this weekend and you'll see hundreds of color photographs, or "c-prints." The art world loves color photography--it's becoming almost as ubiquitous as painting and sculpture--and it might surprise you to learn that it's all because of one man, an eccentric Southern photographer named William Eggleston.
At least that's what critic Jim Lewis argues, in a recent profile in the online magazine Slate. Lewis claims that Eggleston's “breakthrough,” all-color show at MOMA in 1976 was an "annunciation of the coming of color," paving the way for ready acceptance of chromatics in “new art photographers” such as Nan Goldin, Mitch Epstein, Richard Prince, and Andreas Gursky. Without a trace of irony (I'm pretty sure), he dubs Eggleston "The Father of Color Photography."
This pronouncement is just irritating, for a couple of reasons. First, it overlooks major developments around the time of Eggleston's show that were also bringing color to the fore, in favor of the tired "great men" view of history. Second, the four successors mentioned are completely unrelated to one another conceptually; the pictures Lewis chooses to illustrate his argument show surface similarities but ultimately do a disservice to the meanings of the artists.
Of course, Lewis immediately hedges by saying that “ready acceptance” means only acceptance of color and not acceptance of the four artists’ work itself. Nevertheless, it's hard not to keep them in mind, because they're the only concrete examples he gives of why the photo world's expansion to color might be important (other than generally explaining that the move was long overdue). By emphasizing the “vernacular” side of Eggleston's work, Lewis seems to be building a connection to, in particular, Epstein (for the sometime banality of his subject matter) and Goldin (for the snapshot casualness of her style). But apart from considering the good or bad taste of color snapshots, he doesn't really tell us how artists are using the full spectrum in the wake of Eggleston.
Art after Art Photography.
Lewis’ phrase "new art photographers" glosses over a not-so-old schism in the world of Museum-collected photography, between “art photography“ and what might roughly be called “artists with cameras,” a distinction outlined in Abigail Solomon-Godeau‘s famous essay “Photography after Art Photography.“ Almost exclusively shot in black and white and practiced by the likes of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, art photography was firmly ensconced in the museum in the ‘60s and ‘70s under the stewardship of MOMA curator John Szarkowski; it emphasized darkroom practice and objective standards of quality in photos.
The "conceptual photography" of Prince, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and others, however, emerged from the world of painting, sculpture, and video. These artists used photos to document a performance, advance a theory, or critique the mass media, and didn't much give a damn about photographic values (including the old prohibition on color). In addition to this generation change in America, developments in European contemporary art gradually came to light in the late ‘70s: Gilbert & George, for example, used vivid colors in their photopastiches at least as early as 1975, and the conceptualist Jan Dibbets had no qualms about color in his images of tilted landscapes and car hoods. And finally, as Lewis mentions, color printing technology was vastly improving during this period.
Thus, while Szarkowski may have taken a big leap vis a vis older art photographers by giving Eggleston a one-person museum exhibit in ‘76, other trends were fast making that radicality a non-issue. The Europeans and young Americans weren’t invited into the tea circle of art photography because William Eggleston opened the door: instead, they found their own critical advocates, and after a few years of publicity and sales, they simply took over the show--and color came along with them.
Everybody's an artist.
Photography now is actually a mishmash of the art and conceptualist camps: the "snapshot aesthetic" of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Richard Billingham rubs shoulders with anal retentive compositions by Gursky and the ultra-stagy Gregory Crewdson (and the latter's former students). All of the above now just call themselves artists, and the term "art photography" is in disrepute as the domain of camera club perfectionists.
Of the practitioners invoked/not invoked by Lewis as Eggleston successors, only Epstein might be called an old school “art photographer” lineally descended from Eggleston (although he claims Gary Winogrand as a mentor). Gursky’s work springs from the Euro-conceptual tradition of his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher; Goldin’s ‘80s photography was verite involvement in the lives of a group of boho friends in New York’s East Village (seen as performative, post-Sherman); Prince was an American “appropriator” (see rephotographed cowboys below). While all of them may ultimately have emerged at the end of their careers as photographers Szarkowsi would probably love, that’s not how they started out.
Eggleston certainly had some influence on the current generation as a poetic formalist, but Lewis keeps emphasizing the (apparently) casual, snapshot side of his work--“garish” color, “bad” lighting, “banal” subject matter. I put all these terms in quotes because Eggleston isn’t really that casual. When I think of him the images that pop into my head are his tributes to "found color"--painted stripes on walls, product displays in Southern grocery stores, and that outrageous red ceiling (above)--revealing the exacting eye of a color field painter. David Byrne's curated selection of Eggleston photos for the 1986 True Stories book likewise included only this type of photo and none of the Diane Arbus-like images of odd southern characters.
Regardless of the subject matter, Eggleston's "snapshots" of the rural South are very carefully put together. Hilton Kramer couldn't see that in 1976, but he was famously wrong about many artists. Eggleston's "mistakes," such as the overexposed tree Lewis mentions, or non-sequiturs, such as the boy lying incongruously on a garage floor, occur within pictures that precisely balance chromatics, shape, composition, and so forth. Lewis discusses such formal strategies (turning the "perceived vices" of color into virtues, balancing shallowness and depth, creating "odd spirals") but without identifying them explicitly as such. You get the feeling Lewis mainly has Goldin in mind when discussing Eggleston’s casualness, but that’s inapposite because her early work was genuinely rushed, capturing the heat of the moment.
Eggleston had help.
As for the “great man” thesis: Lewis creates the impression that Eggleston traveled to NY with a box of slides under his arm and the most powerful photography curator there had the perceptiveness to immediately give him a show. According to an Art on Paper article, Eggleston befriended photographers Friedlander, Arbus, and Winogrand in the '60s, all of whom were Szarkowsi's "New York School" proteges. Szarkowski may indeed have been "immediately" impressed by Eggleston's work, but having the support of his circle couldn't have hurt. Also, Washington, DC artist William Christenberry plugged Eggleston to curator Walter Hopps, who wanted to do an Eggleston show but dropped it when he found out about Szarkowski's. In any case, Eggleston made his famous trip to NY in 1967 but it took Szarkowski nine years finally to give him a show.
I would argue that Eggleston truly is an art photographer, in the old Szarkowsian sense, and if he seems contemporary at all now it’s because artists that were once threatening have grown more traditional. This is especially true of Prince, who started his career sardonically rephotographing Marlboro ads, but has been taking some pretty tame pictures of his upstate New York environs lately. Calling Eggleston the Father of Color Photography is annoyingly patriarchal, and ignores what Brian Eno calls "scenius"--a kind of collective innovation that includes changes in technology and the efforts of many lesser-known people working in the field. The story of the brilliant outsider coming to the big city and cutting through all the bullshit is very American, but in this case the photo world's tectonic shifts are the more interesting tale. Maybe Eggleston isn’t as dismissable as Martha Rosler once said he was (she saw his promotion by MOMA as a Kodak-inspired plot to sell home color darkroom equipment), but his conservative brand of difficulty makes him an ideal patron saint for backsliders.
Afterthoughts. It may well be that William Eggleston's "breakthrough" enabled photo departments to collect color photos for the first time, but this is really a minor achievement, important only within the rigid, internecine structure of the contemporary art museum, since color photography *was* being collected a few doors down the hall, in the painting department. Thus, what he really did was give photographers who wanted to use color permission to do something, a handful of years early, that artists were already doing. But to be important, we expect artists to rewrite the rules of the game, not just a few intramural regulations.
If I had to pick a "great man" it would probably be Prince, for finally, belatedly extending the logic of Duchamp and Pop art to photography (and being a malicious wit). The reason breaking the color barrier was important was that at last photography could be as permeable to the everyday (commercial, media-defined) world as painting had become under Warhol. More than a color progenitor, it might be interesting to think of Eggleston as a proto-appropriator, photographing banal commercial subject matter in a landscape setting before Prince et al came along and just removed the setting. But that's a stretch--I still think Eggleston is mainly an art photographer, whose principal contribution is injecting the poetry of color field painting into mechanically produced images.
Eva pilots Asuka and Shinji working at home to improve their sync ratios, in the
Japanese TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1994-5).
Mario Lopez and Danny Bonaduce playing Dance Dance Revolution on the set
of The Other Half TV series, as Dick Clark looks on (ca. 2001).
Here's a sample of Bruce Sterling's annotation of Laurie Garrett's leaked email from Davos (thanks to gen kanai for this tidbit):
"Watching Bill Clinton address the conference while sitting in the hotel room of the President of Mozambique – we were viewing it on closed circuit TV – I got juicy blow-by-blow analysis of US foreign policy from a remarkably candid head of state. A day spent with Bill Gates turned out to be fascinating and fun. I found the CEO of Heineken hilarious, and George Soros proved quite earnest about confronting AIDS. Vicente Fox – who I had breakfast with – proved sexy and smart like a – well, a fox. David Stern (Chair of the NBA) ran up and gave me a hug." [You'll want to keep these touching human-interest stories in mind if you see these gentle, accomplished people dangling from street lanterns.]
"The world isn't run by a clever cabal. [Cabal yes, clever no.]
"It's run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming, usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal power. A few have both. Many of them turn out to be remarkably naive – especially about science and technology. All of them are financially wise, though their ranks have thinned due to unwise tech-stock investing. [The ultra-rich: an endangered species.]
An ad with my drawings of the Shell girls appears on p. 104 of the March 2003 issue of The Wire, a UK-based avant/electronic music mag. (Its website is at www.thewire.co.uk.) I haven't heard the 7 inch yet. Donna Bailey is on the left and Marianne Nowottny is on the right. That particular issue of the magazine has a long cover profile on Faust, a great German group from the '70s, and an editorial by Rob Young excoriating Nick Hornby for some recent writing on music. I've never read Hornby (I did see About a Boy and kind of liked it) but I was irritated by the obtuse conservatism of his New York Times review of Jason Little's graphic novel Shutterbug Follies. From reading Young's editorial, it sounds like Hornby has lost his grip on the zeitgeist (if he ever had it) and success has turned him into another boring old fart. (I don't really care about any of this, I just wrote it so the text would wrap around the graphic.)