These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.
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I sometimes reproduce artwork in my weblog (or related pages) without asking the artist's permission to do so. I mean no discourtesy or larceny towards the artists; my weblog is a labor of love and I just don't have the time or energy to obtain scrupulous copyright permission for everything I put up on it. Hopefully you will cut me some slack and take each reproduction as the compliment it was intended to be. It's not like I'm passing it off as my own work, or selling T-shirts, or anything. (This is my standard "fair use" disclaimer, also applicable to written texts.)
Fighting Women Enter the Arena, No Holds Barred
By MICHEL MARRIOTT
LOS ANGELES -- IN a futuristic penthouse with floor-to-ceiling windows and holographic artworks, two fierce combatants stare each other down. Muscles ripple and hands clench with menace before the first blow - whack! - is thrown.
A heavily tattooed brute named Exile whose neck is thicker than his clean-shaven head vaults his 6-foot 8-inch, 300-pound frame into the air, sailing boot-first into the jaw of his opponent, who is slammed into a window that shatters on impact.
It doesn't matter that Exile's opponent is 16 years his junior, less than half his weight and more than a foot shorter - and a woman.
While popular tastes and tradition have so far mostly kept the sexes apart in the wrestling and boxing arenas, the same can hardly be said for the video game world that Exile inhabits. As vastly improved technologies enable electronic game characters to look, sound and move in a more lifelike way than their forebears, action- adventure and fighting games are taking on new sexual dynamics, mesmerizing some people and disturbing others.
The new female characters may be clever, karate-kicking protagonists controlled by players of either sex. They can also, depending on the player's ability and the game's design, be victims of breathtakingly violent assaults by men with fists, feet, knives or bullets.
The fighting women are emerging as game developers look for profitable new directions in the highly competitive $10 billion video game industry. Such characters are prominent in Microsoft's Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus, a recent release featuring the hulking Exile, and in several games being unveiled from May 14 to 16 at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition in Los Angeles, an annual multimedia showcase.
Even Lara Croft, the heroine who made the leap from video console to Hollywood film as a sort of female Indiana Jones, is getting a makeover in a new game emphasizing her martial-arts prowess.
For the feminist author Jennifer Baumgardner, watching women do combat in video games is empowering. "I love having images in popular culture and these games that include women as fighters," she said.
She suggests that that casting women as gladiators challenges images of women as passive targets of violence.
"I do not think playing these games encourages women to be victims," said Ms. Baumgardner, 32, co-author of "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux , 2000), whose central theme is a celebration of "girl culture.''
Ed Fries, Microsoft's vice president for game publishing, said that most of the female characters joining the cast of regulars in video games this year were strong, the sort of characters that players can "respect.''
"If you are sitting down to spend 40 hours with a game," he said, "you do have to like the character."
Behind the changes, though, some see a menacing element.
"Games don't exist in a vacuum," said Elizabeth Staudt, a senior at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who is a spokeswoman for the Campus Women's Center there. "To the extent that these games portray violence against women, it is hard to make a case that those images really may be empowering."
"For us this doesn't feel like the gender equity we're after," she said.
The Women's Center recently took part in a petition drive by the National Institute on Media and the Family to denounce video games that the groups say trivializes violence against women. Chief among the offenders, said the institute's president and founder, David Walsh, is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which with worldwide sales of more than 8.5 million is one of the most successful video games ever.
In the game, made by Rockstar Games for Sony's Playstation 2 and just re-released in a PC version, players are rewarded for beating and killing women - who exist mostly at the edges of the game - with their fists, feet and in one instance, a golf club.
Yet in the emerging class of games that prominently feature women characters, victimhood is not necessarily programmed into the action, game designers say.
For instance, the half-dozen women in Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus, created for Microsoft's Xbox console, can put up a respectable fight against Exile or other male or female characters - or be reduced to bloody, bruised wrecks. Similarly, in games like Cy Girls, Brute Force, WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, and Enter the Matrix, female characters have just as much chance of winning as the males do.
Many video game makers say their new offerings reflect the growing visibility of strong women on movie and television screens and in career domains ranging from corporations to the military.
"You have these figures that are larger than life," said Alan B. Lewis, the spokesman for Acclaim Entertainment, a major game developer based on Long Island.
In movies like "X2: X-Men United," and new or coming films like "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," female characters do not shy away from physical confrontation with their foes.
Mr. Lewis said that Acclaim was developing a video game based on Sydney Bristow, the kung-fu-chopping spy on the television series "Alias." Paul Baldwin, vice president for marketing at Eidos, the video game publisher with the biggest franchise starring a female character, Tomb Raider's Lara Croft, said that the company had received appreciative feedback from female players.
"You should see the letters we've got from mothers and daughters and sisters thanking us for Lara, the first real action figure they identified with," he said of the cyberheroine, introduced in 1996.
To be sure, Lara Croft and many of the new female game characters constitute video pinups for the young men and boys who form the overwhelming majority of game players. Mr. Baldwin said they still expected their digital divas to be voluptuous.
Liz Buckley, product manager for Majesco, a game design house in Edison, N.J., said that her designers had learned in focus groups that boys and young men not only like games with female characters but also pay far more attention to those characters than they do to their digital male counterparts.
Ms. Buckley cited Majesco's recent release of BloodRayne, which centers on a vicious yet seductive woman who is half vampire.
Most action-adventure games engage the player through a character viewed only from the rear as he or she confronts foes and challenges.
"After several rounds of focus testing, we learned that everyone wanted to see her face more," Ms. Buckley recalled of BloodRayne.
The solution was to reverse the vantage point whenever the character was at rest. "Players could see her face and watch her adjusting her leather pants, her belt," she said.
Ms. Buckley said that injecting sensuality into the game, which cost $2 million to develop, enhanced its market prospects. She describes its mix of plunging necklines, blood-red hair and pointy teeth as "lethal erotica."
"The lead character is inherently sexy," she said. "I don't have a problem of using that to get her out there."
While sensual female characters are proliferating in the gaming universe, Lara Croft, whose fame ultimately transcended the game genre, is moving in new directions game-wise.
When a new Tomb Raider game subtitled The Angel of Darkness is released for Playstation 2 and the PC, expect a refashioned Lara Croft who engages in hand-to-hand combat with evildoers. (In previous games she either ran or shot them with her handguns.) Her infamous bust line, which prompted some women to complain that the character was gratuitously sexualized, will be reduced to more lifelike proportions.
A different twist on sex roles in the game world is anticipated in Deux Ex 2: Invisible War, a sequel to a successful first-person-shooter game by Eidos for the Xbox and PC. It will allow players to enter the game as Alex D., the name used by two clones of Agent J. C. Denton, the male main character in the original game.
The twist is that one of the clones is male and the other female, Mr. Baldwin explained. He said that players will be able to customize the characters in significant ways that make either as powerful, stealthy and cunning as the other, regardless of sex.
Yet critics like Bell Hooks, a feminist theorist, challenge the notion that the emergence of a warrior class of video game vixens is something worth celebrating. By projecting hyper-sexualized women as heartless killers in popular entertainment, real people are being sold a mixed message, she said.
"Now women can be killing machines, but adolescent about everything else," Ms. Hooks said.
"That is what one sees in 'Charlie's Angels,' " she continued. "The women kill as ruthlessly and as brutally as any men, but when it comes to sex that drops out and they are little girls. It is a tremendous burden."
Most disturbing, she said, the female protagonists who engage in physical combat in popular movies, television programs and video games encourage women "not to challenge patriarchy."
The effect is especially potent in video games, she said, because the games' fantasies are so immersive.
Ultimately, Ms. Hooks said, "They take people's minds away from really how much power females are losing in real life."
A Bread-Crumb Trail to the Spirit of the Times
By ROBERTA SMITH
Connecting the dots formed by New York gallery exhibitions is a perpetual art world pastime. The process involves matching little details or broad stylistic trends, recognizing recurring themes and common materials, or sometimes just finding the shared thread in one's own seemingly unrelated reactions. And everybody comes up with a different diagram.
Right now there are interesting connections to be drawn from a handful of exhibitions spread around Manhattan, including some impressive solo debuts and a remarkable group show. Visiting them takes one through a progression of neighborhoods, architectural settings and ways of making and presenting art — to arrive, at least by my lights, at the suspicion that there is something new and exciting percolating beneath the surface of the art world of New York.
For one thing, there's something of a youthquake going on, with a rash of young artists interested, as most young people are, in the thrills and dilemmas of being young. For another, New York art is having a hands-on moment. While artists have always worked with their hands, right now those hands seem to be especially busy. Knitting, sewing and quilting have a raised profile; so do quirky, even craftlike ways of drawing and painting, and approaches to video that make the medium feel thoroughly worked over — touched, so to speak.
And the underground is everywhere. It is no longer the pride or bane of a few gentrification-ready neighborhoods. You can find new art on the Upper as well as the Lower East Side; in Chelsea, which is much less the homogenized blue-chip zone it is often thought to be, as well as in Harlem.
Of course, these developments are not entirely unrelated. They are, to stretch observation into metaphor, all signs of people taking things into their own hands, of a healthy autonomy. They have, for me, the atmosphere of 1970's pluralism and laissez-faire, but this time more fleshed out and purposeful. It is less a pervasive condition than a question of personal style, if not a philosophy. It may be perpetuated by artists' collectives or by individuals working in so many mediums that each artist could appear to be a one-person collective.
These artists are confidant, free of ideology and, despite being camera savvy and computer adept, transfixed by the physical possibilities of art-making. Using Photoshop doesn't mean you can't also knit. Taking up a video camera doesn't mean you can't wield it like a paintbrush, or edit with the precision of a jeweler. Several of these shows may remind you that the children of the original flower children are becoming artists.
After all, boiled down to its essence, craft is simply concentration and care made manifest. It is materialized love, which partly explains the sincerity found in much of the new art that's around today.
Craft is also an effective way for young artists to reclaim pop culture: a direct grass-roots effort to subvert and reshape the stuff they have been force-fed from an early age.
Kenny Schachter Contemporary
The place to begin this tour, because it provides the most undiluted glimpse of youth-crazed craft and love, is "Air Show," the tour-de-force debut of Misaki Kawai at Kenny Schachter Contemporary, a gallery on an old alley in the West Village that is straight out of "Gangs of New York."
Ms. Kawai, who is 24 and lives in Tokyo, gives new meaning to the word aircraft with a fleet of elaborately handmade airplanes, accompanied by puffy cotton jet trails and blue felt clouds. The latter are sewn to the angled steel-mesh walls of the gallery, whose intimist (read: tiny) industrial interior was designed by the Acconci Studio.
Suspended in midair, Ms. Kawai's fleet ranges from a large airliner to fighter jets and biplanes, all stitched together from assorted fabrics — underwear, baby blankets, flannel pajamas — that remind you that patchwork is among the oldest forms of appropriation. Ms. Kawai has the funky exquisiteness of the classic dollhouse vernacular down cold, from tiny pillows and emergency instructions to busy flight attendants and imaginatively attired, werewolf-wigged passengers (their faces are all photographs of Beatles) who are reading, tending computers and, in one case, drawing.
She may be indebted to that master of miniaturization Charles LeDray, but she could also be the 21st century's version of Ettie Stettheimer, the dollhouse-building sister of the self-taught painter Florine Stettheimer, who was also one of the great art salonistes of 1920's New York.
While in the vicinity, some side excursions can provide further evidence of craft's current prominence and recent history in art: "Cheap," a group show at White Columns; Tom Sachs's miniature city at the Bohen Foundation; and, at Elizabeth Dee in lower Chelsea, Kevin Landers's latest excursion into handmade social commentary, which includes a plastic-putty-and-fabric re-creation of the wall of Nike sneakers made famous by Andreas Gursky's panoramic photograph.
John Connelly Presents
An equally significant stop is "K48: Teenage Rebel: The Bedroom Show," Scott Hug's ode to the chief laboratory of adolescent fantasy and subversiveness. John Connelly Presents, a young Chelsea gallery, occupies a small perch in a huge building that is an art-world microcosm. Tenants include galleries at all levels of economic viability, dozens of artist studios, the odd hip magazine (Index) and now a health club. A glance at the extensive lobby directory can induce social fatigue.
Mr. Hug's show is a delight. Packed into one room is a collage of works by a total of 70 artists, designers and collectives that is at once a finger-on-the-pulse survey and a personal manifesto, almost a solo show. A live-in environment where visitors can watch videos, listen to music and sift through bureau drawers, the show is, additionally, the walk-in equivalent of K48, the sharp-looking yet oddly homey magazine of art, fashion, music, design (and sex), now in its third issue, that Mr. Hug publishes.
The mix is beyond ecumenical. The displays include, for example, Claire Corey's Richter-esque digital abstraction as well as distinctive patchwork T-shirts by the collective Dearraindrop, whose members also contribute similarly bristling collage paintings, and the antic drawing-photocopy-cartoon collages of Billy Grant.
The feverish interaction of art, popular culture, craft, graphic design, film and music is everywhere apparent, and richly informative, both artistically and sociologically. But what makes it pop visually is Eli Sudbrack's wallpaper, mostly red, with its sweet, savvy fusion of psychedelic poster, Kate Greenaway and Renaissance tapestry.
And that Mr. Hug is living in the middle of all this makes his show the latest addition to the tradition of the fully furnished, mostly functional installations by Lucas Samaras, Ben, Chris Burden, Andrea Zittel, RirkritTiravanija and, most recently, Marina Abramovic.
While in the building, you can see more craft consciousness at Greene Naftali, in the abstract paintings of Sergej Jensen, a 29-year-old Danish artist living in Germany, who prefers glued-on pieces of denim and leather and occasional daubs of bleach to paint; and at Rush Arts, which is showing pieced-together garments by Gerald Jackson.
Another excellent visual adventure is "Life Is a Gift," Christian Holstad's first gallery show. The work centers on a plastic-enclosed bedroom that is a tribute to outsiderness in the form of a homage to David Vetter, the "bubble boy" whose defective immune system sentenced him to a brief, 12-year life of physical isolation in a germ-free plastic bubble. The show fills the small studio-apartment gallery of Daniel Reich, who sleeps in the piece each night (and is in the unusual position of not having to roll up his mattress each morning before he starts work).
Mr. Holstad is a one-artist collective, equally at ease with knitting, quilting, collage, drawing and sculpture; his work has a multimedia mix that mirrors Mr. Hug's effort at Connelly. But it also clarifies much that is merely glimpsed in the rich loam that Mr. Hug has brought together, especially the penchant for obsessive, half-invented techniques that often yield small-scale but concentrated results shot through with a fervent mysticism.
Everything in this show refers to the bubble boy, more or less directly. An exquisite color-pencil rendering of a garden includes a pair of big rubber gloves like the ones built into the bubble's interior to enable David's parents to hug him. Graphite-toned drawings made from newspaper photographs, which are erased and configured into little Symbolist dramas, touch repeatedly on the theme of freakishness and difference.
Perhaps the most characteristic of Mr. Holstad's odd fusions of innocence and subversiveness are pornographic collages whose coupled figures — "bubble boys" who have found each other — are layered with photographic patterns that turn out to be bits of hand-knit afghans cut from the pages of magazines.
Other signs of Mr. Holstad's ecumenism include a quilt, a strange wool-knit tree branch that culminates in a skull made of rubber foam and a removable quilted deer's head, and a trompe l'oeil rag rug carefully pieced together from faux-carpet linoleum.
Oliver Kamm/Apartment 5-BE
A sign of the Chelsea underground is the gallery that Oliver Kamm, who formerly worked at Marianne Boesky and Paul Morris, has opened in his one-bedroom apartment on West 23rd Street. For his second show, he is presenting the New York debut of Colin McClain, a young artist from Tennessee who derives his motifs from Gray's Anatomy.
Mr. McClain's oil paintings of figures and torsos are the work of a developing artist. But his slightly skitterish drip technique, and his brash palette of pinks, greens and yellows, supposedly inspired by skateboard graphics, give the human form a neon vibrancy.
In many ways the blunt force and homogeneity of this show, and its images of totally exposed bodies, may be the perfect chaser to the air of haunted fragility and its wild range of emotions and materials that dominate Mr. Holstad's show.
"Sugar & Cream," a modestly ravishing excursion into the recent history of quilts, banners, flags and embroideries, looks great in the big white space of Triple Candie, a scrappy Harlem alternative space. The show underscores that such techniques have been around for a while, even if exhibitions like "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" at the Whitney Museum of American Art have given them a new visibility. Nearly everything here points up the flexibility of so-called craft mediums.
The outer limits are defined by David Hammons's "African-American Flag," Dinh Q. Le's black-on-black embroidery, James Hyde's formalist webbing-paintings and Oliver Herring's 1993-94 "Curtain," an immense swath of knit transparent tape that is aging beautifully.
Honing closer to traditional craft are the the quilts and quasi-quilts of Tracey Emins, Rosie Lee Tompkins and Trenton Doyle Hancock, whose paint and felt "Torpedo Boy's Chest Mess" is especially good. Caught in the crossfire between these works is a kind of quilt ghost: Jim Hodges's big, fluttery "Here's Where We Shall Stay," a semi-transparent expanse of sewn-together chiffon head scarves.
This show should inspire a larger, more inclusive effort, which might also encompass Faith Ringgold, who has three new painting-quilts at the ACA Gallery in Chelsea; Mike Kelley, whose "All the Love Hours" at the Whitney is looking more and more like a generational touchstone; Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt with his cellophane-embellished altarpieces; and maybe even Lari Pittman, whose paintings bring suggestions of graphic design, illustration, embroidery and textile design into a fruitful alignment.
Down the street from Triple Candie, the Project is showing "Pink Slips and Golden Parachutes," a lively show of work by past and present employees of the gallery. It includes "We Are Left," a large mural-size expanse of embroidered organdy, by Jessica Rankin. While indebted to artists like Julie Mehretu and Matthew Ritchie, this work has a casual finesse and compositional intelligence all its own.
If anyone needed confirmation that the underground can bubble up anywhere, look no further than East 94th Street and Salon 94, perhaps the poshest project space ever to sashay into any art scene. Established by Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, a partner in the Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, on Fifth Avenue just off 57th Street, Salon 94 is a semiprivate showcase for young artists.
Its setting is the ground floor of a former orphanage between Madison and Fifth Avenues that has been extensively redesigned by Rafael Viñoly with a curving glass wall and burl staircase, and stylishly decorated by his wife, Diana Viñoly. It could position Ms. Greenberg Rohatyn, who lives on the building's upper floors with her family, as a contemporary Peggy Guggenheim, a collector and dealer of means with an eagle eye for the latest thing.
The gallery's outstanding inaugural show manages to withstand all the built-in glamour. It introduces the percussive, narratively complex videos of Aida Ruilova, which are fraught with an air of slightly muffled domestic hysteria. As it happens, Ms. Ruilova also has an ultrarefined drawing of wolf-eyed figures in Mr. Hug's show at Connelly, and that rendering is consistent with the needle-sharp precision she brings to video editing.
Working with tapes of friends as they creep about decaying houses, peer through windows, hang from rafters and dart up staircases, Ms. Ruilova slices and dices their gestures and sounds with a D.J.'s sense of economy and rhythm, creating a cast of young shut-ins, stuttering eccentrics and assorted sociopaths. Shown at intervals on small screens or monitors, the videos' sounds play off one another to eerie effect.
In "Come Here," the title is repeatedly hissed by a young man in the shade of a large potted plant who seems to be summoning a zombie version of himself. "Almost" is the strangled message from a disheveled girl who crawls up (or down?) a rickety staircase and picks at a crumbling plaster wall. A sense of gothic foreboding and obsession that doesn't preclude comedy infuses the images, which recall some of Anna Gaskell's photographs. Their haunting snippets of sound and image force an extraordinary concentration; they remain mysterious even while they are drummed into the mind.
If Ms. Ruilova patches together videotape with a jeweler's sensitivity to nuance and facets, the young California artist Anthony Burdin, who is making his debut at Maccarone on the Lower East Side, begins by wielding the camera like a trowel. And while Ms. Ruilova's single drawing at Connelly has a silverpoint fineness, Mr. Burdin's works on paper, with titles like "Witchy Forecast" and "Legendary Ghost Scrawl," vibrate with a jittery paranoia to the verge of disintegration. Their out-of-focus, speaking-in-tongues wildness brings to mind H. C. Westermann, or the lettering on a goth teenager's notebook. They would be even more at home in Mr. Hug's installation.
Mr. Burdin's extraordinary show liberates youthful reverie from the bedroom and takes it on the road. With the camera and a boombox as his constant companions, he seems to spend a great deal of time creating raw material. This means playing rock on the boombox (for the videos in this show, it was all Blue Oyster Cult all the time) while waving the camera all over the place, sometimes singing along with the music as he goes.
He assumes two personas. As Voodoo Vocal, he views Los Angeles from behind the wheel of his ancient funky car, which functions as both a sound studio on wheels and a private performance stage. As Desert Mix, he beomes a kind of rogue D.J., dragging the boombox through fields of brush and wildflowers, muttering, growling and drooling from behind the camera.
Once these tapes are made, Mr. Burdin assiduously reworks them in the computer. Unlike Ms. Ruilova's work, his involves no cutting, just distortions and manipulations of sound and image until he achieves a satisfactory degree of hallucinatory spookiness or semiabstractness. The country videos, with their off-camera portrait of the artist as shaman or Abominable Snowman, are less effective: they have the feeling of a "Saturday Night Live" skit with no punch line.
But in the Voodoo Vocal tapes, magic happens. The street lamps and traffic lights are transformed into swarms of hovering diamond-shaped spaceships, rain on the windshield can resemble fields of diamonds, and the sound pulses around us. Melding imagination, lived experience and video into a fresh combination, Mr. Burdin leaves no doubt about his hands-on involvement with his medium. He is in tune with his time.