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A couple of tidbits in the press caught my eye this week. The first is from New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman: "I've had a chance to travel all across the country since September, and I can say without hesitation there was not a single audience I spoke to where I felt there was a majority in favor of war in Iraq. ...I don't care what the polls say, this is the real mood." (Of course, he goes on to say that the President needs to work harder to sell his "audacious" but wonderful plan to run Iraq as a US colony, but whatever.) Second is Camille Paglia's neo-paganist perspective, from an interview in Salon: "As we speak, I have a terrible sense of foreboding, because last weekend a stunning omen occurred in this country. Anyone who thinks symbolically had to be shocked by the explosion of the Columbia shuttle, disintegrating in the air and strewing its parts and human remains over Texas -- the president's home state!" I'm not sure popular resistance or omens will deter a man bent on Armageddon, though.
In view of this, I'm really sick of the press continuing to use the terms "hawks" and "doves" to describe the positions on Iraq. Doves sounds wimpy and unrealistic post 9/11 and hawks sounds decisive and tough. As far as invading & colonizing Iraq are concerned, the camps should be "the War Party" and "sane people."
My pessimistic prediction that there would be no New York Times review of Laura Parnes' show turned out to be wrong. Holland Cotter wrote about it last Friday. Just to give you the high spots, he contrasts Parnes' dark sensibility with the "fluffy stretch" we're supposedly having in the art world (which I still maintain is a figment in the brain of his Times colleague Roberta Smith), does a brief plot rundown on the piece, mentions the Columbine photo, and concludes by discussing Parnes' use of appropriated dialogue. He's ultimately too professionally courteous to name the source of some of the choicest bad lines. Cotter says it's a "crypto-conservative art critic," but who else but Dave Hickey could spout some of the nonsense recycled in Parnes' video?
In a memorable scene, an oily screenwriter played by Guy Richards Smit tries to pick up a young actress with this bit of pop philosophy:
"There are two types of people in the world. Those who like the Beatles and those who like the Stones. You see, Beatles fans actually care about the lyrics, but Stones fans just want to rock."To which the Generation Z-plus girl responds:
"I have no idea what you are talking about."I actually know a thing or two about Hickey, having endured his lousy eye and glib prose as an artist in Texas. Thinking I was rid of him, I moved to New York just as he was vaulting onto the national stage. He's essentially a quasi-beat fiction writer type that drifted into the art world, befriended artists, but never really "got" art. His attempt to be the go-to guy for "beauty" I wouldn't even call crypto-conservative, it's just conservative, even though his politics are strictly tenured radical.
Hickey's greatest achievement, I suppose, was twisting the theories of continental critics such as Deleuze & Guattari to make his own Critique of Institutional Critique, in the book The Invisible Dragon--that was damned clever! But if he's the new Clement Greenberg, who's his Jackson Pollock? After years of backslapping support for artist/country singer Terry Allen, he jumped on the Robert Mapplethorpe bandwagon, then more recently shifted his attention to West Coast abstractionists Tim Bavington and Yek Wong. He talks about Yek in terms of "sunshine art," which has something to do with LA, and surfaces that hold up to scrutiny in harsh daylight, I think. This is important?
Hickey does have his uses as a reactionary, though. One of my proudest moments as an artist was learning that he described a photocopy collage-painting of mine, in an unpublished interview, as "way too abject for me." He also mocked its "Teletubbies coloration." Now that rocks! I want those words--from the winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant, mind you--carved on my mantlepiece. Or perhaps tattooed on my left nut, to use a "rebellious" Hickey-sounding phrase.
Filter House (work-in-progress), ink on cut paper, product packaging, map pins, 96" X 63" X 6"
For some reason my fiction-reading lately has all been in the "chain mail and microchips" genre. What the hell's that? Stories set in pre-industrial times but rife with technology. For example, Brian Aldiss' recently republished Helliconia Trilogy, which I avoided in the '80s when The Multi-Volume Series Taking Place on One Imaginary World invaded science fiction. I should have known that British new-waver Aldiss's version would be slightly twisted, and it is. His characters just don't behave rationally! Helliconia is a planet in a binary star system; it experiences a "small year" (about as long as one of our years) as it revolves around Star A, and a Great Year, as Star A revolves around the much bigger, hotter Star B. The latter year lasts a couple of millennia and goes from the climate extremes of a centuries-long winter to a shorter, severely scorching summer. Humans have evolved on the planet, but they must share it with an older race, called Phagors, who resemble minotaurs. The Phagors dominate in winter and the humans rule in summer, but because of the climate extremes the technology of neither species gets far past that of, say, Renaissance Europe. However, orbiting the planet, a permanent Earth station monitors and records everything that happens on Helliconia. If you think there might be a mass mingling of Earthlings and Helliconians at some point, forget it: when terrestrials visit the planet's surface a virus kills them within days. So, imagine a combination of Lord of the Rings (swords and sorcery), Thomas Hardy (tortured romance), the last hour of AI (the movie, that is, based on Aldiss's short story) and Hothouse (an earlier Aldiss novel with a richly-imagined ecosystem). As befits the experimentalism of '60s new wave sf, the story mostly consists of frustrating anticlimaxes, but I enjoyed being marooned for several months in this strange, barbaric environment.
Before Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazake produced a four-volume graphic novel called Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind (there's also a much different film version). Set in the distant future, the story takes place after we Earthings have screwed the planet beyond recognition. Much of the globe is covered by a toxic, insect-ridden ecosystem called the Sea of Corruption. Bits of old machinery and biotech still exist, used as leverage by the surviving humans, who are factionalized and warring as always. Pessimistically written and beautifully drawn, the only thing wrong with this volume is the size of the reproductions: tiny pictures make the book's convoluted post-apocalyptic politics even harder to follow. Lastly, I'm midway through Michael Swanwick's fascinating tome The Iron Dragon's Daughter, and thoroughly enjoying it. In this weird universe, magic exists side by side with advanced war materiel and cybernetics. Elves are a distant, snooty upperclass, lording it over a hoi polloi of dwarves, giants, trolls, meryons, and assorted feys and sprites. Dragons are dangerous weapons of war made of metal but activated by reciting spells. The protagonist is a human girl named Jane, who steals a dragon named Melanchthon, tries to get her doctorate in alchemy, and...that's as far as I've gotten.
Filter House (detail, work-in-progress), ink on cut paper, product packaging, map pins, 60" X 50" X 2.5"
Paintbrush vs. Paint
MSPaintbrush is a 165K graphics program that shipped with Windows prior to 1995. Bill Gates & crew did not create it; as with many of their products they acquired it, in this case by buying a company called ZSoft. When Windows 95 came along, Microsoft supposedly "improved" the product and changed the name to MSPaint: it's still part of the Windows accessory package. As an artist I greatly prefer Paintbrush to Paint, and was lucky to track down an abandonware version so I can keep using it (to draw portraits, molecules, and the like).
What are the differences? In Paintbrush the zoom requires less steps to activate. You can also zoom out to see the entire image, which for some reason you can't do in Paint. Paintbrush has more brush, spray, and eraser sizes. A newly-pasted image in Paintbrush has a clear background, so you can immediately see how it layers over an existing image; in Paint the default is opaque. Paintbrush colors are customized with simple, easy-to-use RGB sliders, as opposed to Paint's "color picker" spectrum, which, again, requires more steps.
But the most crucial difference, for me, is the output of the "spraycan" tool. In Paintbrush (see sphere at left) it's like crosshatching; the effect is much more volumetric and seductive, once you get the hang of using it. Paint (sphere at right) has a fast, user-friendly, point-and-spray dot-dispersion pattern, but to me it looks like bad 70s airbrush art.
It's more of struggle to blend from dark to light in Paintbrush using those crosshatch dots (each is a spritz of the spraycan). I can see where the Microsoft techies thought they were improving the program, and for most people they probably were, but I like the grittier, clumsier feel of the crosshatching compared to the smoother pointillism, and even more important, the ability to create rich, intermediate grays. By eliminating the struggle they greatly reduced the potential beauty of the finished image.
Yes, I've used this cereal box and milk bottle before, but never in a corner piece! The bottle, by the way, is Hershey's chocolate milk. When you strip off the gaudy outer packaging (and it takes a while, the plastic wrap is tough) you discover this pristine, white, lathed-looking cylinder underneath. The atoms and "bonds" I draw in MSPaintbrush, print, individually cut out with scissors, then map-pin to the wall.
I guess my interpretation of this body of work would be as follows. A sort of cargo cult worships consumer packaging. In a bastardized version of science, their mystics try to chart the invisible bonds between products, and link the packaging to the larger world. The symbolic byproducts of this research become like graffiti tags, which the cult sticks on walls as territorial markers or signs of their faith.
Saturday I watched Laura Parnes' intense 2-channel video piece "Hollywood Inferno (Episode One)," currently on view at Participant, 95 Rivington, NYC. This multi-layered, disturbing work deserves a treatise but for the moment I just want to contrast it with the supposed "youthquake" of art championed by Roberta Smith in the Jan. 17 NY Times. Smith says that artist Scott Hug and others are "confident" and "free of ideology," which somehow defines today's "young," or young-wannabes. I missed Hug's show but his magazine K48, which I picked up at Throb (for the Electroclash sampler in the back), is kind of charming. It has an ideology--that sex and self-expression are good things. One piece in particular, about an artist who got a teaching job at his old high school and set up a photo studio for quirky individualized yearbook portraits, is touchingly sincere. Elsewhere in the mag, pages of bared flesh suggest Larry Clark, without the adult-looking-back consciousness.
Parnes' video advances the other, much darker view--that sex and self-expression are the ultimate commodities, and things don't always work out so nicely for the youthquake in our alienated, violent land. In Parnes' world all of us--no matter what age--march in the legions of the Damned. Her heroine, would-be actress Sandy, goes from sucking a lollipop in a suburban candy shop to working as a costumed mascot to being an accomplice to murder in a sleazy Hollywood setting. (How is this different from David Lynch? I suppose because there's never any "loss of innocence"--she's corrupted from the start.) Along the way she struts her stuff as a fashion model, with a black & white security-cam still of the Columbine killers as a backdrop (this sounds terrible, but it's actually a subtly creepy touch--the backdrop looks like a frame from a Tarantinoesque action flick until you notice the timestamp). Parnes' anger rivals Dante's--or at the very least, Todd Solondz's--in her description of affectless youth selling itself down the river, with only Satan (in various guises) serving as an adult role model. I'll be surprised if this gets a perky writeup in the Times.
One of my favorite touches is Parnes' Kathy Acker-like use of quotes lifted from media and art-critical sources as dialogue. At the climax, an evil film director, wearing a human-skin mask, spouts some amazing high-flown gibberish as he butchers one of the characters. Turns out this speech combines George Lucas pontificating to Bill Moyers about the so-called archetypes in Star Wars and a "jazzy" pseudohip spiel on Robert Mapplethorpe by art critic Dave Hickey. ("There you are, swooping back down, circling, inward on this image--and it's all flickery in this icy, glamorous--intersection--of moral suffering and spiritual ecstasy, where the rule of law meets the grace of trust. And you're on the verge of exploding from its own internal contradictions. Ahhhh....Yes.") It's hard to decide which makes you want to flee the room more: the gore on the screen or the dramatic but empty words.