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From a Metropolis magazine review, discussing the "French theoretical architecture show" at the Guggenheim Soho a few years back:
The fascination of French artists and architects with surrealism may explain why they're so often charmed by postmodernity in its more kitsch incarnations. Take, for example, one of the artists featured in "Premises," Bertrand Lavier, who contributes a suite of work called "Walt Disney Productions," life-size replicas of the phony abstract paintings and sculptures in a 1947 comic strip in which Mickey Mouse visits a modern art museum. The catalogue is worth quoting for its summary of the show's own delirious critical stance:
"Rather than making a painting that was a copy of a cartoon (as a number of his contemporaries did), and rather than reclaiming some tired abstract painting under the pretext of simulation, Lavier took directly from the cartoon itself. [Meaning he hired a fabricator to turn the drawings into objects. Not that there's anything wrong with that.] Since the cartoon precisely simulated a body of images prevalent in Modernist art, he simultaneously succeeded in resuscitating abstract painting. Although he did so without theoretical effort and--since his short circuit was photographic--without an excessive quantity of turpentine."
It's hard to know which failure of nerve is greater, that of the artist toying with the simulacra of the simulacra to "resuscitate" abstraction by yoking it to an Arp-like lexicon of cartoon shapes, or the too-clever-for-words tone of the catalogue and its dumb disdain for turpentine and technique. Not only is the art dopey--and this is a show about dopey art if ever there was one--the feeble character of its critique is revealed in its slavish replication of the original image. Disney is simply too much loved by all concerned for this kind of work to pose a threat to the battalions of imagineers who blanket the world with what can only be described as the real thing.
Oh, lighten up. Catalog writer, reviewer, you're both wrong. Lavier's installation isn't meant to "resuscitate abstract painting"--who really believes that?--nor to threaten Disney's "battalions of imagineers." It's a meditation on historicization, to use a rather ugly word: refracting capital-A art through the lens of a pop culture artifact to show how taste and vision change from era to era. The images in the comic strip (and by sly implication, the art referenced) are clearly from the '40s, but it takes a few decades to see that conclusively. What things from our own time that we take to be immutable will seem this "period" in 20X3? (Candidate: Matrix "bullet time" effect.) Lavier tackles the subject with wit and polish, and it's depressing to read such a grave debate surrounding this work.
Cats vs Dogs: left, Carl D'Alvia, Ratdog, 1996, carved plaster and rope, 40" X 25" X 23"; right, Sigurd Engerström, The Nightmare Cheetah, 2003, pencil drawing.
A list of permanent links has been added to my faq page (scroll down past the personal bombast). Included are four weblogs that were kind enough to link to me recently, and that I've been enjoying: Hullabaloo (Digby); artnotes (Ariana French); Three River Tech Review (Philip Shropshire); and ukor.org (not really a weblog, an eclectic portal page from Japan). All are recommended. Shropshire has an interesting piece here comparing Ted Kaczynski to Hannibal Lecter (the definitive one, played by Brian Cox, not the other guy), and then likening Kaczynski/Lecter to Francis Fukayama and Leon Kass: the Luddite posse. Good quote: "If I want artificial blood, augmented antioxidants, a Rhino Horn, creepy blood-red infrared eyes and a bio-networked version of a Spidey sense, then that should be my choice, my call. Will I still be human? I don't know. But I should have the right to find out, good or ill. And I shouldn't have to fear the actions of Kass, Fukuyama and especially Kaczynski." To which I would add, provided all that stuff isn't being pushed by corporate body-molders as the Next Big Thing, in a milieu of bought-off regulators, a la Big Pharm and Big Agriculture. Not sure how we're going to get to the post-human phase without some awfully unhappy guinea pigs.
Wireframe Aesthetics (Part 2). Above is a screen grab from the 20th Anniversary Tron DVD, specifically a "making of"
feature. This was probably an early test for the MCP (Master Control Program): it looks better exploded like that than it did in the finished movie, where it seemed pretty stiff. I learned a lot from the DVD, specifically how Moebius's production sketches dramatically spiced up the film's look, and how Sid Mead, the futurist designer who also consulted on Blade Runner, contributed cogent machine design (e.g., the light cycles and tanks). The computer graphics were divided among four different companies. In order to communicate the movements the filmmakers wanted (say, in the sequence where a Recognizer chases a tank), the animators hand-wrote numerical coordinates for the horizontal, vertical, and depth axes of each object, as well as variable factors such as pitch and yaw, on a sheet of paper, and the graphics shop keypunched the numbers in: 600 numbers translated into four seconds of film. The movie had approximately 20 minutes of computer-generated footage (including the "descent into the computer," the yes/no-speaking "bit," and other vignettes), all of which had to be painstakingly integrated with the backlit kodalith of the rotoscoped sequences. The "making of" featurette is tres corporate; the Disney execs interviewed basically fib and say the movie succeeded from the get-go, when in actuality the game outsold the film in '82. Absent is any mention of Wendy Carlos' lush electronic score, snippets of which are playing constantly in the background.
The Artforum Top Ten wasn't great when Greil Marcus did it: too cutesy-cryptic, with endless attention paid to blues and folk-based music only a few ex-hippies care about. Since he left, artists have been doing Top Tens and now it's even worse. Instead of talking about stuff they know and like (like, say, the work of fellow artists), most feel, because it's Artforum, they have to drop references to obscure theorists, difficult bands, and hard-to-navigate websites (and don't get me started on the "Hot List"). Thus it was a pleasant surprise to see Guy Richards Smit mentioning homestarrunner.com in this month's issue--something even kids like! The link to Smit's Top Ten is here (at least while the mag is on the stands); the link to Homestar is here (but not in the online version of the Top Ten--go figure). Speaking of Homsar, I mean Homestar (cryptic, Marcusian in-joke), I recommend the Strong Bad email called "techno," in which the masked one improvises a spot-on, old school techno track with mouth noises until suddenly interrupted by The Cheat doing a "lightswitch rave." Even Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel would have to agree this is superb. "The system is down... The system is down..."
LoVid at Southfirst, May 10, 2003 (photo by yours truly)
If you're looking for uninformed opinions on upcoming movies, I can recommend no better source than PreReview. The blurbs there (including a few of mine) are based on fleeting glimpses of trailers and TV ads, memories of films that look superficially similar, and half-baked speculation. In other words, the movies are getting exactly the kind of ink they deserve. Check it out, it's fun!
The images above are pixelist drawings from the deviantART website. (The name "deviantART" rankles, by the way; it's not like there's much sexual or transgressive content on the site. In fact, it's fairly tyPICal in its table-jammed, info-overloaded layout. A lot of the work is great, though.) Although deviantART makes images freely available for the clicking, the administrators guilt-trip you about asking each artist's permission to reproduce them. 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, bitchy "fair use" disclaimer and will be linked to in future posts.) Left to right, top to bottom: banxter, wenstrom; wenstrom, beef; astropioneer, robotriot. Each image is linked to its source page.