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Plamegate: Cutting Through the Crap
Josh Marshall and others are tryin' to be responsible, dancing around the conclusion we all already know:
Blowing Valerie Plame's CIA cover was the act of vindictive, small-minded people.
George Bush Jr. and Karl Rove are vindictive, small-minded people.
One thing that's clear in all this: how susceptible everyone is to BushCo's sleazy memes. Even liberal columnists keep putting the Plame affair in terms of the importance of the "sixteen words." Everyone talks as if it's the only troubling statement the Administration made in the run-up to war, and that's why Wilson's debunking of it was so critical. Crap, the speech (and Powell's speech to the UN) were full of inaccuracies, half-truths and innuendos; it wasn't just one problematic sentence. The al Qaeda link, nukes, anthrax, SCUDs: all lies to whip up the monkeymass. Here's an AP article listing all the claims about Saddam that turned out not to be true.
A few weeks back I commented on an Artforum interview with the art historian Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, a teacher of mine in college. I've been rethinking what I said about the following paragraph, on photorealist (or what he calls Hyperrealist) painting:
This insistence on the literal copy is the most caustic aspect of Hyperrealism, undoing what had been the basis of art for five hundred years: the judicious imitation, which was sought by the painter Zeuxis, who chose what was most beautiful in nature. In a word, let's call it artistic idealism. This was Hyperrealism's most decried aspect from the outset: the truly useless character of this painting. Why paint paintings of this sort when they are closest to what they are copying? From this point of view, Hyperrealism completes the modernist destruction of classical aesthetics.By "closest to what they're copying" I assumed he meant the original subject matter (and said some stuffy things about painting already doing that) but now I think he means the photo itself. Why go to all the trouble to reproduce something that's already documented, usually more accurately, by a photo? It's kind of a meaningless Dada gesture, and I suppose that's what he means about the destruction of classical aesthetics. I guess I should track down his catalog--hopefully it'll be translated.
Thanks to Walter Robinson for the link from his Weekend Update column on artnet.com. The post on Claire Corey, ChanSchatz, and Millree Hughes he mentions is here, or just scroll further down this page past the posts about redacted porn art and equality-minded capuchin monkeys. Another page that recently linked here is this description of the shinth tour, featuring Los Fancy Free, Twig Harper (of Nautical Almanac), Fashion Flesh, and Peter B. "Shinths" are plain circuit boards with no inputs or outputs; to use them, tour musicians must "come with alligator clips and break, coax, or otherwise force sounds out." Tour organizer and shinth inventor Peter B. belongs to an emerging group of sculptor-musicians for whom electronic instrument design is as integral as the blurps, hums, twitters, and shrieks that emerge from them. Other noteworthy practitioners include Delia R. Gonzales and Gavin R. Russom, whose inlaid quasi-board game with functioning sound modules was a highlight of Daniel Reich's recent show at D'Amelio Terras, and Nautical Almanac, whose homemade instruments of recycled guitar parts, cheap '80s synths, and hairballs of wire evoke a certain skronky, shorted-out arcade sound before the first note is played. More on the trend later.
UPDATE: I changed "inlaid board game" to "inlaid quasi-board game" in the next to last sentence above. The slightly recessed wood tabletop suggested a chess or backgammon board with electronics-kit knobs instead of markings; I seriously doubt it functioned as a game.
A friend thinks there's too much artwork out there using redacted porno (see my earlier post discussing the work of Laura Carton, Istvan Szilasi, Jon Haddock, and Kathy Grove). She just forwarded a couple of e-announcements for exhibitions on this theme:
Michel Auder, opening Thursday, September 25, 2003, 7-9pm, at PARTICIPANT INC, 95 Rivington Street, NYC. "Auder will exhibit two bodies of recent photographic works, 'Orchard Street,' and his ongoing series, 'Details.' [...] 'Details' are conscientiously rendered minutiae, anthologized fragments from pornography websites. As if he has become indifferent toward the central action, Auder looks toward the peripheries, bringing into focus lush yet mundane details of décor and surface texture."Returning to my friend's criticism: certainly, in the late '80s/early '90s we learned what happened when you don't edit sexual content: artists lose funding and museum directors get hauled off to the hoosegow. The Republican Senator jerking off to 4-star hotel porn will freak out utterly if the same content appears in a museum. Is editing out the good stuff a way for artists to talk about a rival image-based, consciousness-shaping industry without getting in trouble? Or worse, do artists have an inherent bias towards good taste that makes them bypass the sweaty main attraction and concentrate on the decor? As mentioned earlier, Laura Carton does a good job of connecting porn to other aspects of Western life, showing the amusing range of locations where doin' the nasty takes place: rural mail drops, dentist's offices, miniature golf courses, whitewater rafts. Otherwise, I'm not sure how much can be learned from an endless succession of empty motel interiors. "Damn, there's a lot of pile carpet and fake wood paneling in the world!"
SMART Project Space, Amsterdam, September 26. "A multiple projection program of historical sex films from the dark vaults of Martha Colburn’s personal film collection. A special humorous addition to the program is a section of specially re-edited pornographic films whereby the many sex scenes have been deleted. These are mostly silent films and will be accompanied by 45’s dj-ed by Colburn and trombone/electronics by Hilary Jefferies and Felipe Waller. For the most part this is an ‘R’ rated show. XXX will be optional later in the evening."
My own contribution to the genre was a piece called Web Cam Girl, 2000, which I displayed in an Open Studio Tour that year. I deleted the "hot" photos capped off a paysite and showed 25 pics of a very normal, vivacious Canadian girl mugging for the camera. Reactions from my walk-in visitors were interesting. Many had to be told what the pictures were. Men tended to look down at the floor, and one woman needled her husband with "Is that one of the sites you go to, honey?" Women were very curious about the logistics of camming for cash (the phenom being still relatively new) and I answered like I knew something--I was bullshitting, honest! My standard rap included a discussion of self-empowerment, removing the predatory male shutterbug from the loop, a discussion of the tropes of mugging and, yes, background decor and the capper: that these pics were just as significant as Cindy Sherman's. Erudite as the discussion was, most polite listeners had the same thought balloon over their heads: "Pornhound!"
We shouldn't do something because it's right but because scientists have learned monkeys do it. That seems to be the gist of Adam Cohen's editorial in the NY Times today (liberated-from-the-archive version here). The essay argues: Capuchin monkeys are apparently "hard wired for fairness" in food distribution, etc. Humans are like capuchin monkeys. Therefore, our legal system should be more fair.
Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal, researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, chose capuchin monkeys because capuchins are among the few primates — along with men and chimpanzees — that hunt cooperatively. Team hunting has evolutionary advantages, allowing a species to capture prey, like squirrels, it otherwise could not. In many monkey societies the dominant male eats what he wants, and the others fight over the scraps. But in societies like those of capuchins — and humans — in which hunting is done cooperatively, food is more equitably distributed.Here's where the logic gets dicey: "The dominant male eats what it wants and the others fight over the scraps" isn't just a paradigm of "many monkey societies" but many human societies as well. Didn't we just depose a dictator who "built palaces while his people starved"? Didn't we just give a huge tax break to the top 1% of income earners in this country? We may all have an instinct for fairness, but whether it's expressed in our behavior--and our laws--is culturally determined. So why the appeal to evolution? Why does Cohen look to the lower primates for role models when there are libraries of legal, religious, and philosophical thought addressing issues of equity and fairness? Answer: because he's a sentimental sap. "Aw, look at the cute monkeys."
Three exhibits currently up at 526 W. 26th in Chelsea take major steps in the ongoing project of materializing 1s and 0s (art world department). The installation view at top is Millree Hughes at Michael Steinberg (9th floor). No static picture could do this show justice because every surface is lenticular printed plastic (a kind of pseudo-hologram often seen on gag postcards) encoded with five distinct abstract paintings. Each painting reveals itself in turn as you walk past the piece, and you are always looking at a "transition state" where 2 or more paintings are visible. This idea was done in a very obvious way by the Op artist Agam in the '60s (using ribbed, painted panels), but Hughes' layering of multiple viewpoints is much more shimmery and fluid--like a screen dissolve in tangible form. Miraculously recuperating Spencer Gifts technology, the show rethinks how painting can be experienced, making the spectator a participant, much as in an exhibition of Minimalist sculpture. (The floor-pieces aren't sculptures, per se, but rather paintings in a variety of elevations, orientations, and groupings.) The tangles of abstract expressionist silhouettes are done in a Flash program, very much informed by old-school paint-handling but with stretching, resizing, and color-tweaking features unique to digital programs.
Claire Corey's show at Ten in One (3rd Floor) makes us question our commitment to touch and spontaneity, supposedly the last remaining hallmarks of painterly as opposed to photographic practices. At what point do we stop caring about "the hand" and "humanity" when machines can perfectly duplicate drips, smears, and other signifiers of studio passion--that is, when we can no longer trust our senses to connect us to another's experience? Abstraction has no equivalent to portraiture's "uncanny valley," where heightened similarities make us concentrate distractingly on differences. Corey also has a show up in Germany right now, with an essay well worth reading, placing her work in the context of postmodern AbEx and explaining how she removes it one more step, from imitating a machine look with paint processes to actually using the machine to make art. Shirley Kaneda & Co., watch out: the bar has been raised.
Ditto ChanSchatz, at Massimo Audiello (5th Floor). Thinking this work was done like Corey's, all with the computer, I was disappointed to learn they cheated and used paint. What I thought were airbrush and stencil effects are apparently just airbrush and stencil (if I'm wrong about this, please leave a comment). Even worse, they've got that damn conceptual back story, obligatory for all recent Columbia MFAs: They didn't just make paintings, they're quick to explain, they gave their friends* preference sheets and had them check off favorite shapes and color combinations. Their aversion to the Individual Genius Author is laudable, but at a certain point decisions have to get made, and I'd guess these paintings lost their committee involvement fairly early in the process. They're intelligent and compelling images (except for the cheesy portraits) in which the computer is obviously integrally involved at the design stage; they don't need to be legitimized with all the discourse about "information management," corporate branding, blah blah.
*A who's who of New York curators, critics, and artists. What a coincidence! Also the friends' names are in the titles of the pieces. Touching. *retch*
Ludwig Schwarz, oil on canvas (approx 50 by 50 inches), at Angstrom Gallery, Dallas. Schwarz, whose video piece "3 Minute Cure" has a cult following here in NY, made this painting by sending a collage to a company in mainland China, which hires by-the-hour painters to render basically anything as an "original oil." This was my favorite--don't know the title yet. An earlier piece I like (not part of the painting series) is
Untitled (Ludwig Schwarz Indian Cuisine), 2001, vinyl banner, 22" x 216"