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This article in the Guardian reminds us that World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki also designed the Pruitt-Igoe towers, a public housing project that was so unpopular it was imploded on national TV in 1972. For architect and theorist Charles Jencks, the Pruitt-Igoe tear-down was a turning point in architectural history, signaling the end of deterministic, Cartesian Modernism and the beginning of postmodern eclecticism. The article describes the WTC towers as "respected rather that loved," but even that seems generous. The towers were hideously banal; the only thing they had going for them was intimidating scale.
On the sheer, perverse un-naturalness of skyscrapers, J. G. Ballard's mid '70s novel High Rise comes to mind. Ballard envisions attacks not from without but within, as war breaks out among the upper and lower strata of an enormous, sealed-in, glass-and-concrete residential building. Instead of office-workers racing to the lower floors, the book describes a violent quest by lower-floor residents to reach, and conquer, the top of the building, where the elite-of-the-elite dwell. The book is a dark, Lord of the Flies-type parable, rather than a tale of camaraderie and heroism such as we've seen in the aftermath of the WTC disaster, but the point is it's hard to think about huge, hermetic, man-made structures without thinking about related cataclysmic scenarios. Big buildings are a real estate necessity in super-dense NY, but no one should be romanticizing (or vowing to rebuild) Yamasaki's twin follies.
CNN has its banner in place: "America's New War." It's back to the glory days of '91 for the network, as it is for Bush Junior, who was doing pretty poorly his first few months after stealing the election but now gets to walk around in his daddy's combat boots. For the few who are disgusted by all the war talk, please check out counterpunch.org, which has sane, worried observations about the coming national security state, speculation that CNN's footage of Palestinians cheering may be a recycled shot from '91 (since retracted), and excerpts of war cries and other jingoistic insanity from Congress and the press.
I watched the second World Trade Center tower collapse from a friend's sixth floor apartment window. It was very surreal and scary: it disappeared in seconds.
I can't watch TV or listen to the radio anymore--Day One was news; Day Two it's all platitudes and jingoism, with "America Under Attack" graphics and theme music. The 24-hr. news radio station WINS has a sickening montage they play every half hour or so, of professionally edited sound clips from yesterday: (Dirge-like musical chords under) "Oh my god, the building's collapsing!" "There were bodies falling..." "I saw people linked arm in arm..." (Little girl's voice): "Why did they have to die?" (Actually that last bit is probably from the sound library, or maybe it's the station owner's daughter.)
In an early speech, Bush referred to the terrorists as "cowards": uh, I don't think so. Those acts took nerves of steel and utter conviction that the US was an enemy.
The conservative columnist David Horowitz says "America is in denial that much of the world hates us, and will continue to hate us. Because we are prosperous, and democratic and free." They hate us, all right, but it's because we're perceived as a bully and an empire-builder; they (rightly) abhor the corruption and repression of our client states (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, etc.). Personally, I think we just paid a price for the cynical realpolitik we've practiced in the Middle East: one minute we're propping up Saddam, the next minute he's our sworn enemy, etc. It's all about the oil, isn't it? We act like we're entitled to it, so we can drive SUVs and run our air conditioners around the clock.
Here's an interesting quote from Michael Zanini, a graduate fellow at the RAND corporation, from a Salon interview: "Bin Laden actually issued a declaration of war against the U.S. in the mid-1990s. For his organization, the larger aim is to liberate the holy sites. Their problem is the U.S. military occupation of the countries of the greater Middle East. They want the Middle East to be free of unbelievers, among other things. And they probably also have an opposition to U.S. hegemony worldwide. They've declared war, and up to this point, they've targeted government assets and infrastructure: U.S. embassies and the destroyer USS Cole. That's U.S. government property, which is what an army would target."
Another friend has been listening to the call-in shows, lest he be out of touch with the Real America: he says it's all "let's kill the towel-heads." Great.
Jason Little's great cartoon strip Bee (recently picked up by the New York Press) is available online (the first 35 episodes are viewable in a click-through version). Set in Manhattan, with knowing references to the downtown art and music scenes, the strip follows the adventures of a perky moto-photo employee, whose curiosity about the off-color photos she collects from unsuspecting customers leads her blithely down the trail to the dark side. The panels are beautifully drawn and smartly written, and the online layout is much better than the print version.
Three artists making exciting drawings and/or paintings with the computer right now are Marsha Cottrell, Matt Chansky, and Claire Corey. To view a small slide show of their work, click here. A couple of images may load slowly, and you'll have to scroll up and down a bit to see them, but to shrink them any more would be criminal. More images and discussion will be added soon.
An excellent installation by Ryan McGinness occupied the north side of the eighth floor of 129 Lafayette, NYC, from August 16 - 31. McGinness wrote a much-hyped book called flatnessisgod, the how-to angle of which is offputting--it purports to be a design manual when it's essentially just his portfolio--but give him credit for finding a way to get his work out there. The installation appeared in a massive, well-installed group show organized by artist Lin-i Liu (and various invited curators) in an empty Chinatown building, in one of those "the realtors are trying to sell it, let's give it to artists for a few weeks" arrangements; McGinness's artwork filled one wall, spilled onto the floor, and partially covered the windows. The subject matter was corporate logos--perhaps a couple hundred in all, very cleanly rendered in solid colors (in Illustrator?), crisply printed on sheets of peel-and-stick vinyl, and affixed directly to the wall. The pastiche recalls Ashley Bickerton's identity-festooned wall sculptures and Michael Bevilacqua's retro-Pop paintings (without the former's nasty '80s cynicism and the latter's Yellow Submarine grooviness), expanded into a temporary, room-sized installation. Like Bevilacqua, McGinness rotates the labels this way and that, overlaps them, and pays no attention to their "official" scale or color. Most interestingly, he sneaks in a lot of "street content" in form of graffiti and handbill images, which he gives the same slick, high-end treatment. COST/REVS may or may not have made it into the mix, but Andre the Giant did (by the way, has anyone noticed the Andre vs Gary Coleman stencils that've been appearing on sidewalks lately?). Best of all, McGinness painstakingly recreated the huge, semi-coherent block capitals painted by an ambitious street artist on a building a couple of blocks from 129 Lafayette; because McGinness's stick-on version half-covered the windows facing the graffitied building, one could look "through" the corporatized letters and compare them with the originals. McGinness's work invites the inevitable "we're living in a haze of information, blah blah," discourse, but what's most fascinating about the installation is how enticing the logos (and graffitos) are. We're surrounded by these images every day--the Glidden oval, the French's Mustard flag, anonymous "tags" on subway platforms--but McGinness momentarily strips them of their context and presents them as pure, intoxicating design. Even the evil Adobe A looks good.
A few more images have been added to my slide show of low end graphics collage pieces. I've spent the last few weeks writing and revising my article on digital art, and am about ready to send it off. Sample quote: "[D]oubts continue to haunt digital work. New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman questioned its long-term viability in his 'BitStreams' review, fretting that 'today's hardware and operating systems, the digital equipment artists use, will be replaced shortly by a new generation of equipment.' That may be true, although you hear less and less about the doubling of computer power predicted by Moore's Law these days. What Kimmelman doesn't say is that imaging software hasn't changed fundamentally since the early '80s, when Apple added MacPaint to the desktop interface developed by Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Nowadays, programs are pixel-based (Adobe Photoshop) or vector-based (Adobe Illustrator), they involve either layering (Photoshop again) or mapping textures onto polygonal armatures (a la Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic), but you still have the same combination of drawing board, tool menus, and spectrum bar that you did twenty years ago. Programmers and engineers have refined these basics, added more depth and memory, improved printing and screen technology, but haven't radically rethought how images are made. Until that happens, resolution remains largely a matter of taste, which the best artists know how to use proactively."
Jaro Gielens' collection of over 400 handheld and tabletop computer games from the late '70s to the early '80s is documented in a book titled Electronic Plastic, published by Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin (available through amazon). The breathtaking design of the book is by Lopetz, a member of the Swiss graphics collective Büro Destruct, who is a game fanatic and Japanophile. Just as the design of the plastic shells and accessories of the games cleverly mimicked their subject matter ("Safari," "Airport Panic"), Lopetz riffs on the colors, logos, and typography of the games, yielding a hybrid experience that is more "now" than nostalgic. To view thumbnails of the entire book, click here.