Monday, June 20, 2016

Jacky Connolly’s Hudson Valley Ruins

There are times when you see something and it changes you. It makes you feel differently and think differently in the same way one might feel when they suddenly realize that they can understand a language that is not their own. This happened to me last night while watching Jacky Connolly’s video Hudson Valley Ruins.

Having worked for over two years on this project Connolly screened it for the first time last night and it left me actually at a loss for words, which is both rare and delightful. I did not know anything about Connolly’s work so had little expectation besides the trust in the curators who were presenting it, Kimberly-Klark, and their vouching of it.

So here is what you see. You are in a place, a town, and there are suburban houses, trees rustling in the wind, sunsets and hills. You enter into these spaces, into rooms and into homes, and inside there are characters. Some are adult, some are male but mostly it is girls. As the video proceeds it is focused on two of these girls. Both are brunette, one adolescent, perhaps eight, and another a young teen, perhaps fourteen. We will return to them later but let’s go back to the general spaces. You are in environments, buildings, a school, a kitchen, a basement rec room, a Chinese restaurant…and you travel in these but you are also given shuffled first person views. The characters, when present, are both at points of being looked at and also the directional pull in which you travel through the spaces.

The spaces are sets. There is a precision to their details that is dizzying. The posters on the wall, the color of the couch, the texture of the carpet, they are all so specific and right. There is a minutia to detail that becomes both brutal and bland. The environment they are depicting is a replication of middle-class Americana which is both sterile and nauseous. Anyone who grew up in this knows this feeling to the core. It brings back smells and memories of these types of rooms in an almost revolting Proustian fashion.

These spaces are surreal as well. There are ladders that lead to bizarre places that feel more like psychological and emotional zones than actual spaces. There is a Lynchian quality to many of them in both staged presentation and also the pulsing ambience of the uncanny, unsettling and possibilities of violence.

Within these settings the characters exist but there is a claustrophobia to every space, even those depicting outside landscapes. When the characters are in a room together there is at times interactions but even in these there is a containment and isolation. This is further compounded by the lack of any talking. There is none at all and only once, when the teenage girl is at the psychologists, is there even a donating that words are being said. The only sound throughout the film is the sound of wind and at moments rain.

What is happening to the main characters is revealed in the habitations and the interactions they bare witness to or take part in. Seeing parents (or a new dating partner) getting spanked on the family room couch or giving a blow-job to the boy from school while wearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers tank top. All the actions and inactions feel like tight screws in the brain. You also question the possibilities of everything including time. Are these two girls the same girl? Is past/present/future simultaneous or are they discreet? The ambiguity and tension is unrelenting and the banality of it all makes you beg for some form of release.

But no. You don’t get that. Connolly does not give you an easy way out by handing you some arching narrative or visual gateway. You would think that this type of tightness would make you want to leave the room but you can’t because what you are looking at – the visual depth, skill, and technique – anchors you down into place.

I should probably mention at this point that this video was made using the characters, settings and programming of the video game Sims. This is a game in which you create a world and build a society, community, whatever you may wish. I have never played this game but knowing that this is the source for this visual fantasy/reality left me even more impressed by Connolly’s capacity to imagine and cull. The static expressions, the clothing, the lamp, the dog, the sunset, these may have been prototyped in some fashion but in the hands of Connolly they are surreal in their exactness.

Watching this video makes you not think the words ‘video art’ but rather ‘film.’ The quality and the completeness of vision being displayed is something that teams and teams of producers, designers and fabricators would have had to do on a movie set. Connolly has created her own type of film using a technology and source that allows her to delve and articulate her story maximally by using minimal means. The combination of all the elements and the obvious labor and care that was taken into making this work is a bit mind numbing but in the best way. Seeing this work left me awed as it shows how much is possible in art right now and gives me a taste of what will be coming which I hope leaves me as dumbfounded and amazed as this did.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Palmistry in The New Yorker


I am d.e.a.d. after this weekend. That thing I had to throw was a success and now I am bracing myself for another blitz of a week. That being said I can barely feel my eyeballs let alone think. While I was in crazy mode last week I found slivers of calm. This usually happened while in the shower or in the subway. In the shower I would listen to WNYC and in the subway I would read The New Yorker. Both are quintessentially New York things as the pledge drives say so it was a sheer surprise and delight when one of the critic’s pieces in the recent issue of The New Yorker featured Mixpack (a music label based in Brooklyn) and one of its artists Palmistry.

Palmistry (Benjy Keating) is one of my favorite musicians for the past ~2 years and he is based in London. When I moved there last-last fall I made it a self-anointed point to meet him come hell or high water. Luckily I linked myself in with certain crowds and he is friends with them so yes I did meet him. I was too shy and trying to be too cool to actually say how much I liked his music so instead I just stared at him and nodded my head a bit and said “hi,” then immediately turned around to avoid complete embarrassment.

Anyways, it doesn’t matter that I met him or that he and I were in the same room/party many a night. I think it is always better to keep at a remove those who you “like” in an artistic way to some degree. But ya, seeing him in The New Yorker while riding in the M train to work made me smile and feel happy because the world felt both wonderfully large and small.

Below is the article in full. It is well written by Carrie Battan and for those that don’t know/haven’t listened to Palmistry, find, download and take some time to listen to it. It has been the backdrop to my life on many solitary walks.

Dancehall’s vivid new sounds.

By Carrie Battan

In 2012, Snoop Dogg set out to refashion himself as a Rastafarian named Snoop Lion. He travelled to Jamaica, where he called on a number of artists to help grease his transition. In a three-week recording session for an album called “Reincarnated,” he worked closely with Diplo, the swashbuckling d.j. who spearheads the dance-pop group Major Lazer. The pairing seemed natural: Diplo had the Midas touch as a producer and was becoming a star in his own right, one who had built his reputation chiefly by playing the role of an outsider turned liaison to Caribbean music.

But Snoop also enlisted the help of a soft-spoken d.j. and producer named Andrew Hershey, who has developed a standing as a kind of anti-Diplo. Although both musicians are white American men who are fascinated by far-flung cultures and sounds, Diplo has used his access as a platform for success and celebrity, while Hershey has remained a background figure. Diplo transcends his outsider status with brazen force; Hershey, who performs as Dre Skull, tends toward assimilation, dutifully experimenting within the existing framework of reggae and dancehall music.

Much of this experimentation has taken place on Mixpak, a small but influential Brooklyn label that Hershey founded, in 2009. Years earlier, he had begun poking around on the Internet, attempting to forge relationships with Caribbean artists, when he connected with Vybz Kartel, the most celebrated musician of the modern dancehall era—and eventually the most notorious, thanks to a murder conviction that resulted in a life sentence in prison, in 2014. Prior to Kartel’s conviction, Hershey went to Kingston to join him in the studio; these sessions generated a modest hit called “Yuh Love,” along with Kartel’s 2011 album, “Kingston Story.”

In the years since Mixpak launched, its catalogue has grown to include a wide range of styles—the label is home to an all-female Japanese post-punk band called Hard Nips, as well as to a suite of club-minded electronic musicians—but it has focussed on dancehall, reggae’s thunderous digital stepchild. Hershey describes his path to the genre as serendipitous, a logical extension of his longtime obsession with hip-hop. With Mixpak, he has assembled a cross-cultural, high-low list of records from established heavyweights, like Kartel and his softer-sounding protégé Popcaan, along with lesser-known and more outré newcomers intent on upending listeners’ expectations of Caribbean music. Mixpak is surely the only label that offers a raucous Beenie Man single and an ambient electronic producer from New York on the same SoundCloud feed. The label has become such an exalted brand that unaffiliated dancehall artists have released music with fake Mixpak stamps attached.

At one extreme of the Mixpak spectrum is Benjy Keating, a young producer and vocalist from London who sees dancehall music through a long-focus lens. His début album, “Pagan,” released under the name Palmistry, offers a hyper-specific version of the genre. It feels almost like a hallucination—blurry but vivid, its sorrow and pleasure twisted tightly together. The songs are dancehall tracks distilled to their bare essentials, with the music rarely consisting of more than a plasticized synth line of buttery chord progressions and a spare bass drum. Anything more would overpower Keating’s voice, a feminine lilt that hardly registers above a whisper. The result is a sense of hushed intimacy, and yet Keating keeps the listener at arm’s length, perhaps out of necessity. He is cognizant of the complications of being a white British guy singing dancehall, a situation he tiptoes nimbly around by obscuring himself, slipping in and out of a light patois, using Auto-Tune, and varying his phrasing until the meaning of the words begins to drift into oblivion. Sometimes disarming lines will float to the surface: “Daddy was a pastor / Mommy was a pastor / Son, son was a pagan,” he sings on “Paigon,” one of the only moments on the record that reveals biographical details.

 “Pagan” is less a collection of songs than a slow-moving accretion of sensation. Keating is not concerned with trying to replicate any one style of music; instead, he explores what happens when he takes familiar elements—in this case, chord progressions and rhythms burned into our senses by dancehall and soca—and presents them in an uncanny way. The result is often quite affecting, an emotional blend of recognizable and alien pop music. At the album’s heart are sorrow and loss. On “Sweetness,” the stickiest and most conventional pop track, Keating reels off a list of enticing sensory details: smoke, silk water, jasmine, blood amber, bubbling tea, blackberry cream, cinnamon sheets. “The sweetness is a malady,” he sings, on one of the album’s rare choruses. “The sweetness / I love your malady.” Given Keating’s accent and the airiness of the album, it’s easy to hear this line as “I love your melody.” There’s a darkness to his sound that suggests that joy and affliction are not unrelated.

“Pagan” has a meditative, hymnal quality; its songs could work well as background music at a spa, at a dance club for shy people, or as objects of study in a semiotics seminar. It is a dancehall record at heart, but it’s not the product of nostalgia or respect for tradition. Rather, it’s born out of the hungry energy of someone realizing that the elements of long-established styles are at his fingertips, available to be remolded. And yet the effect is never parodic—when Keating sings a line such as “Do the wine like it’s happy hour,” he’s sombre and worshipful enough to avoid sounding silly.

There was a period in the early and mid-aughts when dancehall artists carried their own water in the American market. With the help of the major labels, Jamaican musicians like Sean Paul, Sean Kingston, and Elephant Man broke into Top Forty radio. You couldn’t go a day in the summer of 2003 without hearing at least one single from Sean Paul’s irresistible pop-dancehall album “Dutty Rock,” two of whose songs hit No. 1. Unless you count Rihanna’s mush-mouthed Bajan triumph, “Work,” which had a recent stint at No. 1, those days are behind us. Today, Caribbean styles are used in pop music like giant sandwich boards, announcing an American pop star’s desired effect in crude block letters: Here is a summery song. Here is a light song. Here is a song that is designed to make you feel happy. Take twice a day with sun.

But reggae and dancehall are especially fluid genres, well suited to experimentation. Artists like Palmistry and others on the Mixpak roster show that Caribbean music can be more than a loud statement piece to be discarded at will—it can be a foundation for a new sound. The clever Egyptian-Canadian singer Ramriddlz, on his new EP “Venis,” has melted down these styles to a sensual syrup, swirled with cheeky lyrics and hybridized slang. (In the earlier age of playful new genre taxonomy, someone might have named this “Reggae & B.”) A few months ago, his breezy single “Sweeterman” captured the attention of Drake, who proceeded to release his own version. Drake’s unofficial riff attracted millions of listens on the Internet, both accelerating and muddling Ramriddlz’s trajectory.

Drake, in fact, has demonstrated a keen and growing curiosity about Caribbean music, owing partly to the influence of the many immigrant enclaves in Toronto, his home town. For Drake, dancehall has been an effective way to raise the temperature and the mood of his otherwise chilly, downcast style. He has also used the vocabulary of dancehall to shield himself from accusations of theft. When asked in an interview to explain his use of the rapper D.R.A.M.’s track “Cha Cha” on his hit song “Hotline Bling,” Drake invoked the “riddim,” the tradition in which Jamaican artists endlessly iterate on a single rhythm. “In Jamaica, you’ll have a riddim, and it’s, like, everyone has to do a song on that,” he said. “So sometimes I’ll pick a beat . . . and I just try my hand at it.” Weeks before the release of his new album, “Views,” a track called “Controlla” leaked online. That version of the song, a sweet spritz of dancehall, sampled a Beenie Man track from 1995 and featured a verse from Popcaan, Mixpak’s marquee Jamaican vocalist. But by the time “Views” came out the Popcaan verse had been discarded, the limits of a pop heavyweight’s curiosity plain to see. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Every Time I Have To Throw a Party I Get Sick


It must be some sort of pathology. I feel ill. I feel feverish and my body feels like it is going to collapse on itself. It might be too many nights sleeping where one shouldn’t and going out too much but I think it's because I have a big event coming up and every time there is some big event I get some sort of vague illness that incapacitates me.

My grandmother used to get chronic stomach aches just before some sort of undesirable event or confrontation. I must have imbibed this social reflex because my body seems to screech to a halt when something vast is around the corner.

Why does one do this to oneself? Throwing themselves on the line for one reason or another when life can easily be lived as some sort of backdrop or prop. I wish I was a prop sometimes. Maybe a broom, one of those handmade ones that look like a witch can hop on to it. Or maybe a teapot no one ever uses. But yup, I’m not a prop.

Organizing events is easy most of the times. I actually enjoy doing it in some ways but when it is actually about to happen I feel perplexed as to why and what I’m doing. Perhaps what makes a difference is when something is planned for oneself or for others. For others there is more pressure in some ways but I think planning something for one’s own behalf is the most grueling because there is a level of embarrassment that hovers too close.

I’m literally having some sort of fever episode, so why I’m even trying to write or make any sense is beyond me. I guess I’m just trying to be honest even in this state because I tried to conjure or copy paste some thing from somewhere but that just seemed to require too much actual brain power. While this lacks any at all.

I guess I’m edging around the idea of having to do things that one doesn’t want to do and having no option but to do it and having no one to blame for that conundrum then oneself. Life is a series of having to do things we don’t want to do and I despised and still in many ways despise the falsity of it. Nothing made me want to explode more then being told to ‘smile’ as a child during family events. Regardless, we do a whole bunch of things we don’t want because there is a form of value and exchange. Expectation and reward, even if down the line. Obligation is a strange animal that we have domesticated and call baby when no one else is looking.

But we silly humans need this. It gives us structure, social ties, fills the boredom of our days and distracts from the impossible, dreadful question of who we are and what the hell we are all doing here.

So yes I have to throw a shin-dig in a few days and I hope that my horizontal corpse-like repose today will allow me to be in full fit form by then. I will have to be because even if I am about to pass out from a real or made-up illness I will ‘smile’ and make sure that the party goes on because that’s exactly what I'm supposed to do.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Posts I've Liked


Not even exaggerating: For the last two hours, every time I have sat down to do a post I look at the screen then say ‘fuck it’ in my head and go to my bed and try to take a nap. This has happened four times. I literally cannot even think right now. I’m in over-drive-action-mode meaning that if what I have to do is not a results oriented action, my brain automatically flat lines to conserve energy. Self-preservation is astounding. That being said I still have to pop one of these posts out because I obviously am a masochist.

My little ding of a solution came to me when I was distracting myself by looking at Instagram while pretending to nap in bed a few minuets ago. I like this social app more then most because I like pictures and it also lets me stay in touch with friends. Also, learning about people’s aesthetics, humor and narrative constructions is stimulating. It’s a bizarre voyeurism/attention seeking that can be very revealing or completely inane. I love that combo. Anyways. I’m going to describe the last 20 posts I’ve liked and why below. I know that this is a very stupid post but it’s this or me literally pretending to nap until it's dark out.

Description: He is getting his hair braided in Central Park
Why I liked it: Because he is really handsome, he looks serene and we just messaged a bit ago so he was on my mind. Plus he has really great hair.

Description: Red rose bush
Why I liked it: I like almost all flower pics because I really like flowers.

Description: Tan dog with pointy ears smiling
Why I liked it: Because it’s a tan dog with pointy ears smiling.

Description: Blurred, image of himself with little moustache
Why I liked it: Because he is one of the most fascinating looking people I have/will ever meet and the image is bizarre.

Description: She is wearing glasses, has braids and is sticking her tongue out
Why I liked it: Straight forward, good lighting, looks cute selfie.

Description: She is holding a stuffed frog with a bee tear by her face
Why I liked it: Because it looks sweet and pensive

Description: Ground with green grass and seeds that look like snow
Why I liked it: Because it reminds me of London parks at this time of year.

Description: Room with exposed concrete wall, a broom and a cat
Why I liked it: I like almost all pictures with cats and also the composition of image is nice.

Description: Pic with husband on honeymoon
Why I liked it: They are on their honeymoon!

Description: Guy in metro in Mex City with exposed arms/chest and noticeable bulge
Why I liked it: That bulge. Lolz.

Description: Headless girl wearing white and holding something silver
Why I liked it: Like white color and seems fashion arty.

Description: Stubby posts and dunes at Fort Tilden
Why I liked it: Because we went together and it was very foggy.

Description: Overhead crowd snap of DaddyCon
Why I liked it: Lots of bald heads and butts.

Description: Girl holding a baby
Why I liked it: Friends baby and I like babies.

Description: Swimsuit bottom rolled in a way that looks like a hula-hoop/net thingy
Why I liked it: Went to the beach that day and want to wear a bikini everyday as well.

Description: Video of a rap concert
Why I liked it: I like that song and wish I was there with her.

Description: Orange cat on a porch   
Why I liked it: It’s a cat.

Description: People wearing paper numbers on their heads with white string
Why I liked it: Seems confusing.

Description: Boys on the beach
Why I liked it: I like those boys and I too was on the beach that day.

Description: Selfie in white tee shirt
Why I liked it: Rarely posts pics of himself and I miss him because he is my friend.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Brief Thoughts on Manners

Having manners, being polite, is something that I hold to a high esteem. It is not the glue of social fabric but more like the padding that makes things have less static, less friction. I possibly have an old fashion sense of manners; I think they should be constant, consistent and with little fanfare and should create the least amount of embarrassment and attention.

Manners are a dance. The partnering and the balance of their exchange is what makes them have meaning. The failure, by choice or otherwise, to meet that exchange is painful to both watch and endure. I want to discuss manners because frankly I think that many people (especially in the art world) lack them. I am no Emily Post and have certainly breeched my fair share of good behavior but in the past few days I have bore witness and been told about certain incidents that leaves me tisking at the state of things. Because of this and because I literally have zero time in my day to do anything else, I will give a few judgmental quips on these slips of manners.

Be Actually Nice – Everyone knows everyone in the art world and one day that intern might become your boss so make sure to be nice and be actually nice, like care about what they are saying and doing, versus just patting them on the head.

Don’t Lie – If you say you have jet-lag and you aren’t going out and then you go out to an opening in which literally everyone is there you will get caught. Why lie when you can easily just admit how busy you are and that if you bump into each other just say hello. When someone is lied to, especially someone with access and power, they will not forget. It will bite you in the ass one-way or another even if it’s months/years from now.

Pay Your Part and More if You Need – When people go to a dinner and they leave early and drop a $20 it is just the most obnoxious thing. Everyone knows that if you have a group of over 4 people the bill somehow comes 3x more then what you expect. I hate settling the check, all that money exchanging hands is so tacky, but if you want to be at group dinners and you know it’s going to be split bill at least have the class to stay and see what is due. That is unless you can pay for the whole thing -then you can leave whenever you damn please.

Gossip – There are certain people that you know have the dish on others and that is juicy to hear and mostly harmless but then there are others who seem to make it a form of self identity to be in other people’s business. As soon as some like that that starts mentioning people by name eject yourself asap from that zone. Even if you don’t stoke the gossip just being audience to it makes you complicit.

Respond Back – We are all little Pavlov dogs drooling on ourselves waiting for a ding or buzz of affirmation. There are degrees of timeliness in responding to someone. Text ~3 hours, email ~2 days, direct message FB ~5 hours, direct message Instagram ~2 days. This of course changes in regards to content, context and if it is a friend/professional/or romantic relationship but for the love of god respond! The ability to communicate and to do it in a timely way is essential to having balanced relationships. Most of the time this is easy and fun but sometimes you just don’t know what to say or don’t want to keep playing the ping-pong social relay. Even if you don’t want to it’s always less cruel to respond then to just drop/ghost on someone. It’s sometimes harder but it is nicer and more adult.

Shit Talking – Shit talking is different then gossiping because this is not about something someone did or is going through but a general attack on another’s character. There are some who really enjoy shit-talking. They relish in it and when you call them out on it they defensively say something stupid like, ‘I’m just joking, you know I love them,’ or some other asinine thing. Shit-talkers are someone you should be wary of because if they shit talk their, “close friends” then god knows what they must be saying about you. Beware and keep a tight lip around them because they will the first to drop your name into their shit-talking mix.

Be Gentlemanly/Womanly – We do not live in the Victorian times but a good dose of formality in manners, especially when it comes to romantic interactions, is so appreciated. Holding hands, opening doors, just kissing, touching knees, optimal seating, being prompt, saying how nice a time you had, all these are such little things but they are so lovely and sweet.

Say Thank You – This is literally the simplest most obvious thing in the world but there are so many times when people really just don’t get that this is what one should say in exchange for a favor or deed. Like if you stay at someone’s place as a guest for multiple days you should say thank you in some way. A note, an email, a chocolate bar, a text. Whatever! Your boyfriend saying that you say thanks in passing is not sufficient. It’s so simple and because of that, when it is not done it leaves a bigger check against you.