Monday, June 18, 2018

Why Does MoMA PS1 Feel Like Geopolitical Haunted House?

Zhang Huan, To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995 (P.S. Instagram removed this image from my 'stories' because they said didn't meet community guidelines. W.T.F.?)

Some gal pals and I wanted to have a nice outing together so we went to MoMA PS1 yesterday to beat the scorching heat with art viewing and conviviality. It started out nicely, it was hot and we wanted to have cold drinks of lemonade and ice water while waiting for the final member of our party. We ordered some delish fried rice to share from M. Wells (one of the few ‘museum’ eateries I don’t mind shilling out money for) and refreshed ourselves for art viewing.

We gathered, ate, chatted and then headed in.

We were not prepared.

First we saw the Reza Abdoh show. It focuses on the life/works of the Iranian/American playwright and it was a bit cacophonous. In his will, the artist requested that his works never be re-performed so following those wishes, it was mostly an archive show. The curators split up the rooms in a strange, maze like manner. The walls followed a timeline that was a bit chaotic to read and focus on but you could snip in here and there to get a sense of Abdoh’s life, art and influences without too much strain. There were videos too, some small on boxy TVs, others were re-showing stage productions on giant projection screens. There was a type of erraticism and violence to Abdoh’s work and the time of their making, late 80s, early 90s, was one ravaged with the AIDS crisis, (Abdoh died of AIDS himself in 1995). In his works, the body was site and articulation of trauma, mythology, and exegesis. It was not my type of thing but I could understand its importance in the history of avant-garde theatre and the reflection of its time and the biography of Abdoh. Nonetheless leaving the winding, saturated space and installation design left me, and the group, feeling a bit rattled, perhaps in a good way but it was one of those shows that felt unrelenting and a bit demanding.

We crossed over to see the works by Julia Phillips whose minimal install and surgical, crisp sculptures registered as more serene at first glance. But wait…as you look at the works a creeping horror settles in. The works are made of ceramics, metals and touches here and there of color. They show the body, or the absence of the body, and entrapments of restraint. Bondage fetishism meets a Sade poem was the vibe. They are light, quiet but there is a sense of screaming trauma that seeped a residue throughout the objects. It was a contained type of horror but there were just enough clues and negative spaces to leave your imagination to conjure dark, sadistic storylines. It left me feeling unsettled and wriggling physically. It was a clean razorblade compared to Abdoh’s fleshy excrement but still, it was a double whammy of unease that we all weren’t prepared for.

We braced ourselves for more.

Next was a bunch of rooms that seemed sporadic and uneventful but what made me a bit annoyed about it all was that it felt like a checklist of artists from ‘other’ places to somehow fill and meet some ‘otherness’ quota. Iran, Mexico, India, Korea, represented in slight and uninteresting ways that felt not only insincere but also token in the worst way.

This trend was continued but with more success with the installation of Fernando Palma Rodriguez. A Mexican artist, his work had a bit of an exoticised gaze but they were lighter in that there was humor and fun along with all the concept heavy references. His use of kinetics and robotics, especially at the time of the works making, was especially nice to see. But even here the heavy hand of geo-political spectre loomed and while that fits and is necessary for his work, the surrounding environment of the other shows almost diminished these works necessity. He should have been given more space and room to unravel and get messy but in his terms not that of the institutions.

This was even further compounded by Sue Coe’s show. For those who know her work, you can only expect a type of discomfiting reflecting back of the terror that is capitalism and while it is so-so-so important to have work by someone like Coe continually represented, it was the last thing one wanted to see after work after work, room after room that felt like art slaughter houses in themselves.

The reason why we went to PS1 in the first place was to see Seth Price’s installation, Danny, Mila, Hannah, Ariana, Bob, Brad. He is a charismatic and levitation-pulling artist and his installation of heroic abstractions of skin scans as light boxes was perhaps the easiest to digest at the museum but it was still heavy. Five very big vertical scans that uses surgical microscopes, satellite technologies and beauty level editing creates works that are nervy and sort of squeamish. The scale and the composition reminded me of people like Barnett Newman and Gerhard Richter. Newman’s zips and Richter’s grandiose trauma. The texturing and the crazy surface detail made me think tree, sequoia, and morgue. It was poetic enough to feel serious but it felt like a singular gesture, one idea, one piece, which is fine but we were left thirsty for more.

Lastly we saw the installation of Zhang Huan and Li Binyuan, Chinese artists from two generations who work with the body and performance. The works of Huan, mostly done in the 90s, is really great. There is a wonderful poetry and connection to the land, history and politics that is subtle but direct. One work, To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995, in which artists strip naked on a mountain, get weighed and then pile on top of each other to make another human flesh mountain was beautiful while also feeling triggering in it’s visual comparatives. Binyuan is a younger artist working today who uses his own body to speak about land, history and politics as well, but his feels too clever, too overwrought, too ‘Intro To Performance Class,’ as one of within my group described. Why there needed to be such a pairing, I’m not sure. Huan’s work would have sufficed and should have been given room to retain a poetics versus being forced into a storyline of Chinese ‘performance art history’ and ‘nowness.’

After leaving the museum, we sat outside in the heat and tried to re-balance ourselves. We all felt wrung out from all the dark art and heavy-handed spacing of it all. It is so important to show difficult work and to show artists that are not white, male, and from the USA, but there was an almost insecure overdoing it here and that makes one suspect.

Why is PS1 trying so hard to represent? Is it guilt? Is it a form of checking off to balance the rest of the year that passed or is to come? Is it following the now favorite trend of accelerating POC representation to appear like they ‘get it?’ Whatever it is, it didn’t work and it wasn’t done with a level of integrity and thoroughness that is required to enable dialogue and discovery. Curation! It’s not just an isolated room, and especially for a space like PS1 there is a sense of exhibitions being housed in a shared space together. There needs to be more care so that difficult art can have room to be absorbed versus feeling like a bludgeon to the head, over and over again.

I’m really glad that institutions are trying to rectify the disparities in the art world but please, please, please don’t patronize. Don’t just slot in. It’s bad for the organization, the artist, art in general and all the conversations and difficult topics that need/must be discussed.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Toxic Men and Their Guise of Empathy

Is there something in the water that is making men such jerks lately? No. It’s not the water. It is the way things are, have been, and seems to be forever stuck in. The phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ has been being bandied about, and it’s a good thing that it is, but there are levels here to explore. It’s not just the sexually harassing, machismo bro culture of over there that needs to be stripped bare but the more passive, yet still as pervasive, toxicity that is in the ‘arty’ guy, the ‘empathic’ guy, the ‘woke’ (gag word) guy.

Who, what, do I mean? No one in particular, well actually an accumulation of particulars that are a big globby mass, but what I’m thinking about regarding men, and frankly angered by, is due a lot of my female friends and the horrible things they are having to endure by partners, ex-partners, soon to be ex-partners, and generally the men in their lives be it family, work, or sphere of friends.

I am in the art world, they are in the art world, and many of the males involved in these conflicts are in it too, or at least adjacent to it, and they are generally liberal, open minded, conscientious, all that crap. To be a member of these types of communities there is a sense of standard of politics when it comes to civil liberties, racism, things like that, but wow is it far from what it should be for sexism and power and control structures between hetero-normative male/female relationships.

So many men who are in these communities are seen as ‘sweet,’ getting ‘it,’ and ‘allies’ (as they like to say these days), but in fact there is so much hypocrisy in what they preach/align themselves with and how they actually live/treat women.

Example: How can you call yourself an ally when you gaslight your partner and use the rhetoric of oppression to make yourself the victim yet having ultimate control of not only the communication channels and emotional tone but also physical space and objects?

Example: How can you call yourself an ally when you require a certain type of interaction, mostly based on ‘fun,’ ‘supporting you’ and ‘making things easy’ while you push away any requirement of deep conversation and dialogue on topics that might not pertain to you directly or may be difficult subjects?

Example: How can you call yourself an ally when you don’t recognize that being –blank-blank-blank- puts you in a position of power and privilege and that while no, you don't have to apologize for that, you should understand that as a fact and to be aware of how it may be different for those that are not?

These are all very basic examples. And to any women reading this, I think we have all experienced this by a male. We of course experience it in the world at large but we also experience it in the clusters of safe spaces, networks and peers we thought was ‘on our side.’ When this happens it is infuriating and also scary.  Who can we trust? Are we a part of allowing these things to keep occurring? How do we get out of this?

The masked empathy man is sinister because they use the language and the community of peers to perform a type of masculinity that feels evolved, safer. Then it happens—when they get slighted, offended, hurt, or rejectedthen you are facing a stranger but one who has intimate access to your safe zones and your mental/emotional landscape.

The sense of fear towards this type of man is one that has been relayed to me by many female friends of late and that makes my heartbreak. But I get it. I too, and probably every women reading this, has had an experience(s) in which they have to go into triage mode of escape, protect, and get reinforcements of support against the aggrieved male.

What is also infuriating is that the ‘community’ in which you are supposed to feel a part of and safe within many times lets you down. Male on male indiscretion/calling out is a socialized no-no and it really messes it up for the rest of us. That’s why many times women have to reach out and stick with other women on an island of self-preservation when the aggrieved male lashes out.

Other Men: Help us, do something about it. Believe us, and again, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

We all need to support each other. We all need to feel like we do have life rafts in the drama, craze of life. We all need to feel safe, valued, and cared for.

This isn’t an, ‘I hate men,’ post. Yes, I’m really angry because I just can’t stand how often and how much this is happening to those I care for, but it’s also about taking responsibility. Having those hard conversations with others and ourselves about how things truly are and how we can change them.

I’m sick of it and I want all those men with empathy masks out there to know that it’s not enough to just act the act. We will see through it, it will crack. Hopefully one day all that anger, toxicity and everything else that makes you so violent towards women can be appeased, lessened and hopefully you can find a form of peace. Until then, we are pissed, we are ready for you and even if it’s only women supporting other women at the moment, it will change. We will make it change.

Monday, June 4, 2018


I’ve been thinking about the idea of talent lately. Being friends with ‘creatives’ inevitably makes you surrounded by them. Of course people in the art world are supposed to be talented in some way. Making things, thinking things, all that, but the talent I’m talking about is the private, underused type.

People who play instruments, people who make clothes, people who make things for their apartment or friends. There skills are personal  and private for  oneself or a small circle of people.

It’s astonishing how talented people are sometimes. It’s like a type of magic that they possess and one that I crave and want to witness. It is at times exchangeable but mostly it is discreet. Sometimes people capitalize on it and sometimes that works but most times it doesn’t but I guess it’s all okay regardless.

I’ve been thinking about why I don’t feel talented. I mean, I know I am not a total slouch but I can’t play instruments, sing songs, speak in multiple languages etc... I basically suck up and observe the talent around me. I surround myself with talented people like an obese salon owner of Parisian lore.

But there is no glamour in the role of the observer. There is only the idea of audience. I love watching, experiencing and if possible, supporting those with talent. It makes me feel of some use but it’s really not enough is it?

I’m not sure why I don’t want to be ‘producer’ or ‘learner’ in that way. I could do it if I wanted to, but I don’t. I guess it goes back to my mix of apathy and desire to not add more noise and material presence in the world.

Shrinking. I feel like that’s the anti talent. To make one minute, invisible, transparent. There is a beauty to that but perhaps more spiteful and insecure than anything else.

There is something heartbreaking when you see someone do something that is with great talent and sincerity. When it is being done for reasons unknown and unspecified. It’s a type of sharing that makes the system of things feel lighter and less contrived.

But then there are the show offs, the one’s who try too hard and it’s all okay really but ya, it’s tiresome in its own right.

What am I babbling about? I’m not sure. All I know is that I feel like I am bursting with creativity with no avenue, that I’m surrounded by so many talented people that it feels something must be done about it.They must be recognized, seen.

This see-saw of lack/abundance has me a bit flummoxed. I’m happy to bare witness to it and to possibly be motivated. We shall see.

To all those who have hidden or underused talents, go forth and do it! Share it! And if you don’t want to, that’s fine. But we need it. We all do in order to feel like things are possible and beautiful.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Burn It All Down: Yukio Mishima

I didn’t blog yesterday. I don’t want to blog today. Below is something on Yukio Mishima. If you don’t know/have read his work before, you should.

Yukio Mishima: Saints and seppuku
By Damian Flanagan

In March 1937, an official in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Azusa Hiraoka, traveled to Europe on government business and acquired some guides to Italian museums.

Prudishly fearing, however, that his 12-year-old son might be exposed to the depictions of female nudes contained within, he hid the books in a closet in the family home in Tokyo. One day, his son Kimitake — a bright, fragile boy — was off school sick and discovered the books.

A decade later, Kimitake — following in his father’s footsteps — was himself working as a bureaucrat. Since the age of 16 he had also been prolifically publishing stories and novels, but at the age of 23 decided to risk everything by resigning from his job and penning a single autobiographical novel.

It was the moment at the beginning of that novel when Kimitake described his childish self leafing through the pages of those art books that would create an electrifying, unforgettable scene of Japanese literature.

For it was not the female nudes but a painting by Guido Reni from the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian — an almost naked man, tied to a tree, his flesh impaled with arrows from the soldiers executing him — that had an overwhelming impact.

Kimitake — writing “Confessions of a Mask” under his pseudonym Yukio Mishima — described the painting as stirring his deepest sexual imagination. Shaped by years of near imprisonment as a young child in his grandmother’s room — Mishima had until the age of 12 lived with his controlling grandmother and only just returned to his parents’ home — and already stimulated by sado-masochistic images of seppuku and death, he described how this image caused him to suddenly masturbate and experience his first “ejaculatio.”

Mishima’s account of his explosive seminal interaction with Western painting stood as an embodiment of the stimulation received from the visual arts on modern Japanese literature, tout court. But there was something quintessentially Mishima-esque about the nature of this encounter. This was literature not as with Soseki, Kawabata and others — as explained in the previous parts of this series — in quest of objective reflections of an external reality to provide new ways of seeing, but as a volcanic descent into deep-seated, taboo desire.

The execution of Saint Sebastian became a defining image that would haunt and inspire Mishima’s imagination, but it was not the only one. In early adolescence Mishima had also discovered Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations of Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome,” showing erotic, stylized images of Salome holding the severed head of John the Baptist.
For the rest of his life, Mishima constantly returned to these two visual images. When in late 1951 Mishima departed on his first round-the-world trip, he made it his business to see both a performance of Richard Strauss’ “Salome” in New York and to view paintings by Guido Reni of Saint Sebastian in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

In 1960, in what he declared was the culmination of a lifetime ambition, he managed to put a production of “Salome” on the Tokyo stage and in 1965-66 he spent an entire year taking French lessons so he could read and help translate Gabriele D’Annunzio’s play “The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” into Japanese.

In 1968, he even famously posed — showing off his bulked-up bodybuilder’s physique — as Saint Sebastian in a loincloth, impaled with arrows in a series of photographs by Kishin Shinoyama.

In 1956, Mishima published his famous novel “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” based on a real-life event, in which he depicted a Buddhist acolyte so obsessed with the powerful visual image formed in his imagination of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto that he eventually sets it on fire to liberate himself. Yet the visual images that haunted Mishima’s imagination were not that of the Golden Pavilion, but of Saint Sebastian, seppuku and Salome.

Crucially, Saint Sebastian was a powerful fable of eternal life. Mishima relates how Sebastian was a beautiful youth who mysteriously appeared from the sea, became captain of the Praetorian Guard, was persecuted for his religious beliefs, but when seemingly killed by his executioners, had been brought back to life. To observe Mishima in the final years of his life is to witness him transforming himself into a Saint Sebastian figure: He formed his own private army and made himself captain of it and spouted political beliefs that aroused huge hostility from mainstream commentators. He devoted himself to the composition of his “life work,” “The Sea of Fertility” — a four-volume novel describing the apparent repeated reincarnation of its young protagonist, which opens the final volume with an extraordinary, lengthy description of human-less seascapes.

The day in 1970 Mishima chose for his death — Nov. 25 — was the same date that he commenced writing “Confessions of a Mask.” On that morning, Mishima left behind on his desk a final note: “Human life is short, but I wish to live forever.” After he and four of his army cadets took a general hostage at an army base in Ichigaya, Mishima strutted out onto a balcony to address the 1,000 men of the base. The bored, bewildered servicemen hailed Mishima with a barrage of abuse, calling him an idiot and worse. This was Mishima’s true Saint Sebastian moment: standing in his captain’s uniform, bombarded with arrows of abuse. Then Mishima returned inside and commenced his seppuku, before being beheaded by one of his attendants. The morning finished, Salome-like, with Mishima’s severed head on the carpet.

Most commentaries on Mishima only see the Japanese side of his spectacular death. But the seppuku was also the segue between the realization of the two visual arts images that had dominated Mishima’s imagination all his life.

The power of the visual arts on the Japanese literary imagination — one of the most important but largely unknown stories in modern literature — had produced its own spectacular visual event, the defining counter-cultural image of postwar Japanese history.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Let’s Talk About Community

Community. It is a word that is weighted by its speaker and the context in which it is being deployed/employed. It can be a sickly word with its feel good, buzz kill, self-righteousness or it can be irony clad or proof with a hairline ability to tip one way or the other. It is a word and an idea that I have been noticing, thinking about, and at times participating in and it has me wondering things.

In the art world, the idea of community is its own breed. It’s a boring idea to me in most aspects, we all know the tropes and the coding that goes along with it, but recently I felt it wiggle a bit. I was working with/around an artist collective and it was interesting to see their need, desire, and sometimes surrender to this idea of community. The process of wanting to collaborate but for the sake of equilibrium or perhaps erasure of the ego/self.

Hard to do, fraught perhaps, but there was a sweetness to the intention. Of even the desire to try to put into some legible practice all those theories of Marxism et al. that inspire and prescript a form of ‘change’ yet have little proof or even attempt.

These efforts made me think about the general art landscape and the ‘communities’ that exist and if those are shifting. When thinking about the how, why, and if about this question, I return to the idea of money (it’s always related to money).

The structure of money and the idea of a career have shifted a lot in the past 10 years or so. The ‘gig’ economy, the digital nomadic freelancer, the idea of home being more about the flexibility of the body versus specificity of a geo-location, has upended the bounding boxes of interaction and place.

This elasticity makes us more able to merge and dissipate with casual or focused ease but it also perhaps alienates, thus making us want to stick together even if sometimes that is only through the digital thread of social media intimacies.

Earlier today I was reading an article in The New Yorker about the video game Fortnite. There too you are windowed into a world, mostly inhabited by young people, in which the idea of community is also expressed. It’s a different kind, one that feels perhaps alien to those too old to wrap our minds around the nourishment of this type of connection, but it is here and it will only become the norm and the foundational experience points of this idea of community.

As a species we can only truly be healthy if we are socialized and around others. Isolation is the greatest killer. But how can we/do we function in a healthy way (or what are even the healthy ways?) in which to do this in this art world, in this city, in this time, in this whole system of things? Is there a way in which you can be a part of a community when the foundations are ever shifting, ever expanding, and ever engulfing oneself to become a singular mass?

The visualization and the texture of ‘flattening out’ has been the pervading image in my mind for sometime when thinking about the state of things. Everything doesn’t feel accelerated, it feels hyper extended and thin. Like some sort of membrane that never snaps. In this state, the desire and I think actual need, to create or feel a part of a community, in whatever form, is so important. It’s like a little cluster sack in this larger ever expanding mesh of ‘the way things are’ that makes us remember we are organic.

Maybe the biggest shift I’ve been seeing/feeling is that some of the hard edged cynicism and irony that has been the vogue for so long is less utilized. The meme is like news, the news are like memes, the revelation of the deep/hidden meaning of things is all right at the surface so there isn’t the need for social/cultural arbiters to translate anymore. The defensiveness towards sincerity is lessened. Perhaps many times this takes on the form of apathy or ennui but I think it at least gives some potential for shifts and pivots to occur in the way we approach all of this living thing.

Community. I’m not a joiner; I’m not too sure about it all. I’m not into collectives, I’m not into cliques, but there is something in the air that feels both desperate and necessary and to understand a thing, you have to well, at least be open and possibly even participate.