Monday, January 28, 2013

Grocery List for Culture Pie: Camille Paglia – Glittering Images, Adam Humphrey’s, American Intrigue #1, Michael Haneke’s Amour, Soft Boiled Eggs

How is it still January?  Maybe it’s only me but this feels like the longest month ever. Jupiter, please end your retrograde!  Apparently this will end on the 30th, 2 more days of gruel-blah to go through and then hopefully you, me and everyone else will be re-fitted and be-jazzeled with new energy and our usual joie de vivre.  During this dark, bitter cold, sleety-snow purgatory, staying in and never leaving warm beds is the ideal but we’re not sissies and culture and art must still be massaged less we have creative entropy.  Below are a few things seen and heard that have been minced and blended together this past week or so that has made even this bleakness bearable. 

Camille Paglia’s, Glittering Images, A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars, 2012, Pantheon Books – I’m reading this now and although there are many flaws it is worth the read.  It is a cursory overview of specific works of art through the ages and the lecture style facts and histories sprinkled within are just a-ok for my slowed down brain at the moment.  Paglia is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of cultural figure and although I’m not in either camp, I do think she has mastered a little whip with language and that is always fun to read.  Her own surmises of implication, observation and conclusions on some works are at times embarrassing to be privy too but hey, it’s her book, she can do as she damn well pleases.  What was thought provoking though was her introduction in which she lays out her intent and reasons behind writing this book and the trajectory of aesthetic knowledge and practice.  The entirety of it is an interesting read but this in particular caught my attention:

But mass media are a bewitching wilderness in which it is easy to get lost.  My postwar generation could play with pop because we had solid primary-school education, geared to the fundamentals of history and humanities.  The young now deftly negotiate a dense whirl of relativism and synchronicity: self-cannibalizing pop, with its signature sampling and retro fads, has become a stupendous superabundance, impossible to absorb and often distanced through a protective pose of nervous irony.  The rise of social media has blurred the borderline between private and public and filled the air with telegraphic trivialities, crowding out sequential discourse that invites rereading.

Hmmm.  This is a strong and specific statement and there are parts that I think are true and fitting but there is an unsettling nattering to it as well.  A slapping on the wrist of one generation’s use of images, technologies and culture inherited seems a bit divisive and oversimplified.  It seems like a thought she must have more to say about, which she probably already has, and it makes me curious to see these thoughts and to find out what it is she is actually saying about what the “young” now do. 

Adam Humphrey’s, American Intrigue #1 Feast of Burden, 2013, Lucky Dragon Editions –  Sometimes people you know do things that are interesting and they are not just interesting because it was done by someone you know or because it includes people you know but because it is actually interesting. This is the case with Adam Humphrey’s downloadable PDF, American Intrigue #1, Feast of Burden.  It includes: Brad Troemel Comments on the World at Will, Tao Lin and Ariana Reines Correspondence, Status Updates by Amber Steakhouse, Eugene Kotlyarenko Interview, and book reviews by: Zachary German on Justin Taylor’s “The Gospel of Anarchy” and Alec Niedenthal on Marie Calloway’s “what purpose did i serve in your life.”  The content is not mind blowing but there is something oddly sincere and earnest while also being ironic (possibly?) in its miming of tropes of seriousness and legitimacy that abound in the intellectual literati.  The visuals are also a mix of “wow that’s really ugly” to really slick and pro.  I especially like the entirely unnecessarily large font and also the formatting of dialogue in Humphrey’s piece with Brad Troemel.  Overall, it’s funny and smart and charming in its f-you to this type of thing but also playing the game to win it.  What will American Intrigue #2 bring?  Whatever it is I’m sure I will laugh out loud and also grimace at many points.

Michael Haneke’s Amour, 2012: I saw this the other weekend, by myself, not a good idea.  The film is very beautiful, subtle, powerful, dense, all the words that the critics and all else say about it.  It was all those things but it left me very sad for the rest of the night and even some of the next day.  It is about a couple, Anne and George, who are in the golden days of their lives and they live full, quite lives in Paris.  Anne has a stroke and the movie is about the process and the moments that result from this.  It is quite for most parts, although sound design is very significant and measured.  It is a story of love and dedication; life lived with another person and the truth of the body and of death.  For me, and possibly for anyone else who has themselves been witness, on an intimate level, of lingering deterioration and then death of a loved one, the stark realism of this situation and what is involved was a bit too close to home.  This is not to say that this movie isn’t brilliant in many other ways but it was, for me, depicting and telling of something that is too private and fraught with real life memory to be able to applaud. If you have not seen it yet but plan to, go with someone else, go with someone who you can sit quietly with and sit close to afterwards.

Soft Boiled Eggs – Okay, so this is bit of a cheat but I have just discovered the glory that is soft boiled eggs.  You don’t have to live in Downtown Abby or in Europe for that matter to treat yourself as the sophisticate you know you are deep down inside.  You would think eggs are eggs but this method of cooking them does something entirely different to the egg experience. I have never been a big yolk fan, but there is a buttery-ness to the yolk in this form.  Really, a delightful (and healthy) way to start one’s day. 

Fill a pot with water, enough so that it will cover the egg(s) completely.
Bring water to a boil.
Once at a boil, reduce heat so it is a rolling simmer.
Place egg(s) in water.
Let cook for 5-7 mins (less for runnier yolk)
Remove egg(s) with slotted spoon.
Run under cold water for 30-60 seconds.
Place in an egg holder (or shot glass if you don’t have an egg holder)
Cut off tip of egg (about 1 inch)
Eat with spoon.
Sprinkle with salt as desired.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bowerbirds: Nature’s Artists?

Animal Architects, Building and the Evolution of Intelligence, 2007, published by Basic Books, is a book by James R. Gould and Carol Grant Gould (they are married), which explores the building methods of insects, spiders, and birds.  It is a fascinating read albeit a bit clipped in its writing style in order to make is accessible to scientific layman.  Getting past the classroom presentation, there are many insights into the way that such small creatures can produce such profound structures and how this reveals tiers of interaction and cognizance of the world around them and also the purposes in which they construct and build.  The methods in which the creatures discussed procure and produce is impressive to understand and daunting in its scale and intricacy.  There is one particular animal of focus in this book that is thought shifting though and that is the Bowerbird whose constructions possibly thwart the idea that we humans are the only species with a knack and an impulse to make ‘art’ or have aesthetic impulse.

Many animals have various ways to show off their genetic dominance and this is used to seduce a mate and hence continue their genetic linage and ensure the species best overall survival.  This can be done with displays of strength, plumage, song, and various other feats. Almost always this is the task of the males as females have the biologically arduous and energy-depleting task of birthing and also many times rearing offspring on ones own.  This of course has variances.  In the case of the bowerbird, the male is also the displayer but the operations and processes are different then anything else seen in the animal kingdom, excluding our own.

Bowerbirds are found in Australia and in isolated New Guinea.  There are varieties of sub-species within this group whose habitats range from dry open bush to dense forests.  Their topographic location as well as their degree of evolution determines the complexity of their building structure.  The structures they create is called a bower or a maypole.  These structures are unique in that it has no other function other then to be a display as the female bowerbird makes their own nest for egg laying elsewhere and will rear the offspring alone.  The fact that the bowerbird’s habitats allow them to have long mating periods, little competition for food and not many predators are reasons why these birds can make these elaborate displays. 

The most simple bower structure is a platform at the base which is sometimes raised slightly off the ground.  The male bird constructs what is called an alleyway with sticks intricately positioned to make an open doorframe.  They will also clear out a circular area at the base of this, removing all debris and many times meticulously lining it with leaves or moss.  The Satin Bower makes this sort of structure in its simplest form.  What is interesting is that once the main construction of the bower is built the bird will then decorate.  They will ‘paint’ it with the juices of crushed berries with its beak and will ornament it with very particular selections of shells, flowers, and other pleasing elements, many times shiny.  What is interesting is that the Satin Bower seems to have a bias towards dark blue and purple flowers, which are the rarest colors in nature.  This may reflect some sort of selective process but what is fascinating is that they will also very rarely include red, pink or orange blossoms, which are very hard to find in this area as well.  In contradiction, they will insert the occasional yellow or white blossom which are much more common.  Why they are hyper selective on some counts but not on others is interesting and will be further investigated into thinking about motives of this decorative display. 

During the building process some bowers are so entranced and focused on their construction that if a female happens to be in the area to check out what is going on they will actually chase it away!  Another revealing aspect is that in some bower species rampant theft and vandalism will occur between males and the ability to maintain the structure and ornamentation is rigorously upkept. 

With all this effort one would think that the male bower with the most impressive structure would be victor to the most mates.  This does happen, to a degree, but the dominance of a male plays no direct role in the selection process of the female.  The females survey each structure and tend to select those with the most impressive and fortified structures but it’s a process that is not one to one and in the end it is the female’s choice that has final say. 

There are other species of bowers and their levels of construction and decoration vary in great degrees.  The Spotted Bowerbird makes their avenue structure out of pebbles and snail shells along with twigs and also up to thousands of sun-bleached rabbit bones as they live in the bush.   The Great-Grey Bower also uses bone but in its case sun-bleached kangaroo bones and white and green ornaments and berries and flowers.  What is interesting with them, and some other species, is that their collections are “zoned” meaning that they will pile and display objects in like groupings of color.  One of the most impressive bowers, the Lauterbach, makes two avenues, one smaller inside a larger one that is constructed of stones and sticks and can weigh up to 16 pounds, an immense feat for a 6 ounce bird. 

The maypole is another structure made by some bowers that has the bird creating a platform surrounding a vertical bower, whence he will clear out, decorate and assemble a vertical structure with twigs and sticks and a variety of other decorative elements. Some will have walls reaching 18 inches high with vines and courtyard like the Archibold bower while others will be hyper selective in the moss they use for the platform like the MacGregor, who will only use moss from upper parts of trees versus the more plentiful and easily accessible floor moss.

One of the most impressive structures is by the Vogelkop Bower who inhabits New Guinea and they create a thatched arena with two internal bower supports and then plinthed bowers on top that create a hatch.  These can measure to 16 feet in diameter and 18 to 30 inches tall.  Unlike some bowers, its collection of decorations is not at the base of the structure but in discreet piles outside of the doorway. 

Now up to this point, this seems like just another exercise in male display to lure as many females as possible right?  Well yes, to a degree, but what thwarts this is all is of the variances.  The male bowers, within each sub-specie, do have programmed construction methods and preference but within each there is such a variety that it is not consistent with what is generally practiced by animals, which usually is: the best = the best.  In the case of each, it is the discretion, nay preference, of the males to select which type of flower, berry, beetle wing, etcetera, or not.  Some Vogelkop’s will have a pile of one thing while its neighbor will not.  Some will select rare things like shimmery snail shells while also just as heartily selecting very plentiful things like acorns.  This degree of arbitrariness is not normal to the formula of display shown by other animals. 

Another fascinating thing is that there seems to be fads within the male bowers selection of ornamentation.  Some years they will have a preference for only things white, another they will have no white things and gather say only blue and black things and when something white is presented close at hand or placed near their structure they will immediately discard it.  Their seems to be an impulse for novelty, to find something new, even if it is not scarce, to one-up or to match the competition.  Bowers are also fastidious in upkeep, they will replace and rearrange their displays with fresh flowers, berries, leaves, etcetera and perfectly rearrange piles if disturbed.  And although this impulse is the same in all bowers, what is selected for display and how it is arranged varies with each showing and even with the same bird through the years. 

A most compelling idea is that the bower, in that all its fussing, may reflect the bird’s advanced social intelligence.  This is ranged in science in tiers, 0 being, “Social Isolation: conspecifics are either ignored or attacked” to tier 3 which is, “Attribution and intention: animal has an ability to understand the cognitive processing in the brain of a conspecific, and can alter its behavior to exploit that knowledge.”  Bowers may be considered to be acting in a tier 3 mode of social intelligence.  In this case the knowledge it wants to exploit is that of the female bower whose pickiness and non-formulaic decision process results in the male bower to use such a degree of variety in its construction and decoration process.  This may be a leap, but it is an interesting thing to think over.  Moreover, this behavior produces a positive-feedback loop which is unique to the bowerbird in that: greater cognitive potential allows for more elaborate bowers which makes possible to greater reproduction success and selects for greater cognitive potential, and lopping back again through the generations. 

The male bowers on creating their displays seem to have an affixed ‘vision’ on how it will be constructed and the elements that will be selected.  They will go to Herculean efforts to carry this out and to maintain it.  The isolation and the variances produced by this isolation is also an interested thing to think about in relation to human forms of expression and variety.  In the end the bowerbird is creating something with the end goal of securing mates and of ensuring its genetic line but in this process it shows a complexity of thought, selection and possibly even specific aesthetic choice that is impressive at any degree or in any species. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Women For Sale: Marie Karlberg & Stand-UpII: Casey Jane Ellison and Jackie Mason at 1:1, New York, NY

Even though this city is big, at times it feels very small.  This can feel suffocating at times but there are also times when it feels like the universal alignments must be a sign that you are doing something okay within your meta-sphere.  This is currently happening to me and an artist run project space called 1:1 (1 to 1) located at 121 Essex Street in the Lower East Side.  It is run by four artists, Jarret Earnest, Leigha Mason, Whitney Vangrin and Alex Sloane and has been open for about a year and a year is all it will last (at least in this physical incarnation), for from the beginning it was only to be a yearlong project.  I have only become more focused in my awareness of 1:1 in the last few weeks because they are coalescing their end date, which will be on February 14th, with a slew of events under the header, “All The Best People,” and some of those people I know of.  I have attended two events in the last two weeks, a performance piece by Marie Karlberg and a stand-up comedy set by Casey Jane Ellison and Jackie Mason.  Both were more then worth seeing and reflects on a few interesting things going on in art. 

Marie Karlberg’s performance title, A Women For Sale, immediately made me have to see it.  The last few years has seen a wave of performance art and an institutional embrace of it that has made it all seem a bit drab now, but I was curious to see what was to happen in this performance, as the synopsis for the work read like a craigslist/online dating add mixed with a sardonic proto-feminist satire.  Feminism and art is always a tricky mix but I am a bona-fide art lover and feminist so I was more then eager to see how it would turn out. 

1:1’s space is generous for an artist’s run space and white paint, track lights and a plain wood floor have neutralized it.  It all looks very D.I.Y though, not in a bad way, but you can tell there were no contractor’s hands in the transformation of the space.  It is long and feels spacious enough to not feel too tight with more then 30 people inside.  I am compunctually on time so I was one of the first to arrive and had a chance to talk to a few of the space’s organizers in the intermediate.  Then the crowds came, which filled in quickly and had many art world signifiers of hip relevancy in attendance like Patti Hertling, K8Hardy, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Kim Gordon, and a slew of the Reena Spaulings crew. Plus many-many more art insiders and fashionables. 

The set up for the performance was in the front of the space with big windows facing onto the street.  There was an assortment of props: clothes, books, a chair.  Karlberg started on the chair and sat poised in a mesh black shirt and then a recording began with her own voice.  The artist is very alluring in both physicality and confidence, there is an old world lustiness that reminds you of Bardot but there is also a flick in her eyes that seems slightly animal.  The recording begins to introduce herself, “Hi, My Name is Marie…” and goes on to tell her generic physical stats like age and background.  It then goes into her cueing herself to sit up straight, to smile, to have open shoulders.  As the recording is playing, Karlberg performs the cues, she is always silent, and directing her gaze intensely at the audience.  The recording goes on to cue her how to best walk, how to express confidence and then how to use clothing, music, and literature to reflect her uniqueness and worth, and how these things can be used to reflect that she is a “university women.”  There is a clumsiness at points in the performance, as it is a mix of both heightened gesturing but also trying to convey a sincerity of the recorded words being expressed.  There were also moments of off syncopation with the recorded voice with the timing of actions, which was not a failure but something that made it a bit awkward at times.  Looking back though, the awkwardness was a nice element, as it made the trivialness of the actions being performed seem more familiar.  In the end, Karlberg presents herself through her verbal recorded self-reveals and also her composing herself into the idealized perfect-women-potentiality of herself as something for sale as a companion.  This ‘for sale’ element was more a gesture then the actual purpose of the performance but it finalized the points being made. 

As a woman, listening and watching this performance made me grimace at myself and at the truth of what she was conveying.  Her performance was smart and witty and more successful then I could have even thought possible with the subject matter.

This past Saturday I went to another 1:1 event, this time for stand-up comedy, which to me, at times is a more stimulating form of performance art.  The comedians were Casey Jane Ellison, who I know a bit from another context entirely and Jackie Mason, who I don’t know at all.  I was very curious to see Ellison’s set as her Aboveground Animation project is bonkers good and her recent cameo’s on V-Files with her “Status Updates” are very funny.  Also, female comedians, yeah!  The audience for this event was far fewer then it was for Karlberg’s but with only a slight awkwardness it still went on and the sets of both Ellison and Mason were very funny to see.  Mason went on first and she was quick and confident and seemed to be enjoying herself while in front.  She also looked fabulous in 1950s red.  Ellison also did a great set, even through a cold/flu and her ‘tiny virgin’ joke was really perfect.  Stand-up comedy is a painfully difficult form to do.  Its success is based on an expected response, laughter.  It leaves little room for failure, misunderstanding or vagueness.  There is something lethal about this but also can be the most pure example of art when it hits the mark.  I have to give a hell of a round of applause for both for doing it even with a lack of bodies in the room. 

1:1 is doing a lot of good things.  It seems sad that they are closing but I think highly strategic and smart.  New York City is a tough place to be weird and do weird things without the expectation of monetary gain.  This is a gain for all in another way though, it creates connections and contexts and builds, for those running it and participating in it, culture credits that may one day pay in monetary or other life sustaining ways.  There are a bunch more events in store at the space so go to some if you can before another weird New York City art-project-space closes this chapter of their story.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925 is a must see show currently on view at MoMA.  Organized by curator Leah Dickerman and Curatorial Assistant Masha Chlenova, this very smart and well-selected exhibition elegantly, yet exhaustively, surveys the beginnings of Abstraction.  Focusing on a mere 15-year period, the density and the variety that is seen in the show is deft defying.  So many artists, so many countries represented with such variety yet an aesthetic cohesion that it seems to enforce this art as a movement.  Included are books, paintings, drawings, sculpture, sound, film, and a variety of collaborations, each shedding light to this time.  What was most dominant was of course painting which dissolved the figurative and the referential in form.  What was also very interesting to see was the impact of color and how it seemed to act like a character of poetics throughout the show and that it almost seems to compensate for the loss of the narrative with a more sonic element.

This visual, sonic relationship can be seen throughout the exhibition with fantastic samplings by FrantiĊĦek Kupka, whose large scale colorful paintings pulsed with vibrations decantering from the center, and also many works by Kandinksy, who is always noted for this but presented here were some stunners that are not as finicky as some of his later works.  There are a slew of others to be included in this relationship, and when viewing the show, this background of groundbreaking music is always in the air but there is a slight referential breezing by that seems to occur.  This is not to fault the exhibition organizers, as the visual is the focus here, but the small bracket room that includes various musical compositions of this time and its most influential composers such as Stravinsky and his game changing Rite of Spring, seems a detriment to those who may not be so keyed in on the way music and sound influenced all artists of this time. 

Another fabulous piece about color was by Ivan Kliun, whose set of seven small paintings of single color forms specifically reflected his focus on the impact of color and the way that it can be the starting point for thought and seeing.  These works’ restraint was masterful in contrast to some of the larger works which employed similar forms but whose impact of color became muted by the grandiosity of scale and effort. 

The remarked inclusion of women in this show is another element which makes this exhibition as a whole complete and insightful.  Some of the best works in the show are presented by women, most whose names are barely known outside of academia.  Three such women are the wives of well-known artists, and only one has a name recognizable fully on her own.  They are; Sonia Delaunay-Terk, wife of Robert Delaunay, Sophie Tauber-Arp, wife of Hans Arp, and Georgia O’Keefe, wife of Alfred Stieglitz.  Delaunay-Terk’s paintings of circular patternings are as brilliant as any others in the show and Tauber-Arp should be given a standing ovation for her needlepoint abstractions and also her painted wooden sculptures that seem to have more whit and necessity then most art in general.  Most surprising though was Georgia O’Keefe, who has been sadly tainted by all those dentist office reproduced posters but here, there are some very sexy paintings indeed and even more surprising is a small bronze lacquered sculpture that is just wow-y.  Sometimes the inclusion of women in historical shows feels like a political gesture of correctness but in this case it was not an addendum to this movement but clearly a truth that till now, has been inexcusably cordoned off.  Sometimes this re-evaluation of a time needs to be re-written because the first go around was obviously lopsided in the inclusion of the women within. 

The timing of this show could not have been better or more synced with our current state.  This time of 1910-1925 was a hundred years ago.  100 years! But yet, some works, still feel as fresh as anything being produced today.  The time then was different of course.  There was more –isms packed in the causes and philosophical curiosities of Abstraction then there are today and there were many more to follow soon there after.  It seems startling how necessary and how complete this movement was and that we today do not have a similar revolution feels pale in light of it.  Well, that’s not true entirely.   There are many cultural changes underfoot today and there is a shifting of aesthetic form to be sure.  Also a good clue to today’s possibility for a new visuality can be detected in the music being produced today.  This is for sure changing, and very quickly, and some of the most creative cultural characters are springing from this.  But still, it seems like our 20k teens are not gripped with this collective metamorphosis that possessed 19k teens.  Maybe this is because the need is gone; the need to be so revolutionary as we are inheritors of this time and the times after when breaking ground and breaking down was par for the course.  There is still so much that seems to be possible with abstraction as well.  It seems to be a tool that we have yet to exhaust the potential of.  Let’s not feel entirely inadequate as a time though. It’s only 2013.  We are still gangly and pubescent.  Maybe by 2025 we too will have blossomed into the next big thing.