Monday, November 24, 2014

MIRRORCITY at Hayward Gallery, London

Laure Prouvost, The Artist, 2010 installation view Hayward Gallery

There is a feeling that happens when things just seem to be a certain way and at first you think that it must be the thing/the circumstance, etcetera, that is the problem but then it keeps happening and then you think, ‘oh fuck,’ it must be me. It’s got to be me because how else could all these disparate things ALL be the problem?! I have this feeling all the time, as I’m sure many of you do, and at this moment, I’m having this feeling with how institutional shows are curated in London.

It must be me, but I am at a loss of why so many shows in very good to great institutions in this city are so bizarrely dull in the way they are organized and installed. My first inclination of this was at Tate Modern, which is a disaster of ropes and chronological overkill. Then ICA had some well laid out shows and then others that seemed like some sort of artist logo-ing enterprise. Very odd indeed. Now I have had this same peculiar experience when visiting Hayward Gallery for their MIRRORCITY exhibition. This show should have been and easily could have been superb but it sadly fell flat of this potential.

So how could MIRRORCITY been a good show? Well its focus and its access to this focus is its greatest asset. The show presents London artists who are working with and exploring how the digital is influencing the self and art practices. It cues off from JG Ballard and his idea that, “reality had already exceeded the visions conjured by science fiction by the end of the 20th century.” Hayward Gallery has asked artists to present existing work as well as funding new commissions to explore this idea and also to imagine alternative spaces and realities. Now this is a lot to work with and it has a generous, yet focused concept. In addition there are those new commissions! Amazing when this is possible because those types of works can be so invigorating to the physicality and interplay of the space.

There are a lot of artists in this show; twenty-three of them and some of these are collaborative groups. Where are all these artists going to go? Luckily there is a lot of gallery space in the South Bank Arts Centre, which Hayward is a part of, albeit the concrete brutalism reminds one of a waiting room to hell. The to-the-point functionalism of the space’s architecture works though and it feels less oppressive inside as it has sliding levels and outdoor spaces which makes the building feel discoverable and the work therein as well. So there are a lot of artists and there is ample space, now what to do with it all? Here is where I start getting very confused.

Almost all of the artists have very discreet areas and in this area they present their work. It is so sectionally divided that one is reminded of thesis art shows in which each artist has an island of space and any interaction or connection to surrounding works is secondary. In addition to this island like feel, almost all the works selected and or created create isolated alternate worlds within themselves. This may represent consistency in meeting curatorial directives but the way they exist with each other in this shared space is a bit depressing. For example, Ursula Mayer’s Gonda, 2012, in her area has multiple screen projections with JD Samson walking in a desert, vitrines with glass forms that recall amorphic sex organs and cascading transparent fabrics that slightly swish in the wind. To activate yourself in this space you put on headphones and there is music and narration and you are to walk, wander, and explore Mayer’s area.

This need to wear headphones is in about ninety percent of the works. No exaggeration.

Another example is Laure Prouvost’s installation, The Artist, 2010, which is on the floor above and you walk into a room and navigate through a cluttered space of monitors, sound, collage and sculpture. The piece is actually really interesting but then you come out of it and all around you are more little rooms, more headphones, and more stages in which you have to now travel to. It’s exhausting and mentally daunting.

There are a few works that are not creating these immersive installations such as
Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq’s lacquered works, Michael Dean’s concrete sculptures and John Stezaker’s photo collages but these just felt so odd in this context and their hovering exposure just reinforces both the allotment feeling of the show as well as the isolation between all the works.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe it was the point of MIRRORCITY to create this dissonance of experience, this doubled distance, this feeling of being corralled by entering and surrendering to a world created for you and then doing that over and over again. I can see how this could be argued, I can see how this could maybe be the point of it all but I just felt utterly confused as to why anyone would want to do that to another person.

Alas, there was one piece that made almost all this seem worth it and that was the hefty and very profesh installation by Lindsey Seers, Nowhere Less Now, 2014. It is a two-channel video that is projected onto a concave and a convex circular screen, a la lenses. It tells a story and history of her family, dance, African princesses, Nazi’s, schizophrenia, and the site of memory and its connection with Hayward Gallery’s location. Oh also, it’s in a boat. Well a replica of the front hull of the ship that has connection with the story but still, it’s a boat. There is an over-doneness to some elements of the film and the installation and it has moment of being a bit too self-serious and aware but overall this is a must see visual feat and worth watching the whole way through.

So maybe that gets back to the problem with the show. Seer’s work in addition to a few others is all that may have been needed for this show. Or maybe it should have been in parts, some air and space given to allow for the required attention and time needed for Seer’s works as well as the many others on view. Not having moments of pause and time for gestation leaves the viewer, well at least this one, just drained and uncurious by the end of it.

It’s a very hard thing to do a show like this and it seems saddening that it has so much working on its side. It has a focus, a budget, space and the amazing network of artists to choose from but the lack of restraint and consideration in the face of all these bounties seems to have been a missed opportunity.

As I said at the top, my visceral recoil at this overabundance is probably just me and perhaps my gallery viewing endurance is just not on par to London standards. All I do know is that I would recommend going to see this show, but a word of advice, mentally prepare yourself. It’s a marathon of a show with what goal, I’m not quite sure of yet.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Talking in Circles: Why the Internet Lacks Empathy

I’m on the Internet a lot, as we all are. Whether it is shoe gazing into an abyss of others' presented lives via their various accounts, doing research, reading articles, learning a new recipe, making plans for the future, checking fiscal statements, tracking something or someone, saying hello, buying something, wanting to buy something, arranging meetings, getting the news, staying current, or downloading everything. This list obviously could go on and on. The more I list these possibilities the more similar it reflects how the internet makes me feel at times which is overwhelmed and anxiety inducing.

Yes, of course the Internet is also a place where you can escape into, relax and have generative interaction but this past week or so I have to say that the majority of the time that I have jumped online it feels like some sort of toxic whirlpool and I have had to actively stay away from certain areas of it.  

Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s all the yoga, pottery, trying to quit smoking, trying to reduce drinking, and my general regime to make my body reflect a lifestyle I want to more consistently live that has me so sensitive to what’s happening online but I can’t help but think that this is making you, me, all of use more unhappy. Maybe unhappy isn’t the right word for it. But I can’t imagine all this negativity is doing anyone good and more then that, it isn’t creating anything generative.

What I have noticed is that there is a quality of extremes that motivates many participants when they present something online. There is a provocation being made in visuals, writing, or some other presented form and most of the times these are done to stand out, create attention, and at times dissention. Once it is published, it is out there in the world and is now the publics. Yes, you can delete in some situations, yes, you can amend sometimes but there is an ‘aliveness’ given to the form once it is decided by the originator to let it go and for it to be online. Once that happens it is no longer the originators it is now the Internets and the Internet is the place that others can come to see this piece.

This is where things can get nasty. To ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ is a driving force of the Internet, which thrives on extreme versions of these polarities. This is where the camps are created. You can see this archived, accumulated and staticized most easily on comment threads that can go infinitely and begin from the point of origin on the piece’s release online.  Here there is an illusion of dialogue as people can respond and give opinion not only on the piece but also on others’ remarks. The originator is also able to dialogue in this way as well. I say that this is an illusion because there is actually little dialogue. It is more a reactive response and is a release of a point of view that is firmly held. This type of platform just gives a frame in which to place these held points of view to have infinite moments of reaffirming and voicing those views. In these threads there is very little actual dialogue because in this format there is missing the most important element for dialogue and that is human bodies.

Human bodies, is in other words, a person. Yes, a ‘person’ is represented on these threads but in this platform one can edit, construct, and remain distanced at all times. This reduces any nuance to a conversation and most importantly it deletes, nulls and ignores empathy. The human body (a person) not being in relationship to the other human body (another person) results in lack of acceptance and creates a lack of empathic feelings. This lack defeats any ability of persuasion which is at the core of countering opinions in dialogue.

Without this people are just arguing for the sake of argument. People are just gathering more people to their camp. People are just preaching to the choir. People are just finger pointing. This is a form of othering that is an issue that I would think people would be aware of and not want to continue. For those who may not know, the idea of othering is that a person will view, think, believe, impose, and maintain that another person is not ‘like them’ does not belong, is outside of their sphere and they will disassociate this other person (or group) and reduce them in all manners possible. For example, think  about slavery in America as a manifested extreme of this and think of race relations in America currently as a manifested entrenchment of this. So back to the Internet, there is this othering that is occurring through this extreme and this is just an impossible model for dialogue to truly occur.

Now, this does have some glimmer of hope because in the collecting of these extremes there might be means or ways to have dialogue because the inadequacy of this model is not rewarding. It is frustrating and circular and in this frustration and circuitous point making, the participants may reach out or be reached out to in a human body (person) to human body (person) way and they might actually exchange and have a conversation and a debate about the piece and the disagreements about the piece.

I am saying all this because I don’t think that it is okay to think that online platforms can replace or are equivalent to having a conversation and a debate with someone in real life. You can see this in the longest of conflicts, where political sides and ideologies have been endlessly fighting with wars, and lives lost for decades. There are many reasons why this has happened but the greatest one that has the greatest possibility for change is getting to know the opposing side in a deeper, more emphatic way. There is nothing possible with distanced point making conversations where it is more about stating beliefs then it is about engaging in conversation. Platforms online allude to this but in truth, well at least to me, this is dangerously deceptive and damaging.

In the end, things do often end as an, ‘agree to disagree.’ This position does lead to lines drawn, decisions made, camps divided but in the process of actually having and wanting to have real dialogue there is at least some possibility of empathy and understanding. Without this what do we have? Who are we becoming? How is it that we are treating ourselves and others? I’m not asking for no opinions or venting or disagreement. This of course should and must be allowed, but to me extremeness leads to closure and closure leads to hate and hate is just the last thing this world needs more of.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How to (not) Win Friends and (not) Influence People

Oh my god, but seriously people, sometimes I just can’t stand it. It = being a person. It = being/becoming one’s optimal self. It = socializing. It = being enjoyable to be around. It = having purpose. It = enthusiasm of meeting and becoming an expectation. And on and on that can go. But really, let me get a bit serious. There is obviously this thing called life that we live and it is magical and amazing some of the times but then there’s all that stuff called society and constructs, both inherited and enforced, that one has to deal with to get by most days. Tragedy? No, but there is a tedious and at times demoralizing truth to this reality.

I write about this because I am maxed out on being anything other then myself and that self happens to be a mildly grumpy, consistently underwhelmed, highly curious, seeking adventure and a touch of the Dionysian and melancholic. I am maxed out because I am unmoored by the safety of nativised familiar surrounds (NYC) and am in a new place (London) in which I have to be super ready to make friends, gain influence and be memorable yet not scary (definitely failing on that last part). Thinking about this need to inject myself into another place is daunting in a good challenging sort of way but it is just so uggg that I find myself at times quickly recessing to the safety of solitude.

Regardless, things peek and perk and droll and loop and I know all this is zero big deals to any of you reading this but if you find yourself currently or at times feeling so over being invested in being, becoming, connecting then maybe you will know what I mean and will appreciate this circular rant.

So let’s have some fun and release some of that tension and poke fun at this odd thing that has and keeps having traction and that is the book How to Win Friends and Influence People written by Dale Carnegie in 1936 with a noted revision in 1981. It’s a funny sort of list of pointers (the book I have not actually read) and it reveals a lot about what is normal, supposed, and of value then and today.  Below will be some off the cuff remarks and refutes on some of the book’s suggestions on how to be a more agreeable and remarkable person.

Twelve Things This Book Will Do For You

1.    Get you out of a mental rut, give you new thoughts, new visions, new ambitions. – Yay, just what I needed. More thoughts and visions. Yay.
2.    Enable you to make friends quickly and easily. – No new friends, no new, new, new, new.
3.    Increase your popularity. – What does that even mean?
4.    Help you to win people to your way of thinking. – That this is all a shit show? :(
5.    Increase your influence, your prestige, your ability to get things done. – O-kay!
6.    Enable you to win new clients, new customers. – Two for one, all day everyday.
7.    Increase your earning power. – I’m broke. Like I just eat ramen all the time broke.
8.    Make you a better salesman, a better executive. – HBIC. Always. Forever.
9.    Help you to handle complaints, avoid arguments, keep your human contacts smooth and pleasant. – OMG. HUMAN. CONTACTS.
10. Make you a better speaker, a more entertaining conversationalist. – People shush me a lot and it makes me want to punch them in their face.
11. Make the principles of psychology easy for you to apply in your daily contacts. – Mind control seems hard.
12. Help you to arouse enthusiasm among your associates. – “arouse” and “enthusiasm” seems icky in the same sentence.

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

1.    Don't criticize, condemn, or complain. – Aka don’t say anything.
2.    Give honest and sincere appreciation. – This, I agree with.
3.    Arouse in the other person an eager want. – OMG this sentence.

Six Ways to Make People Like You

1.    Become genuinely interested in other people. – K.
2.    Smile. – That thing when men tell you to smile and you want to punch them in their face.
3.    Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. – Is calling people ‘hun’ not okay anymore?
4.    Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. – Just nod and smile, nod and smile.
5.    Talk in terms of the other person's interest. – So you like cats too?!
6.    Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. – I actually like you. Like actually. No seriously. For Realz. Can we hug?

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

1.    The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. – Smile and nod, smile and nod.
2.    Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong." – Oppsy.
3.    If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. – True.
4.    Begin in a friendly way. – But what happens when your face is just resting bitch face all the time?!
5.    Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes. – Lol.
6.    Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. – Just nod and smile, nod and smile.
7.    Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers. – You must be crazy.
8.    Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view. – True.
9.    Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires. – What does desire even mean in 2014?
10. Appeal to the nobler motives. – Capitalism reigns.
11. Dramatize your ideas. – Hand talker for life.
12. Throw down a challenge. – Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

1.    Begin with praise and honest appreciation. – I like your hair.
2.    Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly. – It might just be me but you seem sort of like a misogynistic jerk, but please, let me know if I’m wrong. 
3.    Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. – I’m a jerk.
4.    Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. – Can you please get out of my face?
5.    Let the other person save face. – Excuse me while I get you out of my face.
6.    Praise every improvement. – Seems tiring.
7.    Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. – Do as I say, not as I do.
8.    Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. – No biggie. NP. :/
9.    Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest. – Drinks on me.

Seven Rules For Making Your Home Life Happier

1.     Don't nag. – Um I’m assuming your talking about me, aka all the women of the world.
2.     Don't try to make your partner over. – Not sure what this even means.
3.     Don't criticize. – Um I’m assuming your talking about me, aka all the women of the world.
4.     Give honest appreciation. – Hi.
5.     Pay little attentions. – I bought you your favorite snack. Yay!
6.     Be courteous. – Hi.
7.     Read a good book on the sexual side of marriage. – Say what?!

Monday, November 3, 2014

British Museum, Mini Tour

Sometimes when you are surrounded by, thinking about, and constantly in contact with “contemporary” art you just need a mental and visual break from it and have to recalibrate. I like to recalibrate by looking at old things. Old things make forms and purpose feel simpler, mysterious, it creates a distance yet affirms a closeness. For this recuperation I went to Westminster Abby for a choral mass and then to the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone but also to see what other gems, literally and mentally, that it held within its vast collection.

For those of you who have not been to this museum, it is massive. I would equate it most closely to New York’s Metropolitan Museum as a reference point. It has over eight million items in the collection and it’s old, like all things in London, and opened in 1759. What is inside is millenniums older though and this is where I ventured to.

Below I will show some photos (I apologize for the awful quality of them, I had no prior intention of making them public in any way) as well as some notes, thoughts, poppings to mind that came to me when I saw them.

This is the magic of looking at things and especially very old things, it reveals the basic humanness that threads along time and cultures but also is devastatingly normalizing as well as inconceivably awe inducing. If you are in London or will soon to be, go to this museum. There will be many times to see the contemporary masters of our times in cities and museums in many instances and iterations. There is very rare opportunity to see what is inside this place and as we know, museums of this sort are bad at sharing once they have staked claim.

The royal lion hunt, Assyrian, about 645-635 BC, From Ninevah, North Palace.

This is an incredible piece of plucked artifact. There are rooms of multiple panels that depict the hunt of lions by the king and his aids. The king pictured in the canonical hat is Ashurbanipal. These scenes are full of energy, movement and violence. There are many panels and they are masterfully relief carved. The anatomy of the lions and the warrior king is incredibly detailed and muscular, conveying tension and fibrous strength. In other scenes there are aids that are entourage and handlers and their bodies are less intense and their features less pronounced.

There is an arena and staged like quality to the hunt. There are scenes that reveal the opening of the cage as well as the backdrop of the hunt is a blank space, lacking in any reference to foliage or other natural features. The killing, stabbing of the lions is quite gruesome and the depictions show the lion’s agony, which is transferred by the intensity of the animal’s facial features, contortion of its body and also depiction of the animal vomiting blood. There is brutality that is cringe inducing but there is also this feeling of a long echo of this sort of past time, that of dominating animals and beasts through theatrical hunting and killing. It made me think very much of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries from 1495 – 1505 that are on permanent view at the Cloisters in New York. The beauty of detail, the haunted agony of the animals and the glorified distant gaze of the humans in the scenes seems so continuously apart of human beings behavior but also so totally tragic as well.

Hand made terracottas, Corinth, about 450 BC

These fit in the palm sculptures were found in various locations in Corinth and they may depict characters in a 5th century BC drama as the information plaque suggests. Or they just might be wonderfully, quickly sculpted figures of the imagination. I love seeing things like this because they reflect an everyday and peek into the lives of the people of that time in a more personal way. Large, commissioned sculptures and temples are incredible yes, but seeing this sort of inventive play makes the time in which the person who made them seem so relatable. These are also lovely in that they have such character, animation and form/function equalization. You can just imagine someone enacting out a story aloud with these figurines.

Women and baby, Boeotia, about 450-440 BC / Bust of a women, Athens, about 450 BC / Women’s work, Athens, about 460-450 BC

Above depicts women of ancient Greece and seeing these brought some interesting questions to mind. When seeing the women holding the baby, I obviously couldn’t help but think about the Virgin and child/ piety that abounds in art inspired by Christianity. It is always wonderful to see origins of archetypes because it dismantles the more popular claims of it. The bust of the women and the box that depicts women at work making wool makes one think not only of the role of women and but the everyday of women in this time and how art and representation of them was not only relegated to the very rich or to the gods.

Two outsiders, Athens, about 470-450 BC / African boy, Camrius Rhodes, about 460-450 BC

The museum’s label entitles the jug headed women as ‘two outsiders’ as they explain that in Athens during the 5th century BC it was mostly male Athenians so being a foreigner and a women made this figure doubly outside. It was surprising and fascinating to see this jug and also this small sculpture of the boy as race and the relations in contexts of history is deep and long and we shouldn’t forget that there are pasts that have created our present that we may not even know the import of. 

(Jar far left) Pottery jar with splash and trickle decoration, Minoan, 1700-1550 BC

Ab-Ex, eat your heart out! But seriously, how fab it is to see this moment of pure instantaneousness. Seeing things like this make you really question all the authority that is staked and reaffirmed in recent art history.

Good-luck rings, Roman, 1st-3rd century AD / Gold tablet with an Orphic inscription and case, Roman, 2nd -3rd century AD

Jewelry is just not how it used to be. I myself only tend to wear jewelry that has some sort of story and acts as an amulet of sorts. This being said, I was delighted to see these Roman examples of jewelry fabulousness.

The good-luck rings have phalluses on them and the information card reads: The phallus was regarded as a protection against the evil eye and a symbol of good luck. The smaller rings were probably worn by children, who were particularly vulnerable to the forces of evil.

Oh, my, god. How far we have come and how prudish we still seem to be.

The tablet and inscription has this on its card:

Orpheus, personified as a musician, founded a cult that promised a happy afterlife to the initiated. The inscription warns the soul not to drink from a particular spring in Hades, but to seek one by the Lake of Memory.

Planning ahead for eternity is so chill.

Death flask, Egypt, Early Predynastic / Terracotta models of body parts, Roman 3rd-1st century BC

The breast is everywhere in ancient art and it always has meaning unlike the phallus which is at times just about anatomy. In the case of the death flask from an Egyptian tomb excavation this is the nourishing vessel in which the reborn can drink from in their afterlife. Death to the Egyptians was believed to be a return to the womb in order to be reborn so this vessel is literally the containers of nourishment after emergence from rebirth.

The models of the body parts are wonderful objects in themselves but these are said to be made for dedication of healing, hope and thanks offering to the gods at shrines. It is odd to see a disembodied breast in this way but it is strange and abstract to see with all of the inheritance of the contemporary concept and use/unused of the breast in contemporary art.