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

Talent



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.