Thursday, April 30

The floating city

Is the image more salient in the creation of our perceptions of place than the actual? I attended a lecture at the Hammer Museum last night on just this subject, with the artists Doug Aitken and Catherine Opie talking about their work in light of this idea. Both artists talk about space and place in their work: Opie by playing with the idea of the utopian in light of the actual in her photographs and Aitken by imagining a psychological state by activating the physical building. It was a great examination of the assumptions we still hold on to regarding the experiences of place (using the spectacle of the Beijing Olympics as a starting point.) The possibilities of technology to extend the capabilities of concrete objects, to make them more about their ideas through altering their objecthood, their communicated images through networks, is truly an amazing idea. Things that seemed fantastic in the past now seem plausible. I would guess that our ideas of "place" have been significantly influenced by virtual connectivity, which has, in turn, influenced how we construct it. What a feedback loop.
p.s. The picture above is from the NYTimes of the Venturi-designed Lieb house floating under the Brooklyn Bridge on its journey from Philadephia to New Jersey. The blog Strangeharvest has an interesting little blurb on that and a floating church, an early modern solution to migration.

Wednesday, April 29

Imitation of life

I just finished watching Charlie Kaufmann's Synechdoche, New York. A heart-aching film which I will not describe here. Some things are best left to the medium they are made in...

Saturday, April 25

Beach, bbq, bicycle

Art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century _ Memory
Video sent by hulu

The symbiosis of weather on both coasts had me thinking about memory and place (my Buffalo, my New York City, my San Francisco and my Los Angeles.) This section on memory from PBS's Art:21 series has a lovely discussion with Mike Kelly on recreating psychological spaces from what is important of our own experiences of them. Maybe watch it after you've partaken in whatever early summer rituals you are realizing today....
Art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century series page at
Artists explore how memory functions and how to frame the past in their work.

Friday, April 24

Tonight i will drink...

Somehow, it both looks and sounds more irreverently fun in French...


I own a car now, again, which in my teenage years would probably have been a right of passage and in my adult years is proving to be a huge object that I have to be responsible for locating and caring for. No, it is not a Citröen as imagined by an Italian sculptor/indurstrial designer; its really just a Volvo 740 made the year I left grade school. But I understand the sentiment that Barthes relates in his 1957 essay on the neomania of that particularly designed automobile. I realized when I started browsing Craigslist that not only did I need to know that the car would run, but also that I had an underlying expectation of what it would look like and I in it. The process of purchase is pretty painless: meeting with the owner, transferring the appropriate documents, insuring it and driving it away. The choice of what car to do this with is very different. I don't think there is a person in the world who doesn't agonize a little bit over what the signification of this thing that you essentially have to be seen in/with for x amount of years. I would guess that large American-made autos put forth a certain nationalism for some, while economical Japanese autos reflect a progressive practicality. The BMW is a safe, classic luxury vehicle and the Maserati a symbol of youthful virility (usually driven by someone who is neither of those things.) I feel a little ridiculous relating how I labored over what color my used, Craigslist auto would be (both interior and exterior) and what year and make it would be (1990s or 1960s?) My friend Rodrigo even joked that, depending on the vehicle, it might require a new wardrobe (white loafers with no socks if it were from the 1960s.) At any rate, I began to wonder if our heightened visual culture begat the increased use of visual signifiers to replace actual content in our perception of the world. Does it really matter what this vehicle looks like, or am I concerned regarding how the others will read my choice? Technology has become so much an extension of the physical body (cell phones, ipod, etc;) does that mean my car, too? Barthes' essay looks at how the initial change in visual design of machines (like autos) and our use of them has become more an "actualizing through this exorcism the very essence of petit-bourgeois advancement." Very much worth revisiting before you go put on a flowered dress and open the sunroof.

Tuesday, April 21

noise of art

If, like me, you are intensely curious about new media art yet completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of its back catalogue, you may already be acquainted with Ubuweb. UbuWeb is a completely independent resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde, ethnopoetics, and outsider arts. It is an invaluable resource to sample the work of historical media artists, in particular sound and spoken poetics makers, which may otherwise be difficult to experience in traditional settings (like galleries or museums.) Most recently, they have added a catalog called "1000 avant garde films," a feature which hosts the work of filmmakers like Derek Jarman, Lev Manovich and Paul McCarthy. You now can decide how you really feel about Stockhausen or familiarize yourself with C. Spencer Yeh in the comfort of your own Bose headphones.

Peg leg liberty bell

I think this is going to end up being about learning to love Jeff Koons.....
I generally feel a sense of urgent anxiety when visiting museums to see the blockbuster exhibition/featured solo show/what-not that drew me there. The Los Angeles County Museum is a sprawling complex unto itself, so I was doubly-sure to allow enough time for each piece, wall text, slow moving tourist, docent group, etc. On this particular day, I guess we started walking up the stairs and the momentum dropped us one floor too far up. I don't usually plan for the unexpected, but I am glad to embrace it when it pops up in front of me.
LACMA is currently exhibiting work from the Broad Art Collection in one of their newish buildings and they have an impressive selection from artists like John Baldessari and Cy Twombly. But what I walked in to was a familiar shiny balloon dog and Michael Jackson's monkey. My introduction to Jeff Koons work has been in relation to silly adolescent artwork that glorifies all things kittenish and neon and spray-painted. But if I had not been beaten with a PaperRad stick for the past few years, I would never realize how smart Jeff Koons really is. Those kids had it wrong. Kitsch is certainly an easy route to take with an artwork, giving a very obvious point of entry for the viewer. What defines his work is his examination of the viewer's perceptions of these surfaces through changing things like scale, material, orientation. The baroque paintings take fragments of pop culture produced through a painstakingly exact hand process. A ceramic and gold figurine is scaled large, showing its faults in representation. Koons takes what appears fantastic and makes it unsettling by balancing its seductive qualities with its return of diminished satisfaction. I think that I finally appreciated how these works did not simply lampoon the bizarre objects that are perceived of as valuable by what is assumed to be the general populous; they bring into question our valuing of any object. They are, after all, million dollar objects particularly fabricated by an army of skilled artists and designers for an industry of museums and collectors not too different than any other market.
I was, again, completely surprised at my sudden attraction and appreciation of this work. Looking back, how weird is it that the museum employee that originally started talking to me about it was named Ishmael.....

Monday, April 20

Design crush: mike mills

Mike Mills (NOT to be confused with the silly member of R.E.M.) just keeps getting better and better every time I run across him ...I'm so excited to have the opportunity to see him in conversation with Alleged Gallery's Aaron Rose this Thursday, April 23 at Family on Fairfax. From the events page of their website:

"Join us for an intimate slide show and discussion with designer/filmmaker/artist Mike Mills to launch his new retrospective book, 'Graphics Films'.

Graphics Films is the first retrospective monograph on one of the hardest-working men in contemporary creative culture. For more than 15 years, Mike Mills' works in the fields of design and film have determined the visual landscape of our times. Graphics Films is a painstakingly produced document of Mills' career to date, including many never-before-seen examples of his works in graphic design, installation, publications and film projects. Past projects by Mills include music videos for Air ("Sexy Boy"), Blonde Redhead ("Top Ranking"), Yoko Ono ("Walking on Thin Ice") and Bran Van 3000 ("Afrodiziak") and album cover designs for the Beastie Boys (the Root Down EP), Sonic Youth (Washing Machine), Air (Moon Safari and Kelly Watch the Stars) and others. He has designed graphics and textiles for Marc Jacobs and created the identity for X-Girl Clothing, and has exhibited his unique graphic installations worldwide, with solo shows at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York and Colette in Paris, among others. In 1996 Mills cofounded The Directors Bureau, a multidisciplinary production company, with Roman Coppola. Since then, he has directed an impressive slew of music videos and films including The Architecture of Reassurance (2000) and Paperboys (2001), both of which were official selections at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2004 he completed his first feature film, Thumbsucker (starring Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swinton), and he is currently at work on his second."

Here's a video he did for the band Le Rythmes Digitales:

Tuesday, April 14

Fortune of reversal

Question the universe about something, and miraculously I run into it in an unexpected way. This usually makes me feel pretty dumb, but at least I can be consoled by the fact that it is in the world. As a continuation of the previous post on the the rise in visibility of artwork from Africa, I saw two excellent shows recently of artists working in Ehtiopia and South Africa.

As I mentioned before, the work of William Kentridge at the SFMoma was fantastic. I allocated about two hours to spend with it, but ended up there for four. Kentridge's short films, video installations and animatronic "plays" display an expert use of screening in an art space. The relationship that ties different perspectives of different individuals living during and after apartheid gives the viewer a holistic look at the effects of universal government policies on the individual and the deep roots that these policies take in the psychology of the people.

The Santa Monica Museum of Art has the work of the Ethiopian multi-media artist Elias Sime currently on view. Sime's work is a polished mix of non-art materials that evoke the everyday with compositions that are both graphic and resonant of western painting traditions. A tonal white canvas was actually, on closer inspection, an embroidered swirl of line work that could have been made by Edvard Munch if stitching had replaced paint as his medium of choice. Primitive-looking carved chairs have varied-sized legs jutting out of the front of the seat and legs, as if the sitter were birthing them out of the wood. A self-taught artist who resurrects fragments found in the landscape of contemporary Ethiopia (sometimes collected by neighborhood children), Sime expertly expresses the cultural mash-up that becomes all too common as traditions of countries like Ethiopia are slowly subsumed into the hegemony of global popular culture.

"William Kentridge: Five Themes," San Francisco Moma, Mar 14-May 31, 2009.
"Elias Sime: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart," Santa Monica Museum of Art, Jan 24-Apr 18, 2009.