Sunday, May 31
Thursday, May 21
I can't explain exactly why I've always liked the work of Alice Neel. There is an awkwardness and niävete to her paintings that expresses an emotional state (of either the subject or the painter) that I'm attracted to and self-conscious about being attracted to at the same time. The impression given to me by Neel's paintings is similar to Edvard Munch, Ben Shahn or David Hockey. Social commentary in portraiture has moved much more towards photography as it's medium in the past fifty years, yet there is a quality in Neel's almost crude style and subject matter that is purely the effect of using paint. Peter Schjeldahl does a much better job than I talking about this with an audio slideshow on the New Yorker website today. If you are fortunate enough to be in the City this summer, Zwirner & Wurth and David Zwirner are both currently showing her work.
Wednesday, May 13
Another reason to love ubuweb: an online interactive of the seminal Aspen publication from the 1960s. Aspen was conceived of by Phyllis Johnson, a former editor of Women's Wear Daily, as an unbound magazine or publication beyond the printed page. Designed by artists, each box strove to share "culture along with play." Aspen proved to be ahead of it's time as a cultural document of the sixties (issues featured Fluxus, writers like Burroughs and Robbe-Grillet, free jazz, psychedelia, etc.) A genuinely inspired publication, it really gets in my head that a publisher was sympathetic and sensitive enough to artistic production at that time to support and share a project like this.
Monday, May 11
I love this idea. I had a friend in college who would teach free Maya classes in a park somewhere in New York, as a way to remove socio-economic class and academic structure from learning. I always thought that act looked to the fundamentals of what teaching is: a sharing of information for the greater good, as hippie-ish as that sounds. TELIC in Los Angeles strives for the same thing through their Public School program, which works like this: "first, classes are proposed by the public (I want to learn this or I want to teach this); then, people have the opportunity to sign up for the classes (I also want to learn that); finally, when enough people have expressed interest, the school finds a teacher and offers the class to those who signed up." Upcoming classes this month include an Urban Plein Air Society; Vagabondism: Transience as a viable and sustainable creative action, historical models and resources; Pinata Making; a two-day Max MSP/PD workshop. Classes are almost always free. You have no excuse now for a lack of knowledge on LED displays.
Sunday, May 10
I've made a number of works over the years examining what factors constitute an identity. My earliest memories consist of the somewhat uncomfortable realization of difference of my family life to the rest of our upstate new york suburb. It was not so much what my family looked like that seemed markedly different from our friends and neighbors, it was how we did things. The mix of cultural traditions from both my parents combined with a weirdly progressive idea of how children should experience the world made for an upbringing that I was keenly aware of as unique at an early age. I think like most artists, I've looked at the broader scope of traditions and rituals that are in the world to help me understand why that was significant (for both the teachers and the students) and what the place of rituals really is for a group, whether it is an entire country like Japan or just the small group known as my immediate family.
I recently read an article in the New Yorker on the return of the Danilov bells, some of the last church bells to ring in Russia after the onset of Stalin's Great Purge. The bells found a home at Harvard's Lowell House for decades, rescued and moved there by an American philanthropist. As with any cultural object, how the bells were made and how they were used in their native country did not necessarily translate to Harvard campus life. In Russian history and culture, church bells are thought to have a sonic power, not only through their signification of piety but the physical sound's ability to influence the mind and body of the listener. This deep-rooted belief was enough for Stalin to decide to melt most bells down into cannons and have the monks shot. As much as this paranoia sounds like actions of a megalomaniac, it is not the first time that a new regime has decided to establish itself through the eradication of a symbolic person or object, but the forced removal of an everyday sound from the cultural landscape. After the 1917 revolution, many of the Slavic sounds and letters found in Russian were banned by the government in order to erase that history from the new Soviet life.
Despite this, some objects continue to ask to be used in some form and take on a life outside of their original intended one. After they were hung in Lowell house and after a failed attempt to bring a expert Russian bell ringer to Harvard to carry on their original use and sound, a group of students took an interest in the bells and integrated them into their campus life. Klappermeisters, a group of Harvard students who took an interest in house traditions, chose to ring the bells for football victories over Yale, etc. Although it seems ridiculous that these privileged twenty-somethings were using the bells (cast to produce an untuned "voice," an overlay of partial frequencies and vague references to traditional pitches) to play rudimentary tunes like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," the fact that a new group banded together to attempt to create a new tradition with them is significant. It is a testimony to the strange power of the objects and the desire for a commonality that defines a loose association around a common belief or idea. As I stated earlier, the traditions of my family were not quite Irish or Filipino, not quite conservative upstate suburb or off the grid progressive, but they were something we had all organically come to recognize as things we did. Although they did not hold the original significance and were perhaps somewhat silly at times (I'm not sure if it's deeply moving to have a butter lamb, but that is something that we do at Easter time,) I think the comfort of knowing that the ritual is ours and that we all understand that is important.
The Danilov bells made their voyage back to the Danilov monastery and were rung again on March 17. A new set of bells was cast for Harvard's Lowell House and installed in their place, not replicas of the old bells but not traditional western church bells either. Patriarch Kirill I described the return as a transition from "an epoch of destruction and an epoch of creation."
Wednesday, May 6
"...our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk by David Wilson at the Hammer Museum (see below; I hate repeating myself and know that I often do.) I was curious to see what this would be like. I've never met the man, but feel like there is a public understanding that his work is of questionable authenticity and that the elaborate levels to which he goes to create belief in this research, along with the aesthetic of the Renaissance Cabinet of Curiosities, is what makes him a compelling artisan. I worried that he might actually address this sentiment in some way and burst the bubble. I was wrong to not have had faith.
Wilson modestly discussed his initial introduction into the world of archives and historical documents, which consisted of weekly visits with his father to talks at the Natural History Museum in Denver. He then screened a few excerpts from a film project he is working on with the Kabinet group in St. Petersburg, Russia. These historical biographies describe the lives and beliefs of figures like Nikolai Fekorovich Federov. He also previewed a series of early sketches imagining the details of space travel and a clip from a silent film from the 1920's depicting the same. The point of the lecture was to trace the history of what philosophies drove the Soviet Union to build rockets. Wilson's only expositions on this were through the narration of the film and a gleeful description of the details of the Museum's exhibitions related to it.
The presentation of these lovingly produced images of the post-Soviet landscape with a voice over describing the somewhat bohemian circumstances of these men was seductive. The films did not describe a time line of industrial development, but rather a growing communal philosophy that human imagination, even in its most extreme and seemingly outrageous forms, could forward our collective consciousness in the most beautiful way possible, reaching towards the heavens. I realized about halfway through that whether the factual information was true was totally irrelevant. Wilson uses the model of scientific authority only as a vehicle to get us to the really important stuff: these odd feats of industrialization are inextricably reflective of our fundamental beliefs on human interaction and our place in the universe.
I could not help but think about this all the way home. Everything can be researched and supported with details, facts, cell phone pictures, what have you. How important is this really? Whether David Wilson's scientific method is accurate or not is irrelevant; whether sketches of an imagined future were actually made in the 1920s doesn't really matter. In the end, sometimes it's not the details of what brought you to a place that are important, but that you are there. I think what makes his work so compelling to so many people is that he's talking about faith. Not specifically a religious or what have you kind, but a belief that maybe the universe and maybe just even other people will capably give you what you need, there is no way to force that into existence. Wilson has conceded that his work is "similar to what an audience experiences when watching a magical illusion performed." It is comforting to know that an artwork (or a life's work) can still elicit a cosmic sense of amazed admiration from something both surprising and strange.
"She might have compared her experience at that moment to the vague, alarmed consciousness that her life was taking on a new form, that she was undergoing a metamorphosis...Her whole world was in a state of convulsive change; the only thing she could say distinctly to herself was, that she must wait and think anew...This was the effect of her loss."Marian Evans, 1871
Tuesday, May 5
Monday, May 4
I've really liked the fact that I only know enough people and places in Los Angeles to have an active social calendar, not one on steroids, but this week is jam-packed. Tomorrow night, David Wilson will be doing a talk at the Hammer museum. Wilson founded the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, a space which looks at the experience of the museum-as-authority using the model of the Wünderkammer and reiterates the importance of a having a sense of awe. Even if you live 3000 miles away, I would highly recommend reading Lawrence Weschler's account of the museum.
Thursday night, Knifeandfork will hold another installment of their "Engagement Party" series at MOCA with "MOCA Grand Prix," a free event that "invites participants to race remote-control cars through MOCA’s current exhibition, 'A Changing Ratio: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection.'" There will be awards for fastest times for competitive-types and a cash bar for drunken competitive-types. This is my birthday, too, so make a promise to yourself to let me win a race.
While going to get some new treads today, I saw that the Fairfax Cinema will have a midnight screening of "The Goonies" this Friday. Remember the Cindy Lauper theme song for that?
And Sunday, Family will have a book signing and talk with Michael Schmelling for the launch of The Plan, his photographs of "12 private residences in the company of Disaster Masters, a New York-based company specializing in cleaning up homes and counseling compulsive hoarders." This is one of my favourite places in Los Angeles and I'm confident it will be an interesting, thoughtful and fun event.
Now, if anyone has anything for Saturday, let me know. Otherwise, rest is also a good thing.