What’s considered new and innovative in comics in the US is relatively old news.
Barrel of Monkeys is the first English translation of a collection from the French collaborative duo, Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot. Originally released by L’Association in 2006 (Panier de Singe), the book also marks a first for new publishing endeavour by Brooklyn based comics polymath Bill Kartalopoulos, titled Rebus Books.
Barrel of Monkeys is not a book that I recommend for the lighthearted viewer. The enjoyment and occasional laugh out loud I gained while reading it also made me sick to my stomach. The violent, slapstick comedy is an admittance of the darker contours of human behavior. Crude transgressions committed between it’s covers include bestiality, abusive parenting, colonialism, and suspected suicides. This is disturbing story-telling at its best. The kind that will slap you around in a dangerous back alleyway that lacks the safety of ethics or morality and will abandon you on the pavement, disoriented and wounded, yet utterly loyal.
Ruppert and Mulot have carefully composed a fragile yet brutally playful world. Characters’ bodies are easily cut-up, maimed or discarded depending on the ruthlessness of the punchline. Their collaboration is seamless and it’s virtually impossible to decipher where Mulot begins and Ruppert ends. Their drawing style is both gestural and scratchy but devoid of the extraneous. Characters’ faces are abstracted, sometimes depicted as a single V, disallowing the viewer empathy and forcing them to rely on external emotional cues such as body language.
The story’s two protagonists are mean jerks – voyeuristic portraitists – that double as schematic surrogates for their authors. They turn their camera loose on a variety of distasteful situations including a late night bestiality party at the zoo (the highlight being an elephant), an S&M sword swallowers conference, and a masquerade for the maimed and disfigured. The running gag being the photographic finish of something horrible that’s happened to the person(s) getting their picture taken. The lack of close-ups or dramatic shifts in the story is telling of Ruppert and Mulot’s interest in playing with the formal aspects of traditional cartooning rather than imitating the cinematic. In the case of The Portraitists, this resonates on a similar level as an airplane safety diagram, maintaining an oddly cool, clinical posture in the midst of awful tragedy.
While topics touched in the book are probably unpalatable to most, the page layouts are complexly dazzling. Phenakistoscopes and other visual tricks become integral strategies for storytelling (and they WILL melt your mind). Animations and printouts of which can be found on Ruppert and Mulot’s website.** I advise readers to view the animal sex acts at their own discretion with the warning that they are downright obscene and nasty. They are great drawings though, and me being able to think that probably satisfies Ruppert and Mulot’s insistence that we are all capable of something downright terrible at some point or another.
The Grand Staircase: Kramers Ergot 7. Buenaventura Press 2008*
(Unfortunately, reading this comic online is a disgrace to how good it is to scale)
This is a trailer for one of Ruppert and Mulot’s newest releases, La Grande Odalisque.
Art thefts! Hijinks! Motorcycles! Female Leads! Comic book trailers masquerading as animation! I want this in English! Someone alert Rebus Books STAT!
Barrel of Monkeys
Rebus Books 2013
6.5 x 9.5” b&w softcover
* Special thanks to Anders Nilsen for photographing pages from the massive beast that is Kramers Ergot 7 and for general affirmation
** At the time of writing this blog – Ruppert and Mulot’s website is mysteriously down. I will keep checking back in and update this post when it’s back online. Guess those bestiality pics will have to wait.
If you’re dreaming of the summertime like I am, you’ll especially enjoy this week’s podcast — an interview with Dr. Jennifer Willet, “explaining the space that is bio art”, recorded at ACRE last year. (ACRE’s “soul-rejuvinating” residency’s application deadline is TOMORROW!)
The week broke open with a great interview between Jesse Malmed and filmmaker Brett Kashmere. Kashmere was born in Canada and reloacted to Pittsburgh where he teaches at Oberlin. On the subject of national identity, Kashmere wrote the following:
“I agree – national identity is an abstract, complex construction, a symbolic category, which serves both good and bad purposes. As someone who works a lot with sports as a subject, it’s disturbing to see how they’re often used, in ways subtle and overt, to stir up nationalist sentiment and prop up dangerous ideologies. I’m thinking of that famous quote from Ronald Reagan: “Sport is the human activity closest to war that isn’t lethal.” He meant that as an endorsement. On the other hand, sports provide a common, everyday, shared experience that has deep (often under-acknowledged) reverberations and significance. I’m most interested in its relationship to place and community, as a kind of folk culture that is potent and tribal, rather than as an instrument of national identity.”
The LAST ENTRY of Shane McAdams Thoughts from Across the Cultural Divide —
“Fidgety, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small piece of foil-covered hard candy and struggled over whether or not I should eat it. I actually started unwrapping it, almost placing it on my tongue before rewrapping it and carefully putting it back in my pocket…The candy in question was taken from a Felix Gonzalez Torres art piece, ‘Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)’”
Duncan reminded us to check out the MFA show at SAIC — which is awesome and up until May 17th — on our way to OX-Bow’s fundraiser.
I reposted an interview between Scott Wolniak and Hunted Projects… where Wolniak discusses his studio life as follows:
My studio is in my backyard. Convenience is really important to me because I like being able go to my studio any time, for any length of time, even if just to glance at something. I am in my studio every day, so the work is a constant. I have a hectic daily routine, which has required me to compartmentalize in order to sustain my practice. Nights have always been a haven of undisturbed studio time for me. Ideas come from everywhere. My work typically involves combinations of everyday life and abstract systems, explored through labor-intensive processes with humble materials. I tend to work on several things at once, shifting between conceptual projects that are primarily about planning and process-based pieces that are heavy on labor. My labor-intensive projects are probably the most enjoyable. I like to see things accumulate and transform over time. I can drop into the studio for 15 minutes or 5 hours; either is productive since it is always moving toward the same end point. As with meditation or exercise, small efforts conducted with great regularity do add up. I listen to tons of music while working, as inspiration and background noise. I often smoke marijuana in order to trick myself perceptually. (read more)
Jeffrey Songco interviewed artist Brooke Westfall, who adeptly debunks our nation’s HAWAII mythology:
“That’s exactly how people romanticize Hawaii! Hawaii is always paradise, it’s always lovely, but it’s not to me. I don’t agree because I didn’t grow up in that paradise. It’s not believable to me. But at the same time, it is believable, right? How do we complain about the weather in Hawaii? We don’t. I don’t. But we still have problems – money hardships, death…“
Danny Orendorff’s post begins, “It’s April, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably been busy tying up overdue assignments and following instructions on how to properly label your JPEGS for this or that residency or fellowship application. As such, what follows is an excerpt from a much larger essay and curatorial endeavor I’m working on that considers alternative methods for the establishment of intergenerational connectedness – particularly for activist communities.”
Terri Griffith posted about a street photography book by Vivian Maier, about whom the Chicago History Museum is holding a lecture on April 16 called “The Reinvention of Vivian Maier.” Read more about there here.
Once again, readers, writers, I love you. You’re brilliant.
We are in the midst of a Vivian Maier moment. She has concurrent shows around the world. Three lovely coffee table books, one a year since 2011. There’s a forthcoming documentary out about her, Finding Vivian Maier. Then there’s the Chicago History Museum lecture coming up on April 16 called “The Reinvention of Vivian Maier.” And all of this since her death, or more rightly, because of her death.
Since I first saw the exhibit Finding Vivian Maier at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2011, I have had mixed feelings about Maier’s work. It is undoubtedly compelling. The images are beautiful and the photographer so clearly loves city life. I pretty much never miss a street photography show. Last year’s Film and Photo in New York with Helen Levitt and Robert Frank among others, as well as Dawoud Bey’s Harlem USA, both at The Art Institute of Chicago, were riveting examples of urban photography. But they were different from Finding Vivian Maier. These photographers created work specifically for exhibition. They not only consented to their work being exhibited, they also had a say in the body of work from which the curators had to select. Even if this say came only in the form of editing out images the individual artists didn’t prefer. Vivian Maier didn’t have this opportunity. Her oeuvre of over 100,000 negatives I am assuming are relatively unedited by her, and they are certainly not edited for exhibition.
Vivian Maier Street Photographer is beautiful. Glossy, nice-sized pages that encourage getting lost in the images. Although all of the images contained are of public space, there is an intimacy to Maier’s work that makes me want to curl up on the sofa alone and spend some time with them. This irony of looking at these public images in private does not seem to be lost on the book. While some images are shown on opposing pages, others are allowed a blank page to give the reader time and space to consider the photo.
The book is organized roughly into three sections. The first are the city photos everyone loves—people, buildings, urbanity. Toward the end, there is a cluster of photos of animals dead in the street. These are juxtaposed against images of people sleeping, passed out, dirty children. It is impossible not to read this as “Oh look how these dead city animals resemble our tossed aside urban people.” It is here that the book becomes interesting in another way. I couldn’t help but wonder if Maier would have edited the book in this fashion. There are no titles to images. No dates. This is not the fault of the editor and rescuer of Maier’s work, John Maloof. I spent a lot of time on his website and it is clear that while some of her images are dated, most are not. How does one curate over 100,00 photos? With so much to chose from, is it even possible to allow the work to tell it’s own story? And what story would that be? The story Maier wanted to tell with her photographs? The story of Vivian Maier? Maybe it’s the story of John Maloof, whose life is now inextricably bound to hers.
After the Acknowledgments, there are more photos, Maier’s self-portraits. These are moving and unsettling. All I could think about was what this impossibly private person might think of all this. Looking at her pictures of other people seemed fine, but looking at pictures of Maier herself felt prurient and unseemly. But that is part of what the world loves about Vivian Maier, she is the fantasy of the undiscovered artist. The person who made work just for herself and then after her death is discovered to be a genius. It’s like every undergraduate art student’s fantasy come true.
This is a lovely book to spend time with and is more thought provoking than I had expected. I highly recommend it.
Vivian Maier Street Photographer, edited by John Maloof
Hardcover, 144 pages
Powerhouse Books, $39.95
It’s April, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably been busy tying up overdue assignments and following instructions on how to properly label your JPEGS for this or that residency or fellowship application. As such, what follows is an excerpt from a much larger essay and curatorial endeavor I’m working on that considers alternative methods for the establishment of intergenerational connectedness – particularly for activist communities. Enjoy!
In 2003, artist and filmmaker Matt Wolf made a short-film called Smalltown Boys that features a fictional narrative about a young girl named Sarah Rosenberg who begins a letter-writing campaign to save the television show My So-Called Life from cancellation with a cohort of other fans organizing themselves online. Rosenberg, in Wolf’s film, is the biological daughter of HIV/AIDS activist and artist David Wojnarowicz, conceived through artificial insemination. Rosenberg grows up to be a young, disenfranchised lesbian that feels no connection to the kind of direct street-level activism for which Wojnarowicz is remembered. Interspersed throughout Wolf’s telling of Rosenberg’s trials to save her beloved television program is archival footage of ACT-UP demonstations and home-video footage of Wojnarowicz on a road-trip with friends, swimming in a pond, and pontificating on the life of a small bug crawling upon his finger.
Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Excerpt
Additionally, Wolf interrupts the flow of his film with self-shot footage of his disembodied arm spray-paint tagging contemporary subway advertisements for MTV sponsored HIV/AIDS benefit concerts with Wojnarowicz’s signature burning-house tag. These moments are coupled with other scenes of Wolf wearing a black-and-white Arthur Rimbaud mask while silently riding the train or attempting to hail a cab (as seen above). Rimbaud was Wojnarowicz’s favorite poet, and the images Wolf produces quote the look of Wojnarowicz’s own collection of Rimbaud mask-wearing self-portraits, entitled Arthur Rimbaud in New York (1978-79).
Wolf (and, indeed, Wojnarowicz before him) can be described as re-performing what theorist Elizabeth Freeman has termed ‘temporal drag’ in his wearing of the Rimbaud mask Wojnarowicz wore. It is an act staged for the camera on the actual city streets and subways of Manhattan that represent a moment, to borrow another term (this time from Lucas Hildebrand), of ‘retro-activism.’ Wolf’s act represents the theoretical proposition that affective messages from the past can pierce through chronological or normative time into the present, producing profound historical linkages that are, indeed, felt. Sensual, affective connection with preceding generations becomes not only an archival project, but becomes an embodied activist project.
Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Excerpt
Films and actions like Wolf’s, or the well known out-of-time activist actions of Sharon Hayes, lead me to wonder how re-performance might participate in renewing activist outrage around issues – like HIV/AIDS – too easily and erroneously thought of as being in the past. At play, when actions are performed, just may be the sensual apprehension of our own situated-ness within historical pursuits of justice that stretch, or drag, into the present day.
Guest Post by Eric Asboe
I once heard Mike Haeg, the mayor of Minnesota’s smallest town, Mount Holly, current population 4, describe Minnesota seasons in a lovely way. He said that winters get so cold and snowy Minnesotans just want to stay inside and work on their own projects and ideas, but, once spring and summer start thawing the snow, those same people, who really want to be outdoors, spending time with other people, come back outside into the world, ready to share everything they have been working on during the indoor, winter months.
With rain, sleet, and accumulating snow in the forecast, there are not many tulips peeking out their heads yet. Nevertheless, warmer temperatures have started freeing people from winter routines, and recent print exhibitions have already started pointing me toward spring.
The Andy Warhol in Minneapolis exhibition, a stop of Andy Warhol at Christie’s, was at Aria for one week in March. It featured some of the works Warhol created for his last exhibition in Minneapolis in 1974. The connections he made with local cultural and philanthropic leaders of that time were in full view, with large prints of Gardner Cowles, George Shea, and Gordon Locksley looking over the remaining paintings, prints, drawings, and polaroids. Visitors streamed past the first pieces in the show towards Warhol’s more recognizable works scattered throughout the large space. Who doesn’t want to see Wayne Gretzky’s mullet transform from polaroid angelic halo to screenprinted neon coif? I lingered at the first two prints, both from his Sunset series. The series was inspired by Warhol’s stay at the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, and each of the hotel’s rooms still holds one of the prints. The bright reds and oranges of one print and the cooler aquas of the other print brought home the then recent daylight savings time and the warming days of the exhibition.
In less than fifteen years, Highpoint Center for Printmaking has become a major resource for printmaking, printmakers, and the spread of print culture throughout the Midwest. They host classes, public programs, visiting artists, a gorgeous studio space, and compelling prints in their gallery. They partner with the Jerome Foundation to provide residencies and exhibitions for emerging printmakers, and they generally foster and advance the art of printmaking to the local community and throughout the region. Their show Print Profs: Recent Work by MN Faculty, which just ended, featured work by college faculty throughout Minnesota. Covering a wide range of print processes, the artists push and bend traditional print processes to suit their own needs. Justin Quinn’s explorations of the letter E and Moby Dick bloom quietly from his winter hued, architectural prints. Lynn Bollman’s conceptually driven text piece HAZ MAT was bathed in afternoon sunlight when I visited. Rick Love and Heather Nameth Bren’s two rainbows are some of the simplest, yet most moving pieces in the show. Their call to the outdoors was a reminder of Highpoint’s explicit seasonal transition, Free Ink Day, from a few weeks ago, which was advertised with: “Help us celebrate the legacy of long Minnesota winters and the anticipation of springtime follies with an afternoon of inky fun.”
Although Highpoint notes that “printmaking is a cost-prohibitive endeavor to take on alone,” Print Profs was structured around the idea that the network of printmakers and access to presses and other resources at colleges is a part of the continued excellence of printmaking. The current exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art‘s (MMAA) Project Space, D.I.Y Printing: Presses Not Required, starts with the same belief that printmaking can be “cost-prohibitive,” but the artists and collectives there prove that the resources and processes of printmaking can be much more accessible: “Many print-makers, especially young artists who are just starting out, do not have the luxury of access to well-equipped facilities. Rather than experiencing this as a constraint, D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) printers see it as an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking to creatively and collaboratively problem-solve.” D.I.Y. Printing balances the lively work of eight local print collectives, twelve individual artists, and representatives from the MMAA’s permanent collection. The presence of the artists at the MMAA’s Project Space and the time and care spent on the largely site-specific and new work of the artists is clear. Their work is alive with the opportunities they create to adapt printmaking to their immediate situation, finding ways to make prints relevant and integral to what they are doing and interested in, even if they have to make, invent, or share the tools they need.
More importantly, the print collectives in D.I.Y. Printing are rethinking the very world that finds value in prints. Big Table Studio shows the possibilities of working with local residents, including the poster they helped visitors to the then newly opened MMAA Project Space create in the fall. Recess Press and Leg Up Studio both have community printshops for sharing their resources and knowledge. Screen Printing on the Cheap goes even further, pushing printing onto the streets, into bedrooms, into anywhere and everywhere they can. They write, “As educated artists, we have been conditioned to rely on making art in facilities we simply cannot afford. Screen Printing on the Cheap demonstrates a ‘new school’ of screen printing and makes the process more accessible to the community.” Their recently published book and public programming help realize that more populist oriented practice. All of the print collectives’ work in the show engages with more than a reinvigorated d.i.y. mentality. They utilize printmaking to question the boundaries that separate artists from artists, artists from makers, artists from everyone else, studios from the real world, the world indoors from the world outside. They are calls to re-engage with communities outside of the places that hold and celebrate all of these prints, to re-imagine the world in which we view and make what we live with. Screen Printing on the Cheap’s mobile printing unit on display at the MMAA is a direct call to be more outside by literally bringing printmaking to the streets. I am ready to learn from all of the artists at the MMAA who have been busy printing in whatever ways they can this winter; I am ready to follow them out into the spring, come snow and rain and prints.
If all of these calls to be outside to find the ease and accessibility of springtime were not enough, the annual poster and bicycle celebration ARTCRANK Minneapolis was last weekend. Hundreds of people drank beer, bought posters, and celebrated bikes. The energy and readiness for bike riding and the outdoor time the posters showed and called for was palpable, rippling through the lines for artworks, food trucks, and bicycle valets. We are all anxious to leave that winter gear behind, to pack it away behind the new things and ideas we have worked on all winter. The Minneapolis born idea has since moved on to many more cities. Get out to the first ever ARTCRANK Chicago on May 17th at the Co-Prosperity Sphere – beer, bikes, and posters.
At the very least, keep in mind the words of wisdom from Mount Holly. As spring holds out a few more days, gather what you did and made and learned this winter. Bring it back into the world to share with the rest of us; we are ready and waiting to share our own excitements too.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. As Art Director of Public Space One gallery and performance space in Iowa City, Iowa, Asboe helped shape its nationally engaged exhibitions and programming, including the microgranting meal SOUP and the award-winning Free @rt School. Asboe’s creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. Forthcoming projects include ubuwebtopten.com. He currently lives and works in Minneapolis.