Meg loves YouTube. Seriously. Some gems that she has dug up and forced me to watch recently include “Chimpanzee Riding on a Segeway”, “Boogie Woogie Hedgehog”, and various renditions of “Play Him Off Keyboard Cat”, which range from awkward internet video clips to gruesome freak injuries juxtaposed with, you guessed it, a cat playing a keyboard. So when Meg posted about Sita Sings The Blues a few weeks ago, I was expecting, well, cats or at least a few cute animals.
Yeah, there are no baby animals riding scooters. But I was actually blown away by this movie, created by artist Nina Paley. It is a musical based on the Hindu epic the Ramayana, a story of the Gods Rama and Sita, and their failed marriage. In Sita, Paley weaves the story of her own failed marriage, three hysterical narrators version of the Ramayana, and Annette Hanshaws throaty, heartbreaking music into a gorgeous visual experience.
Paley utilizes drastically different animation styles in the work that could have easily felt as if they segmented the film, but seem somehow to feel inherent to the situations that they depict. In the storyline that is the rendition of her own marriage, the visuals are Sunday cartoon-like, comfortable, and very intimate, using clip-art looking props and collage environments.
This aesthetic makes the scenes in which Sita is signing the words of Annette Hanshaw, one of the first great female jazz singers of the 1920s, seem even more lush. When Annette Hanshaw is crooning, Sita is transformed into a buxom Betty Boop with huge breasts, a tiny waist, and large, child bearing hips, which sway with the music. Hanshaws hypnotic voice and the dense, smooth environment of the animation are completely charming. The original Hanshaw recordings, complete with record fuzz, scratches and skipping, coupled with the hyper contemporary style of animation serves to transcend a particular time, and simultaneously give the super current animation a rich history and the music a contemporary body.
Progressing at the same pace as the evolution of the marriage, the last part of the animation uses three narrators telling together the story of the Ramayana. I laughed out loud at some of the things that these three had to say. The narrators, seen in the style of paper shadow puppets, argue, disagree, and attempt to construct a version of the complicated classic the Ramayana. While they are speaking, Paley uses more animation styles, collage, and hand done paintings, animated herself. The three voices complicate their own telling of the Ramayana, as well as the perception of the story of Paleyâ€™s failed marriage. In that storyline, the husband is silenced, his words were written by Paley herself, andÂ I agree with Richard and Meg in her original post, I was left really wondering what really happened in that relationship, and wish more of it had been shared.
I think that this video is smart, and I particularly enjoy the range of visual references from Kid Pix, photoshop, and DIY animation, to ancient religious scripture, and contemporary comic strips. Nina Paley also seems like a very intelligent person from the interviews I’ve read, and she gets mad props from me for making this free to everyone under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.
The film is easiest to watch on YouTube, where it is in ten segments, and about an hour long. A playlist of it can be found here. I would recommend watching it in HD, although it does take a while longer to load, at least on my slow ass laptop. The official website for the film is here.
The Co-Prosperity Sphere, an experimental cultural center in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, will be hosting the Matchitehew Assembly, a music festival of sorts, on June 5th and 6th. The festival will be a two day, all-ages assembly of musicians from across the nation and otherwise, with styles ranging from traditional black metal to noise; a collection of extreme elements that encompass the spectrum of dark sound, which sounds a little LOTR to me, but could also mean a very good time. The assembly is not accepting sponsorship or promotion from any corporate company; groundwork for the assembly is volunteer-based, and the host location is non-profit. You should definitely pre-order tickets online here, and check out the really intense line up here.
The Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S. Morgan in Chicago, Illinois.
Sometimes I think that art writers, before launching into a review of this or that exhibition, should overshare in the manner that’s fashionable today and note the mood they were in whilst viewing the show in question. Such status updates would function as a form of disclaimer by revealing the external (or are they internal?) factors that may insidiously affect the reviewer’s state of mind. Today, mine would have been:
plagued by a gnawing hunger
really need to pee (unsmiley face)
Who can say how this physical discomfort may have affected my take on Gallery 400’s “Our Literal Speed: events in the vicinity of art and history” exhibition, but I’ll tell ya, I thought the show was a hoot. Just to clarify, I’m talking about the exhibition that’s up through July 4th, not the conference events that already took place over the April 30th weekend, which I couldn’t attend. The exhibition is not a documentation of those weekend events but is pretty much a discrete thing-in-itself, although its conceptual links to the conference are obvious. Both exhibition and conference bill themselves as
“a kind of ‘media pop opera’ or ‘administrative gesamtkunstwerk‘ that includes fluid and/or jagged transitions among scholarly presentations, panel discussions, artist’s talks, performances, and an art exhibition within an academic conference….The project offers a temporary laboratory in which a concerned public can investigate non-formulaic, experientially vibrant and theoretically precise responses to the modes of distribution, consumption, and circulation that drive contemporary art.”
It seems fairly clear that everyone involved was in it for the laughs (such as they are), while at the same time being perfectly serious.Â One of the exhibition’s central visual conceits is that of the performance and the stage, with academicians and other arts professionals as the role-playing performers. But what we see in the gallery are empty and disembodied stages, while audiences (when shown) appear bored or distracted as they observe something that’s been obscured from our own view.Â The audience in Sharon Hayes’ single channel video “10 Minutes of Collective Activity,” for example, fidget and yawn as they listen to an archival audiotape of Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff’s controversial 1968 speech to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, in which Ribicoff nominated George McGovern for President while violent street protests erupted outside.
Even the people who are onstage appear alienated from the proceedings.Â Jackson Pollock Bar’s “Picasso/Braque 1989,” (2009), which is described as an “installed theory installation,” reenacts a panel discussion with the art historians Edward Fry, Yves Alain Bois, Rosalind Kraus and Leo Steinberg that took place twenty years ago during the ‘Picasso and Braque’ exhibition at MoMA. The video and (barely audible) audio tracks are out of sync, because the voice track–based on an edited transcript of the original 1989 discussion–was recorded by one group of people and then acted out by a different group who essentially lipsynced the recorded discussion, giving voice and gesture to the text in puppet-like fashion. (The woman who performs Rosalind Krauss as a snippy, hair-flipping drama queen is hilarious, stealing the show when she apes lines like, “Your interpretation is wrong!” and “I find this repellent!” Ah, theory humor. You gotta love it.)
Critic Jan Verwoert (who’s a dead-ringer for a certain parodic ex-SNL character) checks his cell phone while presiding over the mock-trial in Hila Peleg’s 100 minute dvd, “A Crime Against Art,” 2007 (click on the link for a brief clip). Peleg’s film is based on a staged trial at an art fair in Madrid, which was itself fashioned after Andre Breton’s mock trials of the 1920’s and 30’s. The idea is that an art crime has been committed, and there are “experts” and “witnesses” who take the stand to testify, but no one can get at exactly what the crime is, or who’s responsible.
A stream of familiar buzzwords flow from the mouths of these critics and curators-cum-performers, like old friends from high school who you once thought were cool, but seem sort of sad and adrift now, twenty years later: words like ‘agency,’ ‘strategical’ (yep), ‘opacity,’ ‘reification,’ ‘criticality.’ My head was starting to ache from it all, but then again it could have been the hunger. I took off the headphones before Verwoert rendered a decision of guilt or innocence, but not before taking note of Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies director Maria Lind’s bright red fingernail polish. Did she get them done just for the trial, I wondered, or do they always look that nice?
A sense of the gamely absurd, of Beckettian tragicomedy, hangs over Our Literal Speed.Â I had initially thought it might not be worth it to see the show if all “the good stuff”– i.e. the live events–had already happened, but I now think I saw this exhibition under exactly the right conditions: several weeks after all the talks, events, and parties were over, in a gallery that was empty of live bodies (save for my own and those of a few staff members). My pounding headache and desperate need for food and coffee finally drove me from the gallery, but poor Rosalind, Jan and Maria were forced to remain there, their discursive performances replayed over and over in an endless loop, like Beckett’s pantsless Estragon and his pal Vladimir, still out there somewhere waiting for Godot.
Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.
Through July 4th, 2009 at Gallery 400.
Here’s what’s got my attention, web-wise, so far this week:
*San Diego Museum of Art director Derrick R. Cartwright appointed director of the Seattle Art Museum.
*Art Institute of Chicago director James Cuno hopes to initiate massive fundraising drive for free Museum admission.
*No Boys Allowed: yearlong exhibition at the Pompidou Center is for women-only.
*Scope Basil is only three weeks ago away, and still ‘aint got no permit.
*”I spent a year asking why the contemporary art bubble was the biggest, bubbliest bubble of them all”:Â Ben Lewis’ The Great Contemporary Art Bubble preview clip on YouTube ( ART21’s Ben Street has a funny post on the film too).
*Speaking of Twitter, it could be coming to a t.v. near you.
*Beautiful/Decay needs YOU to help pick the theme for its next limited-edition publication. Winner gets a copy of the book. For free!
Here comes our second installment of Tuesday’s Video Pick where we pick a random video of an artist either talking about their work or video art. I was a little stumped on what to show this week so I put a request for videos up on twitter. Matthew Green hit me back with his video Spectral Dragging. “Spectral Dragging features a shaman-like Figure draped in a foil cloak walking in the desert. In his hand he holds a staff of surveying with which he detects and communicates with variations of himself displaced in time-space. As the Figure walks a circular path outlining a dimensional fold or vortex, our understanding of time and space at this moment and place stretches and bends. The friction between the intersecting dimensions causes a diffraction wake resulting in a hypnotic trance inducing shift in the frequency of visible light.”
For more info check out Mathew’s site.