Warning: In this piece I talk about movies. I’m not sure what it has to do with art. Also, if you haven’t seen the Disney films Brave and Frozen, and you care about knowing what happens in them, you might go watch them before reading this.
Taking a look at American popular culture, originality looks to be on the decline. We live in the age of the remake, the cover, the mashup. Doesn’t a lot of new music sound like shitty covers of old music? (Or perhaps we’re just getting old; does every generation live its whole life thinking music hit its zenith when they themselves were teenagers, a cycle of criticism that repeats itself with each new generation?)
The problem appears most acute in cinema, and I’m not talking here about independent or foreign film, but in mainstream Hollywood. Not film, but movies. â€œRebootâ€ has become a household word in an entirely different context than restarting a computer; a series of movies is now a â€œfranchise.â€ Star Trek and Spiderman have run through enough sequels that they just started over again at the beginning. Total Recall, Judge Dredd, and now Robocop have been subjected to entirely unnecessary (though in the case of Judge Dredd, interesting; Total Recall not so much) remakes. And even the â€œnewâ€ movies are just combinations of the old: Vampire Academy might as well be titled Twilight Goes To Hogwarts. The Legend of Hercules looks like 300 meets Gladiator, and while that sounds awesome, it’s not. Not at all.
I have been pleasantly surprised, then, to find some original storytelling in an unexpected place: Disney princess movies. I know, I know. I’m as skeptical of Der Maus as the rest of you, and deeply appreciated the humor (with a rich undercurrent of biting satire) in the Charnel House’s recent in-house production of…take a minute to appreciate this title…They Saved Hitler’s Brain…And Put It In Walt Disney. Hilarious play, so perfect. Performance was excellent. And when a company has such a stranglehold on a genre, when fairy tales have become synonymous with the company’s animated version and the originals, compiled from folk legends (mostly German) by the brothers Grimm, almost totally forgotten…Disney is an easy company to hate.
In its princesses, particularly, Disney has a long history of perpetuating harmful stereotypes, and standards of beauty, in this movies (and tie-in merchandise) marketed to young girls. Ariel looks like you could snap her in half at the waist. Jasmine…I’ve never asked a Middle Eastern woman what they think of her, but I can imagine it’s similar to how some ethnic Persians responded to seeing their race depicted in 300. Overall, the characters have been overly frail, meek, and utterly dependent on the male characters with whom they were besotted. Romantic love, we are told, is the woman’s…well, then adolescent girl’s, sole reason for existence. (The depictions have generally given us the idea that anyone who isn’t married by seventeen is an old maid.)
I’m making broad generalizations here, and to be sure, there are exceptions. In fact, I make these generalizations specifically to call attention to a couple of these exceptions. While still perhaps imperfect, the last two Disney princesses (that I’ve seen) have been markedly better role models.
More recently, Frozen (still in theaters as of this writing) took an even more subversive twist on the usual princess-meets-prince story. I’ll warn you again, this plot has some twists and turns, and I’m about to discuss them, so if you haven’t seen it, and would rather not hear what happens, turn back now. While Brave was essentially a mother-daughter story, about a girl who wasn’t ready to settle down yet, Frozen was more of a sister story. And, while the protagonist of Brave wasn’t ready for a relationship, the princess in Frozen (like many young women) was all too eager to settle down.
There are actually two princesses in Frozen: the older, Elsa, who has crazy ice-magic, and the younger, Anna. The movie is essentially a story of the two sisters growing apart, and then the younger sister falling in love, and then everything going to shit. But a few interesting things happen along the way. The first is, when Anna announces that she’s in love, Elsa says what is perhaps the smartest thing any Disney princess has ever said: â€œYou can’t marry someone you just met.â€ Fucking A. And what’s more, and here’s the spoiler, Elsa’s not just being an unromantic bitch here. She’s absolutely right. The dude, Hans, while apparently quite handsome and charming (the picture of a Disney prince), he turns out to be a scheming, murderous prick. Along the way, Anna meets a rough-around-the-edges type, Kristoff, who seems perfectly placed to take Hans’ place as Anna’s beloved. But that’s not quite how it plays out. It’s complicated, but basically the endgame is that the two sisters’ love for each other wins out, and romantic love takes a back seat. I was disappointed, of course, that the movie didn’t end with Hans killing Anna and then Elsa flipping her shit in a Carrie-like rage, impaling everyone present on giant stabby icicles of blood, but then…there’s a reason I don’t write for Disney.
Like Brave, Frozen is ultimately a feel-good kids movie, the kind of nepenthe parents administer to shut the kids up for an hour and a half, but that’s inherent to the medium. As kid-fodder go, Brave and Frozen are better than most of their predecessors. Is there a greater lesson here, for those of us outside the field of making animated films for children? Hell, I don’t know. But I’ll say this: Frozen gets a hell of a lot better once it’s been run through the creative filter of the Internet, which has already yielded two excellent spinoffs: the movie’s â€œhit single,â€ Let It Go, being performed in a plethora of languages (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALUVJ_tyQ-E), beating Coke’s Superbowl commercial to the punch, and clips from the film rendered hilarious through the unnecessary censorship of innocuous lines of dialog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0v7rFSUrGE).
Trans is Trending, are the first three words in this piece for Bullett Media by Fiona Duncan. Pointing to a pretty fab recent Barney’s campaign featuring all trans models, she also points out Laverne Cox, Carmen Carrera and Chelsea Manning as trans poster children of the past year.
Blissing Out. I don’t actually know what this means but if Extinct Entities’ Anthony Stepter is doing it, it must be cool. For more proof, see Father Finger’s Kylie Lance blissing out in her new video, “Body of Bliss” off her new album of the same name. It still sounds like some hippy yoga thing to me, but whatever man. Bliss on.
E-Cigs inexplicably STILL trending. Now there’s a forum about it? Featuring contributions by Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, Orit Gat, Mat Dryhurst and Brian Rogers, and a video intervention by Karthik Pandian and friends, “This is the ENDD” was created by Rhizome to examine the broader context of the Electronic Nicotine Delivery Device (ENDD). Worth it if you’re still into that sort of thing and nearby the New Museum on February 22nd.
Logo by Nick Bastis.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1962, Oil paint and viynl on streched raw linen canvas, 62 3/4 x 62 5/8″. Image via Pace Gallery.
Extinct Entities Gone but Not Forgotten
Mixtape Lecture Packs Hall Despite SubZero Temps
Dedicated fans flocked to Links Hall on Saturday, January 25th, on the closing night of Extinct Entities, to experience Borderless Musical Imaginaries Mixtape: House, Chances and Recuperating Queer Genealogies. Micah Salkind and Latham Zearfoss opened the evening with a back and forth lecture on the history of House music in Chicago and Chances Dances, respectively. A disco light flashed in the corner of the packed house and a projection behind the artists displayed the mix tape info and documentary style footage of the former monuments of the House scene.
The interplay between Salkin’s academic history and Zearfoss’s personal essay on the development of the 8 years running so-much-more-than-a party, Chances Dances, was completely engrossing. Zearfoss behind the scenes on Chances “blissful resistance,” from gender neutral bathrooms to Off Chances and the establishment of the Critical Fierceness and Mark Aguhar Memorial Grants. Salkin elaborated on the movement of the queer Black and Latino avant-garde through legendary clubs like The Warehouse and the Music Box. Not to mention the soundtrack was banging, and the dancing in between sets made giving a lecture look fun for the first time ever. Feeding off the presenters energy a decidedly dance-y vibe infected the entire audience at Links Hall. Lectures will never be the same.
Artist Presents Anti-Super Bowl Exhibition on Facebook
Work by Jacob Goudreault goes AWOL After Lame Event
Jacob Goudreault posted this message in advance of last nights boring as hell game: “Do not support the NFL. Do not watch the Super Bowl! ” an online exhibition brought to you by FACEBOOK. The post, which was deleted late Sunday night for reasons yet unknown, also featured eight images that straightforwardly referenced the transgressions of NFL players and fans. WTT? is so regretting not taking any screenshots sooner!
Header image features a detail of work by Alex Chitty on display on view in Codification with Zach Reini at LVL3 in Wicker Park.
At the mini mall where I buy my art supplies, next to Starbucks and Whole Foods, there are two design furniture stores to supply the well to do urban area where we live.
In the window display at Design Within Reach is a Fritz Hansen Egg chair, designed by Arne Jacobsen for the Radisson SAS hotel in Copenhagen in 1958. Originally produced in green wool, the most popular model, like the one it the window, was upholstered in black leather.
In the adjoining shop window, they have a very similar chair. It is an egg-shaped swivel lounge chair in white leather with curvy lines and a star shaped aluminum base. The outside of the shell is covered entirely in aluminum, riveted together with chunky bolts, giving the whole thing a patchworked steam-punk-Barbie-in-an-Amsterdam-hair-salon aesthetic.
My daughter, who just turned eight, thinks this chair is dreamy. I think it is an abomination. But Iâ€™m having a hard time explaining to her why, and why this is a bad thing â€”after all one womanâ€™s homage is another womanâ€™s pimpingâ€”and we canâ€™t even just err on the side of good taste.
Beyond the field of good and bad taste is the boundary of the shocking, and out thereÂ Â Allen Jonesâ€™ Chair is back in style –in Bjarne Melgaardâ€™s pimped up â€œretoxifiedâ€ version of it — now available in black.
â€œThe racist chairâ€ as it has been dubbedâ€”because now it is apparently the chair that is racist, not the artist who made it, not the patron who bought it, not the editor who published the photo which is currently being circulated, not the context of the international art elite (â€”who already included Jonesâ€™s original into our canon as part of the TATEâ€™s permanent collection. A Pop art classic. )
Jones considers the threesome (the chair is accompanied by a table and a hat stand following the same design philosophy) his boldest statement. In reference to his work, he explains that:
The erotic impulse transcends cerebral barriers and demands a direct emotional response. Confronted with an abstract statement people readily defer to an expert; but confronted with an erotic statement everyone is an expert. It seems to me a democratic idea that art should be accessible to everyone on some level, and eroticism in one such level.
This abstract statement makes me wonder about the democratic implications of making one half of the population accessible as furniture for the other half, but off course Iâ€™m no expert on democracy.
If the image of a rich, beautiful white lady perched on top of a contorted busty black woman in bondage sits uncomfortably, it could be because it reminds us of how comfortable we have become with the idea of our bodies being commodified, black and white, black by white, female and male, female by male.
The Russian art world super nova Dasha Zhukova, for it is she in the picture, claims that the outrage over the picture was caused by it being â€œpublished completely out of context,â€. Â She claims that it is in fact â€œa commentary on gender and racial politics,â€ implying that in these international art world matters, she is the expert and we, the internet mob, are not. That we donâ€™t get it.
Melgaardâ€™s art-world buddies have come to his defense, one of them claiming that: â€œHe is not racist. He even dated a black man,â€. But, like with Jonesâ€™ defense of his original when he said, â€œI love women. I was using misogyny ironically!,â€ you can love and debase somebody at the same time. Forniphilia (human furniture) is a fine example of this.
That is called pimping.
No stranger to pimping, Melgaard in fact started off his career with (beautiful) watercolors of himself jerking off on the grave of his idol, Paul Gauguin, it is hardly surprising that he has not apologized as much as philosophized about the incidence. His press statement, released to Art Info through Gavin Brown enterprise, ends with the following:
We see this photograph to be extraordinary. We see this debate to be a distraction from the true challenges that face us. We applaud both the sitter and the seated. To fault the sitter, now in the age of the Anthropocene, in the midst of enormous and REAL obscenities that threaten our actual existence, reflects a civilization that is not dying but already dead. Turn your outrage upside down.
This reference to the â€œage of the Anthropoceneâ€ basically means: this is nothing compared to global warming. But the statement skirts around the fact that global warming is the result of an economy that hinges on the continuous commodification of bodies. The REAL obscenity in this context is the business as usual of employing the â€œend of historyâ€ rhetoric by those who consider themselves â€œwinnersâ€ â€”feminists are not â€œdoneâ€ with history, nor is the civil rights movement –but Melgaard in his statement turns the moral responsibility for this upside down.
To a certain point he is entitled to this position –after all artworks can operate in this field beyond moral good and bad, because of their dual relationship with form and content â€“artistâ€™s statements, on the other hand, cannot since they are only really dealing with content.
PimpingÂ (like irony) in a sense relies on the knowingness with which we acknowledge the relationship between form and content, and how we are able to destabilize it, in the knowledge thatÂ (to use Melgaardâ€™s phrase) both the sitter and the seated â€œgets itâ€, although it does not always sit comfortably.
Recently Miley Cyrus was given a fair amount of push back for pimping a content she didnâ€™t entirely get both in the form of the Afro American phenomenon of Twerking as well as the feminist legacy of Sinead Oâ€™Connorâ€™s shaved head. In Rolling Stone Magazine Cyrus explained how her Wrecking Ball video is a tribute to Oâ€™Connorâ€™s majestic crying game, Nothing Compares To You:
IÂ wanted it to be tough but really pretty â€“ that’s what Sinead did withÂ her hair and everything. The trick is getting the camera up above you,Â so it almost looks like you’re looking up at someone and crying.
Oâ€™Connor called her out and replied with a talking to in the â€œspirit of motherlinessâ€:
It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether itâ€™s the music business or yourself doing the pimping. [â€¦] The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age… which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
Mileyâ€™s response was to repost Oâ€™Connorâ€™s two-year-old tweets, in which she calls for help in treating her mental malady and suicidal impulse, along with an old photo of Oâ€™Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.
(Not getting how absolutely radical that gesture was at the time, and still is. How could sheâ€”she wasnâ€™t even born then! But some of us remember.)
Proving, if nothing else, Oâ€™Connorâ€™s point about the pimping.
But, as I was hinting in the beginning, one womanâ€™s pimping is the other womanâ€™s homage– after all there is no pimping without love.
To that point, I must confess I love that song, which hums like the pimped up cyborg love child of Jamesâ€™ Browns Sex Machine and David Bowieâ€™s TVC 15, even if Iâ€™m told that Robin Thicke is the new exterminator in the â€œWar On Women,â€ but I donâ€™t love Miley Cyrus enough to go to one of her concerts.
Instead, I went to see Sinead Oâ€™Conner when she was passing through town, and although it was weird sitting in that winery surrounded by middle aged fans like myself, when the lights dimmed and she took the stage she was as bald and as beautiful as ever. She was wearing a low cut washed out shirt that read â€œRasta at Heartâ€. I started dreaming about egg chairs in red, gold and green wool upholstery.
We are embarking upon a new little project. Over the next 80 or so weeks we are going to do a series of micro broadcast studio interviews with the local heros that we have some how forgotten or over sited in our slapdash and ramshackle scheduling.
That’s right, I said we are going to be live on the radio – boom – step back. Minds blown. But sadly, only for the few blocks around the interviewed artists studio. How it will work is, a few days before the broadcast we will let you know roughly where and roughly when we are going to do the chat. Then we will rock it out, if you are interested show up in the neighborhood with a radio and find us. We will, of course, archive the conversation and release it at our leisure some time in the near-ish future.
We are going to get started Monday around 8:30 pm in Albany Park near Lawrence and Kimball with Carl Baratta and Oli Watt. I’m pretty sure we are going to rock 91.1 fm. (#neverforget) It is going to be magic.
As we move forward with micro broad casting chicago art or the MBCCA project we need a little help from you.Â Here is how…
We need to figure out our initial list of the people whose contributions to our art history or the Chicago arting life have been so big that it is embarrassing that we have not already had them on the show. Â We have been compiling a list (which I have carved into my studio wall) but it doesn’t feel complete.
We have a lot of the obvious people Jessica Stockholder, Michael Rakowitz, Jeanne Dunning, Dan Peterman, Barbara Rossi, Phil Hanson, David Hartt, Karl Wirsum, John Sparagana, Susanne Doremus, Gladys Nilsson, Doug Ischar, Kay Rosen, Phyllis Bramson, Jim Nutt… I could go on, possibly forever, but what we would like to know is, who do you think it is important to get on the record? Who do you think that it is tragic and disappointing that we have not already rocked the mic with? To that end, I am enabling comments again, but just for this specific post, in the hopes that we collectively can produce a list which reflects the gaps in Bad at Sports audio production and archive. Â That being said, I’m reserving the right to delete any comment I want for any minor infraction upon human decency.