“My Violent Movie About Kindness” : Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America

November 6, 2013 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY AUGUST EVANS

Dark comic of yore, Bobcat Goldthwait came to Bloomington, Indiana, last week, to do stand-up at the Comedy Attic, plus lectures around screenings of two recently directed films—the blistering cultural satire God Bless America, and  Willow Creek, a Bigfoot found footage horror flick. About God Bless America, Goldthwait said to a small Halloween evening crowd at the Indiana University Cinema: “I wanted to indict rather than parody.

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Photo courtesy: collider.com

In God Bless America, a society teetering on the edge of cultural decay is declared in faux-reality series like Dumb Nutz, and a mock-up of American Idol called American Superstars, where the grotesque imagery of “reality” bombards sensitive, exasperated main character Frank’s tiny living room. Frank—played by Joel Murray—is a character, Goldthwait admitted, “most of my friends say is me.” Frank’s world is a right-wing mash-up of “9-11-2001 – Never Forget” license plates, American flags, radio heads screaming in military troupes’ defense, Obama in a Nazi uniform, and, most importantly for Goldthwait’s agenda, Sound Bites: meaningless perpetrators of a shallow society, where “No one talks about the personal or important,” but only about what was on TV the night before, regurgitating. Such is the timbre of Frank’s non-specific office drone environment, where he is assaulted with water cooler chat so disgorged he at last declares: “A shocking comment has more wit than the truth,” before unfolding his stapler, aiming it like a gun at his docile co-workers, and asking, “Why have a civilization anymore if we’re no longer interested in being civilized?”

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Photo courtesy: collider.com

Frank’s day only gets worse. Corporate higher-ups, citing a “No Tolerance” policy, after eleven years of employ, fire him for sending flowers to the receptionist. His next visit is to the doctor who, while informing Frank he has an inoperable brain tumor, takes a cell phone call, unleashing a painfully privileged litany, something about a newly souped-up car. Frank proceeds home. Against the endless wails of an infant next door, he sits couch-ridden, sipping beer, sobbing, yet again before the enormous boob tube, where teenage “reality goddess” Chloe rails at her father for buying her the “wrong” brand-new car, dropping the gem of a line, “You’re not listening to me. You’re talking to the cameras!” At this moment, Frank’s own phone rings, his estranged eight-year-old mirroring Chloe in her lament of the horror of her own mom having bought her a Blackberry instead of an iPhone. Frank hangs up, retrieves a pistol from a shoe box, steals his sobbing baby-wielding neighbors’ yellow Mustang, and drives to “reality goddess” Chloe’s high school. Unabashedly, in broad daylight, he shoots her.

Witness to the killing is sixteen-year-old Roxy, disgusted schoolmate of Chloe, played by Tara Lynne Barr, who couldn’t be happier with Frank’s murderous deed. The misanthropes team up, donning throwback garb à la Bonnie and Clyde, embarking on a nationwide killing spree aimed at obliterating the thoughtless and digitally absorbed—from people who take up two parking spaces, to boobs who take calls in the movie theater, Frank and Roxy unabashedly eliminate the American unkind.

The barefaced fact of Frank, a middle-aged man, running around the country alongside sexy, sixteen-year-old Roxy comes to the fore as the duo shops for bandit garb in a thrift store. “Frank,” asks Roxy, “Do you think I’m pretty?”

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Photo courtesy: collider.com

Frank’s response: “I refuse to objectify a child. Fuck R. Kelly! Fuck Vladimir Nabokov! Fuck Woody Allen! No one cares if they hurt other people.” Roxy’s response is deflated, sulking, as she attests to the absurdity of the duo carrying on as “platonic spree killers.”

I was reminded of this particular exchange during the Q&A session following the film, when Goldthwait, in response to a question as to his rationale behind casting Barr as Roxy, said, “When she came in to read, she didn’t play it too vampy. Other actresses were sexy, coquettish, doing the Lolita thing. Tara was wearing overalls.”

This all made me think of a discussion in a class I’m in, where we read “researched” fiction and poetry. Recently we discussed Nabokov’s Lolita as a historical work. Nabokov, in his essay, “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” attests the novel’s inspiration as a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, “after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”

This statement, coupled with the book’s stunning linguistic mastery, has always made me see Lolita as being about far more than pedophilia—far too complicated to be reduced to a dangerous text condoning child rape, or in some cryptic manner portraying Humbert Humbert as enviable. My sense has always been that Lolita, in pointing so blatantly and grotesquely to pedophilia, deflates its taboo. I have also secretly believed Nabokov’s choice to set the novel in America as a bit of a nod to the States’ sexual repression. He knew American readers (and publishers) would sexualize Lolita, characterize her, to quote Goldthwait, as “vampy,” in control of her own pre-adolescent, seductive powers, a self-aware temptress in her own right:

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Photo courtesy: biblioklept.org

My class’s discussion digressed: a fellow student called Lolita “the “rape-iest” book he’d ever read, likely responsible for subsequent generations of rape culture. Questions swarmed: what should the academy include in its required reading lists? Should a progressive, Queer revaluation of texts chuck away Lolita for good?

I am fascinated with the conflicting views America projects upon “Lolita”—vampy actresses too young and seductive for their own good, adolescent temptresses in need of righting by an ethically firm, middle-aged Frank. Despite this brand of righteousness, sexual tension percolates every hotel room of God Bless America, Frank stubbornly refusing to share a bed, Roxy urging him on (as in Lolita, Frank and Roxy roam amongst cheap motels of the Eastern U.S.). An uncomfortably paternalistic extended scene features Frank teaching Roxy to shoot teddy-bear laden trees, prepping for banditry:

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Photo courtesy: hitfix.com

This is not to discount that God Bless America, assaulting and unforgettable in its depiction of a screen-sutured society obsessed with reality TV (scathing, not quite like anything I’ve seen before), renders Frank and Roxy’s joke that they’ll “move to France and start a goat farm,” wildly appealing. Goldthwait’s wit is wise, his declarations pristine, his intent earnest. And there’s nothing more cringingly American than Frank’s final words to Roxy, before detonating her, himself, and the entire studio audience and performers of competitive singing show, American Superstars: “I do think you’re pretty.”

August Evans has written in Mexico, Sweden, and Aix-en-Provence, France, where she taught English before returning to the U.S. to complete her Masters of Humanities degree at the University of Chicago. She has taught college English and Humanities in Chicago, and studied fiction writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently she is an MFA candidate at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her fiction and book reviews may be found in HTMLGiant, Melusine, and Monkeybicycle.

EDITION #19

November 6, 2013 · Print This Article

Work by Philip von Zweck

a long line

FULL DISCLOSURE: I would have written about it anyway but I am honored happen to be in the exhibition.

It was a sad day in Chicago when she woke up to the news that Edmund Chia was gone and not coming back. In his absence Chia left a long line “of text, broken up into 43 parts and distributed to artists for their interpretation, none of whom are privy to the complete document.” The result, a long line, came together in a seamless transition to new Peregrine directors, Claire Valdez and Jon Waites.

a long line, Peregrine Program

Valdez and Waites’ pairing of the mostly modest sized works have some fantastic isolated moments while maintaining a flow throughout the space as a whole. For those curious, the gallery sheet revealed the lines assigned to each artist. It’s an interesting mix to say the least. Pieces in direct response to their line, such as Ang Bidak’s butter application and Philip von Zweck’s chilling response to his line really engaged the poem and forces one to consider the individual line. Connor Creagan’s response to the line “art brings people apart, right” was a sweet twist on an FGT-like pile with neon green wristbands. Each wristband had a matching code buried in the pile.

a long line, Peregrine Program

Work by Connor Creagan

a long line, Peregrine Program

Of course there were a few works that felt dropped in to the show, unrelated to the text, though surprisingly few considering the scope. All in all, an exhibition befitting the Peregrine founder and a good sign for what is to come.

a long line, Peregrine Program

a long line, Peregrine Program

a long line is on view at Peregrine Programs (3311 W Carroll Avenue, #119) through November 24, 2013.

The Weatherman Report

Vincent Van Gogh, The Mullberry Tree, 1889 (oil on canvas, 54 x 65 cm). Image courtesy of the Norton Simon Art Foundation.

What’s the T?‘s First Annual Halloween Costume Awards

Screw ArtNews’ Top 100 List and if you won best gallery inside your mom’s pantry from NewCity, here are the awards that really matter!

Saddest Clown Award

Scariest Costume Award

Goes to Andrew Rafacz, obvi.

The Most OooOOoooAWwWWooOOOOoooAGHGHH Award

Most Understated Costume Award

Best Use of a Wire Hanger Award


Best Use of Your Arm as a Prop Award


Best Hair Award

If you didn’t win this year, it’s time to start planning for next Halloween, kitties! Think you deserve better? Let me know!

TRENDING

If you haven’t noticed recently, EVERYONE is freaking naked all of a sudden! In the past couple of weeks there have been no less than three exhibitions that feature nudity prominently, but unlike most trends, this is one we hope won’t go away.

Work by Nick Johnson, on view at document

Work by Jonathan Gardner, on view at Corbett Vs Dempsey

Work by Elijah Burgher, on view at Western Exhibitions

I’ve also been whispers about Hardcore Craft trending in Chicago. Next thing you know, even Net Art will be trending.

What Costume Shall The Poor Girl Wear?

November 4, 2013 · Print This Article

Titling this post with a Velvet Underground quote, you might think I was going to talk about Lou Reed and his recent passing, but I’m not. That very worthy topic has been well covered by many others. Actually, it just seemed like a fitting quote, because I want to talk about costumes.

Of course Halloween has just come and gone, and that is the first thing most people think of when they hear the word “costume.” Costume, though, plays an important role in many aspects of life, including art. The word costume can be used to refer to any article of clothing or manner of dress. Usually, though, it implies something outside of the everyday. Depictions of historical costume is an important aspect of art history, whether it is the significance of the color of the Virgin Mary’s dress in an icon, the meaning of the steel gorget in a Rembrandt portrait (e.g. the one hanging in the Art Institute), or the absolutely pippin’ fur collar in Albrecht Durer’s later self portrait (as well as that prison striped number with the lace on sleeves in his earlier one).

In some contemporary art, though, costume takes center stage. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster films feature ornate and elaborate costume and makeup effects throughout. In some cases these merely reinforce characters, such as Richard Serra in his workmanlike coveralls, or the opera singer in her baroque gown. In other cases, the costume creates the character, particularly when prosthetics and makeup effects are involved. Specific examples include the woman with the glass leg, who is then transformed into an anthropomorphic cheetah, and Barney as faun or satyr. Makeup and costume also hit at the heart of Barney’s subject matter with numerous characters featuring prosthetically applied, bizarre genitalia. Their rubbery flesh evokes the rubber crotch demanded by censors for Linnea Quigley in her role as the punker chick Trash, dancing nude on a grave in Return of the Living Dead.

Some artists create costumes which transcend the body inside them to become wearable sculptures. The most obvious example is of course Nick Cave, whose “soundsuits” are frequently exhibited as static display objects. It could be argued that they reach their full potential only when inhabited, for massive group performances in which their sound making properties are harnessed, but most of us encounter them hung on armatures, evoking Bruce Wayne’s armor collection from Tim Burton’s Batman. They remind me in particular of the one that Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) called “King of the Wicker People.”

We all make decisions about our appearance on a daily basis. Our motives may include vanity, status, the desire to attract sexual partners, or an appreciation of fashion as an aesthetic experience. I’m known to those who don’t know me personally as “the guy in the kilt,” and while it started as a personal decision to wear something I thought looked cool, it has certainly helped to make my appearance more memorable to others as well. Incidentally, since moving to Flagstaff, I’ve been rocking the kilt 24/7. I mean, I take it off when I sleep, but it has been over three months since I’ve put on a pair of pants.

Some others in Chicago’s art scene have distinctive aspects to their appearance. My wife Stephanie Burke’s asymmetrical hairstyle (which I do for her) is one example. Anna Trier always wears two different earrings. Jenny Kendler was just voted Chicago’s best-dressed artist, a title I’ve attributed to her for years. Wesley Kimler has his bright red suit, invariably paired with paint spattered shoes.

Many others dress more or less like everybody else. I was once at an opening at Pentagon, and was surrounded by a half dozen artist friends of mine, each and every one of whom was wearing a flannel and blue jeans. They prefer to reserve their creativity for their artwork, apparently. Even if one doesn’t put much thought into one’s appearance on a daily basis, Halloween is an opportunity to reflect on the role of costume as an alternative creative outlet, at least once a year.

Week in Review: Here and Back Again

November 3, 2013 · Print This Article

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This week’s podcast features Brian and Matt Sussman talk with Monique Jenkinson, whose work draws from dance, theater, performance art and drag. Hot topics include: staging a guerilla fashion show in a museum, the subversive power of Disney princesses and how performers are like archives. Plus, more divas than the Daytime Emmys!

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Blog life began this week with a post from Paul King about narrative techniques in video games — particularly Half-Life and Gone Home. King explores the way game players develop a relationship their gamesake protagonists as they negotiate the landscape defined by developers:

… as the player gains control and the ability to define the narrative through the interactivity of the medium, the developer appears to exert less control. And when the developer wields less control, they fade from the experience of the game, allowing it to stand on its own. While the relationship between the player and the developer is an interesting one (and well worth exploring at another time), they happen to be at direct odds with either’s direct relationship to the game and the protagonist. In a sense, the developer must be able to release full control of their creation, their child, to the player, and allow them to determine the protagonist’s existence and relation to the game as a whole.

Rick Lowe and Nato Thompson

After the Creative Time Summit, Abby Satinsky dives into a question posed by Project Row House’s Rick Lowe:

“Is Social Practice Gentrifying Community Arts?”: This question posed by Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses in conversation with Nato Thompson at this years Creative Time Summit, Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century, was a crystallizing moment in a series of gatherings and convening I’ve been part of the last few months. Addressing “gentrification,” the thematic buzz word of this year’s Creative Time convening, Lowe said that to really talk through the issue of gentrification, we must also address our issues with race. As he put it, communities of color are talking about race all the time as part of inescapable component of everyday experience, whereas conversations with white people results in a sort of “shadowboxing” in which one dances around the issue without addressing it head-on. To illustrate, he brought up the media coverage around the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case in which Juror B37 said on Anderson Cooper that the case had nothing at all to do with race, a sentiment echoed by many commentators in our mainstream media outlets. This in stark contrast to the conversations he was having (as many were) where race was the central issue in how that case was tried and decided and which had vast implications for communities of color.

Ever wonder how art gets from one place to another? From the basement to an exhibition hall? From one state to the next? Britton Bertrand wrote about his tumblr page, INSTALLATOR:

My own Tumblr, Installator, is a curated (for lack of a better term) blog of other people’s content.    Installator (wrapit-tapeit-walkit-placeit) is essentially a compendium of art in a state of movement – being installed, de-installed, moved, crated, knocked down, hung, lifted, cleaned, screwed together, and on and on.  It’s about art as an object, but decidedly not the object that most people understand it to be.  Not precious, or in some cases priceless, well-lit aesthetic nuggets that just seems to appear on walls, or pedestals, in fields, on buildings and above couches.  These are images of artworks that are not static.

 

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On November 9th the Queens Museum (formerly the Queens Art Museum) will reopen its doors. Juliana Driever discusses the work on display:

The inaugural season at the QM includes solo exhibitions by Bread and Puppet Theater Founder, Peter Schumann, Pedro Reyes and Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, as well as the sixth installment of the Queens International. New installations of the permanent collection galleries impress – including, of course the panorama of New York City, easily one of the museum’s greatest assets.

“New Word,” words written directly on gallery wall and scratched off when selected by someone, 2013. Photo by Robert Chase Heishman.

“New Word,” words written directly on gallery wall and scratched off when selected by someone, 2013. Photo by Robert Chase Heishman.

Thea Liberty Nichols wrote about Chicago artist Judith Brotman, reflecting on the artist’s new body of work and how it emerged from past projects:

For the exhibition “New Word,” Brotman used the Jewish Kabbalistic prompt of finding a word to follow for the rest of your life as an impetuous to generate 1000 new words, including some of the following examples:

skibbring (milestone)

curloup (turnip)

bettergeal (cousin)

squobe (Nutella)

ifflorgi (synthesize)

Brotman relinquished some control over the piece’s manifestation by “not touching the work,” tasking the organizer of the exhibition to fabricate the piece by inscribing the words on the wall for her. Although many of the words are humorous sounding, and the project on the whole involves a certain amount of playfulness, it forces a certain obligation and responsibility on the viewer as well.

Josh Reames “bomb jokes” 2013 Acrylic on Canvas 24″ x 28″

Josh Reames “bomb jokes” 2013 Acrylic on Canvas 24″ x 28″

Kevin Blake interviewed Josh Reames, about his approach to painting. discussing — among other things — the canon and abstraction. At one point Reames reflects:

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like the need for iconoclasm is outdated. I think the idea of superseding or escaping abstraction comes from some need for a linear narrative of “this became that, then that became something else” which I think has been a legit way of understanding a progression of artists, at least for the past few hundred years. But now I think it’s a little different; sampling, re-sampling, homage, and straight plagiarism are all viable forms of historical awareness in art. The drippy brushstroke has historically been an abstract tool, meant to express the presence of the artist – a remnant of the physical self. But over time, that becomes a trope, a symbol separated from it’s original context. I think this is liberating in a way. It’s sort of like Tarantino using the tropes of old kung-fu films like Zatoichi and Lady Snowblood; he takes an outdated thing and makes it fresh. In that sense, Robert Motherwell or Franz Kline didn’t have the internet, so I have a fresh set of tools to play with.

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ACRE had a benefit costume party this weekend (perhaps we’ll get some highlights in tomorrow’s What’s the T?)?

PussyRiot

Terri Griffith posted a review of Pussy Riot’s latest book, PUSSY RIOT!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom :

Pussy Riot is just what we need right now. This little book from The Feminist Press is a compelling time capsule told exclusively from the perspective of the women themselves, and their artist supporters. I’m sure the future will provide us with an academic anthology retrospectively detailing the cultural, political, and activist implications of Pussy Riot. Thankfully, this is not that book.

ElenaandErin

& last, but not least: a list of Endless opportunities from yours truly.

Endless Opportunities: Call for Proposals and Applications too

November 2, 2013 · Print This Article

ElenaandErin

1. International Performance festival, Rapid Pulse, is now accepting proposals until November 15th.

DEFIBRILLATOR PERFORMANCE ART GALLERY is now accepting proposals for our third annual RAPID PULSE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART FESTIVAL (RP14) to be held JUNE 5-15, 2014. RAPID PULSE aims to represent a wide range of styles and forms of performance art. Contextualizing performance within visual art, RAPID PULSE embraces artists who look to the body, objects, space, and time for inspiration, research, and practice. We are committed to invigorating CHICAGO by bringing to the city artists of exceptional calibre from around the world while also supporting local artists. Dynamic programming, decidedly fearless and unique, aims to provoke thought and stimulate discourse surrounding performance art. more info here.

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2. BOULEVART Call for Submissions: Outdoor Installation, Performance, Sculpture

BOULEVART presents art installations and community-based projects in a large front yard along Chicago’s historic Logan Boulevard.  The outdoor space is located at 2723 W. Logan Boulevard and measures 48 x 60 feet.  Water, electricity are available and opening reception is provided. Project affords a $100 honorarium. Send an e-mail with your name, address, phone, project description, images (optional) to boulevart@gmail.com. Check out Boulevart’s tumblr here. 

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3. Corinthia London Artist in Residence 2013-2014 is inviting filmmakers to respond to an application form (below) by December 13th 2013.

This is the third year of Corinthia London’s Artist in Residence programme, which each year sees an artist from a different discipline (art, theatre, film, fashion, design, literature) chosen by a panel of judges and create work in response to a brief set by Corinthia London. The application forms will be reviewed by the judges by the end of January with the winner awarded a residency at Corinthia London for approximately one month, between February and April 2013 (depending on the applicant’s availability), with £15,000 to make a short film based about The Power of Sleep. During the residency the winner will be tasked with making a film to be screened at Corinthia London early May 2014. Read the prompt, how to apply and more details here.

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4. Propose your work for artlab and/or the KRASL Art Center (MI): Deadlines for review are November 15 and March 15. 

To have your artwork considered for display in the main galleries, please mail the following materials to the Krasl Art Center, attention Curator: Cover Letter, Artist Statement, Current Resume, 12-15 JPEG images. Critical reviews of your artwork may also be included but are not mandatory. // artlab is a venue for all artists who are pushing the boundaries of medium and form. / artlab is a gallery space dedicated to installation, time-based media, sound and light. / artlab is not afraid to showcase the fruit of visual experimentation; it does not require a ‘finished product’ or an ‘established artist’. Go here for more details.