We just had our first Bad at Sports blog meeting a few nights ago and aside from the fact that I got WAY TOO MUCH PIZZA (and have been eating pizza pretty much every day, twice a day ever since) we had a great conversation. A conversation that, among other things, prompted this new column — my WEEK IN REVIEW.
So, now that we all know our former president can paint, I’d like to appoint him as a new advocate for arts funding. Bush’s return to the humanities may be as good an indicator as any, that art might serve a valuable purpose — if only to ease the heart and mind from a deluge of ghosts and existential crises. (Someone pointed out that, as both self portraits — hacked out of his email account earlier this week — involve bathing, there might be some psychological message at work. Personally I get a kick out of seeing the dude’s bare feet.)
First of all — ORANGE, SIBLINGS, & CHAINS are IN. Even if you can’t play guitar, you can still go ELECTRIC, because e-cigarettes also made the T list. And they’re healthy (?).
Otherwise, this week on Bad at Sports has been very much ABOUT THE BODY lately — abstract painting was compared to human waste; dance and movement was discussed as a mode for learning — which led to a great meditation, later on in Romero’s same post, about the way we organize space. As he puts it, “Space as it exists conceptually promotes an occupation of itself by a certain kind of body. A body that is best represented by the athletic body.” Countertops, door frames and tables are built to certain standardized, ideal bodies. There is a post about other bodies, specifically foreigners and the kitsch of foreign identity as it is present in the 70s Chicano Arts Collective, ASCO. Goransson ties that kitsch to nausea: “In Julia Kristeva’s famous definition of ‘abjecting’ as vomiting out the abject in order to maintain the self. ‘The abject’ is that which troubles boundaries.” In a later post by Friel, Tarantino was called out for “giving history a wedgie” in Django Unchained. In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, Daniel Orendorff reflects on internet hookups, and the attraction of sadness. Indulge me as I repost one of Orendorff’s Friday passages:
All of this is to say that isolation and promiscuity may be natural bedfellows. In his 1999 essay “Sex and Isolation,” ex-hustler and American chronicler of all things sexually subterranean, Bruce Benderson, laments the migration of cruising or chance encounter off the streets and onto the internet, saying; “The abandonment of the body is isolation, the triumph of pure fantasy.” Yet, fantasy wants to be recognized, and we depend on others for that. Dating or hooking up online is never really about getting to know someone, it’s about the desire to be known. Furthermore, it’s about the desire to be known as the person we’re writing and editing and framing and Photoshopping and staging for others; about the fantasy we believe ourselves to be and depend on others to corroborate. For Benderson, wary of how American entrepreneurialism and the Protestant ethic (myth?) of self-reliance has led to the shrinking of the public sphere and the routinization of social encounters, the internet represents some vague final stage; “Our minds spit our longings and obscenities into the atmosphere. And media have ensured that these ejaculations are everywhere. The self is now nowhere in particular, and, depending upon how you look at it, we have everywhere, or nowhere, to go.”
Lastly, Terri Griffith points out, the Chicago Filmmakers upcoming screening of Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012). A documentary that uses the superheroine Wonder Woman to address “media representations of strong women and what these representations mean to our society as a whole.” See? A whole lot of BODY convos.
There was a whole lot of Midwest love with dispatches from the Kansas City Bureau (“KANSAS CITY INSIDE OUT”) that involved the work of a couple artists re-thinking architectural spaces (I feel like Vorhees work might present a kind of non-normative space)
and St. Louis’ “Identity Crisis: Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts,” that captures a great non-commercial, idiosyncratic art space that’s been around for 10 years. It once took advantage of abandoned buildings on the block for art happenings and is now transitioning into a new stage of professionalism and sustainability.
In other news, I finally painted my toes after a three-month hiatus.
And memes can now be embodied principles: the HARLEM SHAKE has stormed the internet. Perhaps the movement, literally, offers additional insight into what can be learned from dance.
November 24, 2010 · Print This Article
There is nothing I enjoy more than the intersection of musical performance and visual work. At Sound on Sound, a Christopher Wool exhibit at Corbett vs. Dempsey, I watched Joe McPhee activate that intersection. As stated in the CvD press release, “the title of [Wool's] show comes from a 1968 recording of [McPhee's] that has never been issued,” a gesture that echoes in Wool’s wall-length abstractions which play with what is, is not and what was there. With those paintings as a backdrop, McPhee ‘s performance created a touchstone of literal, temporal experience–a positive reminder that history is not simply a spectral projection.
Wool’s larger abstracts pay homage to modernist painting just as they undermine that homage. The focus is on surface rather than paint. The paintings are flat and slick. The action of the paint appears to have taken place behind the surface–an implied, impossible-to-reach space. A space the viewer can never touch. These paintings ask you grasp for an idea–to strain through the mark-making, and parse their accumulated gestures. While the more obvious marks are high contrast–blocks of white paint that seem applied with a paint roller, or finer snaking black lines that seem straight from a can of spray paint–the meat of the work is behind those singular pronouncements. The meat of the work is the background wash, variant erasure-marks where singular phrases might have existed before. It is about what Wool erased–a project of deduction for any viewer bordering on a Rorschach print: while some of those deductions are accurate, any number of personal associations come into play, disguising the process. Looking at Wool’s work is like shadow boxing–what becomes a metaphor for his project of painting abstracts at all.
The contemporary abstract painter must account for The History of Painting. Wool seems to suggest, via these spectral works, that history is impossible to grasp, elusive in it’s Truth, unstable, even, as it is reliant on a present’s interpretation. History becomes more an image of one’s self than any real vision of what was. The viewer parses Wool’s process, (or the history of each specific painting) just as Wool is reflecting and parsing the history of painting. In either case the result is subjective and, even, maudlin. It will never be requited. There is no true history.
Images of Wool: The giant bare room with countless paintings lined up along the walls. The boxing bag hanging on the periphery of a studio shot. Photographs of broken-down cars. Artist in a El Paso tank top with a breathing mask and paint gun. Wool is a painter’s painter; in a frieze article his nose is discussed at length as an ideal, “A seriously tremendous nose, something a rock climber would gaze at in awe, especially if it were on the scale of Mount Rushmore. How would one begin to climb it?” All of these images, both self-created and perpetuated by others amount to a decidedly male tradition; it echoes of Pollack and yet, as one of many in a patriarchal succession: how to fill the shoes of a predecessor? How to achieve some recognition? Especially when the death of said predessor boasted a simultaneous “death of painting.” A death no one really believes in, but nevertheless enjoys to bat around. (An article I read years ago, I wish I could remember suggested that every ten years we exume the body of painting to see if, indeed it is dead, before reburying it). Wool is not asking if painting is dead or alive, instead he presents ghost-paintings: after-images created out of smoke. He admits the smoke-and-mirrors archetype, while nevertheless being married to its tradition.
Last Saturday, McPhee served as a kind of in-between orator, one who played directly with the Wool’s themes while creating a connection between Wools contemporary-image-of-the-past and the present moment. There was something grounding about McPhee’s presence–a positive gesture on this side of the paintings. McPhee is real. He is not a ghost. His relationship to history, while profound (he came on the scene in the 60s and 70s and boasts a significant reputation as one who integrated emotional content with experimental improvisation), is nevertheless active, contemporary, literal. At the same, his work with recording equipment–particularly this devise of “sound on sound”–speaks directly to Wool’s process, wherein an improvised (and emotional) recording of gesture is layered on top of other temporal gestures to create unpredictable layers.
McPhee stood between the work and the audience–a man of medium height. He wore a baseball cap and carried a soprano saxophone. The beak of his saxophone was dressed in a little furry hat–a fake animal head with two plastic yellow eyes. I liked imagining the saxophone, animated with this “hat” and McPhee in his basement, staring at the yellow eyes: no doubt they have a deep relationship. He carried the audience through a range of sounds, using the saxophone’s percussive potential with windy toots and bellows; sometimes it sounded like he was blowing through a large metal pipe.
At the beginning of the performance, he called the thought of Houdini into the room, mentioning his name and encouraging the audience to close their eyes: he promised to make sounds about illusion and suggested a literal connection between himself and Wool. “We are both interested in illusions,” he said. He played the saxophone and, with my eyes closed, the notes seemed to come from various directions at once despite his standing in one place the whole time. In other instances, McPhee played two songs at once, blowing through the reed just as he hummed simultaneously; eliciting a crying underbelly-sound that followed the upper sax-melody. These discordant melodies struggled to overcome one another other; neither one strong enough to do so. Like Siamese twins sharing a heart, the melodies shared one finite breath. Then this too would break off into a new song with sometimes sharp and shrill passages of music, like a fast forward bird–McPhee activated my inner ear, so that I heard the notes occurring outside of me, while experiencing an interior wiping sensation/sound inside of your head. And suddenly I recognized a passage–he played God Bless The Child, with some trembling, discordant defiance, pleasing in it’s surprise. He took us on abstract tangents only to return in time to rescue any listener from doubt with the refrain. He then read a poem.
I think it’s important to remember any abstract improvisation can illicit a insecurity–the viewer/audience can’t know where it is going. It’s a little like going on a hike as a kid and not knowing where you’ll end up, only that you’re supposed to follow and trust the adult ahead of you. Here again there is an image of the Elder, the person showing you the steps, the person you must trust. Whether it’s the history or experimental jazz, or the history of painting, we are walking down a familiar path, trying to contextualize ourselves to that history, to understand where the contemporary “I” fits in it and figure out what the next step is. Part of learning that history is falling in love with that history, just as one must recognize a life in the present, where that history is only a shade. Like Christopher Reeve’s character in Somewhere in Time (1980), one must, in the end, let go old ghosts.
Somehow I missed this series when it debuted at the end of November, but my trusty feedreader eventually makes sure the good stuff gets my attention. BOMB’s Jackie Saccoccio posed this question to twelve painters whom she admires: “What is the current state of abstraction?” The answers, provided by Dan Walsh and Amy Sillman, Jessica Dickinson and Philip Taafe, Steve DiBenedetto and Eric Wendel, Jason Fox and Eva Lundsager, and Carroll Dunham and Keltie Ferris, are as tonally varied, compelling, cheeky and angst-ridden as is, well, the state of abstraction today, I guess. (Amy Sillman uses the question as the opportunity to formally break up with Abstraction). Read all of the responses here. The last entry in the series, including responses from Marc Handelman and Cheryl Donegan, are coming up in a future installment.