This by way of introduction: we enjoy answering the question, “What’s your favorite . . .” (fill in the blank here), because it give us a chance to talk about ourselves, and to tell others who we are by ostensibly talking about someone or something else (a favorite book, movie, author, artist, band, album, etc.). By telling others what we like, we try to tell them who we are. Perhaps it is even a manifestation of our higher impulse to obey the Delphic Oracle’s injunction to strive for greater self-knowledge, for how often do we turn to art precisely to learn, not about the work in question, but from the work about ourselves and the world around us?
For those of us who care about art, literature, film, (“culture” as they used to call it), nothing says “who we are” more than the books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to . . . So when someone asked me recently who my favorite movie directors were, I responded with enthusiasm, despite the fact that the answer I gave was accompanied by the kind of unsubstantiated generalizations that generally drive me crazy when I hear other people spouting them:
Jean-Pierre Melville, for his unfailing portrayal of “cool” in cinema.
Michelangelo Antonioni, for his relentless depictions of post-Marxist “alienation,” not among the working class, but among the wealthy and privileged bourgeoisie of post-war Italy.
David Lynch, for just being plain weird in the most provocative ways.
Cool, alienated, weird. What else do we want from the movies?
It also occurred to me that Melville, Antonioni, and Lynch are all deeply western filmmakers, obsessed with a uniquely western response to the struggle between good and evil as a kind of spiritual crisis. Melville’s heroes are often criminals, but they live by a code (like the bushido code of the samurai evoked in Melville’s 1967 Le samouraï) which allows them to live with a sense of honor and distinguish right from wrong, even in the moral gray of the criminal underworld. Friendship, loyalty, courage—these are the virtues of Melville’s heroes, and these qualities add up to a certain “cool” that he may derive from American actors like Bogart, Dean, and Brando, but to which he gives a uniquely French twist (different from the kind of “cool” we saw developed by later American actors like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman). It is within this sense of “cool” that Melville explores his own sense of spirituality, in the context of a kind of warrior ethic that is simultaneously an aesthetics of style. In Melville’s hero the ethical and the aesthetic are gracefully blended in the notion of cool.
Antonioni’s characters, on the other hand, although not criminals, are far less heroic; and while they occupy eminently aesthetic surroundings, they are wholly unethical—not because they are evil, but because they are weak. Melville’s three virtues—friendship, loyalty, and courage—are wholly lacking in Antonioni’s world. These characters are too close to pathetic to be tragic, but they are not contemptible because they are often too much like we are, and even in the fantasy world of the movies we find it difficult to hate ourselves. They are living through a kind of modern crisis from which all the heroics have been drained, and what is left behind is lush, indulgent, stylish and visually gorgeous, but spiritually bereft. It is in their response to this sense of bereavement that Antonioni’s characters regain a kind of antiheroic charm, especially in the case of the female leads played by Monica Vitti in the four films she did with him between 1960 and 1964. Anything that can still be affirmed against this backdrop of modernity takes on a new significance.
Finally, with Lynch, cool and despair join hands to occupy a landscape that is alien in direct proportion to how familiar it seems on the surface. Unreal things happen in familiar places (our homes, our neighborhoods, inside our own heads), proving that these landscapes are not so familiar after all. What we thought was the comfortably familiar is revealed as concealing dark, hidden corners. These may be the corners of our own imaginations, which tend to run away with themselves, at least if Lynch has anything to do with it. But here too there is a kind of spiritual struggle going on; and a struggle between good and evil that is very real for Lynch, even if it is a rather narrowly conceived western (it would be Manichean if it didn’t keep doubling in on itself and implicating his films’ various heroes with a sense of their own moral ambiguity) sense of good and evil. The devil, last seen in the works of Milton, Goethe and Dostoevsky, is still alive and well in the films of Melville, Antonioni, and Lynch. He is still charming, still tempting, and still leaves a wake of despair that demands some sort of spiritual response from those he encounters. For filmmakers, with all the resources of the visual at their disposal, these responses, no matter how ethically grounded, must always be aesthetic as well.
All this may or may not be true, but it isn’t really what I want to say about these directors, or how I’d like to write about their films. These comments are marked by the kind of unsubstantiated generalizations that one expects to hear at cocktail parties (at least the kinds of cocktail parties I’m always hoping to be invited to—as long as they’re serving good whiskey along with the small talk), but they are not really the stuff of careful observation of the visual details that makes watching great cinema a great pleasure. What I would like to be able to do is discipline myself to greater acts of seeing. I’d like to see more, when I look at a movie, in the hope that great movies would reciprocally teach me to see more when I look away from them.
Also by way of introduction: I’m sure its curmudgeonly of me to admit I’m uncomfortable with the word “blog”—not because it makes me feel old, but because I am old, and it makes me feel like I should be doing something to compensate for that fact, rather than merely sitting back and enjoying it as the result of the long and laborious process of having stayed alive long enough to earn the dubious title. Instead of “blog” I prefer the old-fashioned word “essay,” which is more dignified, more accurate etymologically, and more representative of something that someone has labored over and taken time and care with. Whether or not someone has something to say, they should say it thoughtfully. “Blog” sounds like a particularly unpleasant body function. Something that happens to you when you’ve put down too much ambrosia salad on a hot 4th of July afternoon after drinking flat beer and eating some baked beans that weren’t quite right to begin with. An essay, on the other hand, is the record of an earnest attempt, the written vestige of an effort that calls on you to try your very best, no matter how embarrassing the results, or how inadequate to the hopes and ambitions we brought to them.
Any essay that is not, on one level, a failure, is an essay that stopped too soon, when we were still feeling safe and secure in our own thinking. Often the failure is where things get interesting, where risks are taken and uncertainty and insecurity allowed to crawl out from under the rock we’d like to hide them beneath. A “blog” on the other hand, sounds like what it too often is: a spewing forth of whatever comes to mind without thought or reflection, without the care of craft or the craft of care. (This, for the record, is neither a blog nor an essay, but merely a rant. An inferior but satisfying form of literary production much older than the blog and not nearly so interesting as the essay.)
And this idea of the interesting failure is germane to the movies as well. One distinguishing characteristic of a great movie director (and perhaps this is true of great artists in any area of production) is that there is as much to learn from their failures as from their successes. Along with their masterpieces, Antonioni, Melville, and Lynch all made bad movies; but they are bad movies I’ve learned a lot from watching and thinking about. There is such a thing as a provocative failure. (Who was it that said, “I would rather be a successful failure than a failed success”? I think it might have been a character in one of my novels, but perhaps it was the author consoling himself after the completed project.) Merely competent directors are capable of making good movies, but their bad ones will be devoid of interest.
There is such a thing as a “merely bad” work of art, one that is not even interesting in the way it fails. I care most about the work of those directors who not only risk going wrong, but actually precipitate themselves into the breach, knowing that the only alternative is to remain perpetually on the safe side of what they are comfortable and familiar with (what they are “good at”). The comfortable and familiar being antithetical to art however we choose to define it.
Next time: some thoughts about seeing in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.
David Carl is a member of the teaching faculty at St. John’s College in Santa Fe and a co-founder of the St. John’s College Film Institute. He is the Director of the College’s Graduate Institute, a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Cultural Artifacts, teaches for The Curious Oyster (a private adult education project committed to Contemplation, Conversation and Conviviality) and has written several books, including Heraclitus in Sacramento, Fragments, Meditations on Initiating the Apocalypse, and Further Adventures in the Unsubconscious. He watches movies in his living room in Santa Fe, NM.
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.
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?”
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?”
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:
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:
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.
An opening like no other took place on the last day of July at the freshly minted $250 million dollar Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont. Featuring 11 artists curated by miami based Primary Projects, the Fashion Outlet and newly formed collective, The Arts Initiative, did it up luxury outlet mall style at the preview of the various murals and installations throughout the mall. With work by Jen Stark, Jim Drain, Cody Hudson, Daniel Arsham and Bhakti Baxter, the art contained within might make this the edgiest mall ever.
Sam Vinz, Claire Warner and Aron Gent under the Friend’s With You inflatables installation at the Chicago Fashion Outlet.
A collision of Chicago’s and Miami’s most noteworthy in the arts, attendees danced the night away under the deft entertainment of DJ Sinatra and many many top shelf bars.
Friend’s With You’s Sam Borkson and fellow artist, Jim Drain, lovingly embrace at the reception.
Curious what was in the gift bag? A hat from Roxy, an iPhone 5 case from Coach (too bad I’m still only on that 4), a “The Arts Initiative” water bottle, a leather cuff from Ports, a security neck pouch from Samsonite, a “Fashion Outlets” pen and even a scarf from The Limited. Totally killer.
Drain’s completed mural.
Definitely recommend (even sans the gift bag).
Reading is Fundamental
Wait, I thought it was 2013!? If you like your iPhone and the internet, you would probably enjoy this sweet little read from the Summer 2013 issues of Artforum, 2011: Michael Sanchez on Art and Transmission. This recommendation comes from a bar, but is better than that makes it seem.
Trends Totally Trending: Not often is a gossip column the subject of gossip, but What’s the T? was recently featured in Art Info’s “In the Air: Art News and Gossip” spot for EXPO CHICAGO’s partners and special exhibitions. That’s right! WTT? is going IRL. We hope you’re as excited for The Expo Register as we are. Stay tuned y’all.
Total badass gets her due: Who knew that Ileana Sonnabend was so completely rad? She asked for a Matisse instead of a wedding ring. I mean, really. Thankfully, this piece by Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal sheds light on the major gallerist and collectors fascinating past. Sonnabend fans will be pleased to know that the MoMA just released plans for “Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New,” an exhibition which will feature some of Sonnabend’s most noteable discoveries and longtime friends.
Time to Slip at Gallery 400
Get back to the future at film screening
We heard a rumomr that the upcoming TIMESLIP film screening is not to be missed. Featuring 11 films by 10 makers, the screening is curated by Jesse Malmed and includes work by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, J.J. Murphy and Hollis Frampton.
From the horses mouth: This is going to be great. Time travel in the expanded field. Time-based media in the multiverse. Dream baby, trypp central, 2 Live Crew (seri), ducks, Adam and Eve, Judy Garland, hella headies, the first computer film, time tunnels, and on. And, like your mind, this is FREE. Surprises guaranteed.
A Miami Techno Transplant’s take on the Demdike Stare Concert last Saturday
I’m here reporting from the Empty Bottle, celebrating my Chicago life’s one week anniversary the way I prefer to spend all mildly festive occasions, by melting my brain with whiskey and dark techno. Tonight I’m all excited because I get to see one of my favorite bands live for the first time: DEMDIKE STARE. The duo is well known for merging occult, black magic vibes with droning electronics and sparse, off kilter beats. Demdike Stare have evolved their sound throughout the years from super dark horror movie vibes to dark worldly ragas and, finally, their latest releases reflect maturation of all these sounds with a bit of straight forward dark techno tastefully sprinkled in.
Needless to say, I’m fucking pumped.
I arrive at the venue “Miami time” which turns out to be just when shit starts everywhere. My circadian rhythm must be super on point today and I show up just as the first act, Stave, is going on. The set is some heavy industrial tech vibes. I am feeling it. A cigarette. Duane Pitre is up next delivering on some soothing melodious drone incorporating guitar loops and electronics. Lots of people are talking and not really listening but the vibe is right and everyone’s sonic palette is cleansed.
I’m in the ally evening out my buzz and the walls start to pulse. Demdike-fucking-Stare. I run inside. They spend the beginning of the set evolving drones, feeling out the crowd, reacting. What does the spirit of the crowd say? Probably something like, “TECHNO!” The bass kicks into 4/4 and as the crescendo of the track “Dysology” hits everyone knows its getting serious. The visuals that accompany their live set become more frantic. The main themes of the video include babes and esoteric rituals, everyone approves. Just as my mind is about to transform into pure jelly, the set ends abruptly, like all good things in life. And everyone goes home to dream about robots and witches. The End.
The view inside of Praire Production.
Medium Cool and Partly Cloudy.
Despite cloudy weather, New Art Fair Shines.
Shame on you if you didn’t make it out to Sunday’s Medium Cool Art Book Fair, we know you heard about it. Rising like a pheonix, the fair was organized by Ria Roberts and brought out the most delicious coffee-table eye-candy ever seen in the West Loop.
These button’s were seriously trending.
Limited edition poster by Carson Fisk-Vittori
Fashionistas, Chelsea Clup and Ben Foch modeling the necklaces by Vincent Uribe and Noël Morical they picked up at LVL3′s booth.
Medium Cool Continued.
Trendsetter, Hamza Walker, models sunglasses (obviously) by Josh Reames from the LVL3 booth.
Issue Press‘s booth featuring a “Book Box” vending machine, manned by George Wietor.
Sofia Leiby‘s SCRAP HEAP booth featured scraps and ephemera from Chicago artists’ studios.
Header image features a detail of work by Justin Schmitz on display at Medium Cool.
Atlanta-based idea collective John Q premiered its work The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration at the Atlanta Cyclorama on Friday, May 17, 2013 and Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance, an essay as John Q calls it, insists on exploring the phenomenon of queer migration into urban spaces, Atlanta being one of them. Using the space, movement, and pictorial qualities of the Cyclorama along with archival materials of queer filmmaker Crawford Barton, native to Resaca (about an hour north of Atlanta), later based in San Francisco, John Q essays (used here as a verb) a narrative of history, creative production, queerness, and geography.
In the broadsheet for the performance, John Q lists the definitions for essay as a noun:
“1. a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretive. 2. anything resembling such a composition: a picture essay. 3. an effort to perform or accomplish something, attempt.” 
Used as a verb, essay can mean: “to try; attempt” and “to put to the test; make trial of”  or “to put to a test” and “to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform” . Derived from Middle French noun essai, derived from the verb essayer, which comes from Late Latin exagium which means an act of weighing, the word “essay” refers to something active, performative. 
Similar in roots to “essay,” “assay,” as a noun refers to
archaic: a trial, attempt
the examination and determination as to characteristics (as weight, measure, or quality)
analysis (as of an ore or drug) to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components; also: a test used in this analysis
a substance to be assayed; also: the tabulated result of assaying 
As a verb:
a. to subject (a metal, for example) to chemical analysis so as to determine the strength or quality of its components; b. to bioassay
to examine by trial or experiment; put to a test
to evaluate; assess
to attempt; try 
The two words, though originating in similar if not same roots (assay originates in Anglo-French), now aren’t used interchangeably (in a simple online search, I came across forums discussing if the two are interchangeable – this is a big deal). At some point, the Latin word which expressed the action of weighing and measuring was split into the action of weighing in thought and weighing concrete objects. How are these two distinct from each other, though? Does the decision to weigh a concrete object necessarily come from a weighed thought experiment, or vice versa? John Q’s weighing of the Cyclorama, the site of the performance, a 42 x 358 foot panoramic painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, a complex of history, politics, and space, straddles multiple methods of investigation and examination, perhaps similar to the divided essay/assay. Paired with the Cyclorama is the weighing of Crawford Barton’s archive. As Wesley Chenault of John Q states:
In some ways, the provenance of the Crawford Barton collection did similar work as the Cyclorama in that it allowed us to think about his life in other ways, as patterns of movements and migrations between rural and urban spaces, not primarily as it related to San Francisco. Through letters, films, and more, Barton’s personal papers document his connections to Resaca and Atlanta, archival traces that map over the military campaigns that occurred in both areas. Atlanta, as Sherman understood over a century before, is a city defined by its relevance as a transportation hub in the Southeast. For many, it has long served as a nexus, where motilities of bodies, desires, and histories converge. Crawford’s correspondence from his time in the city, for example, illustrates how one young gay white man navigated the sexual landscape of the mid-to-late 1960s. Placing Crawford in the Cyclorama, then, allowed the collective to attempt – thus the essay form – to explore not just notions of movement and migration, but also the ways in which they relate to identity, place, archives, and memory. 
The performance can be broken down broadly into three parts:
Beginning: the standard Cyclorama narrative while the audience goes through the standard revolve around the painting
John Q takes over the narrative, delivering its essay while the audience continues to revolve in the space while the programmed lights highlight particular aspects of the painting
John Q’s members, one by one, leave the theater and move into the auditorium, inviting the audience members to join them for screenings of Crawford Barton’s films.
The ending space of the performance (the auditorium) is generally the starting point for a tour of the Cyclorama: a video presentation of a Civil War reenactment. In the script of the essay, John Q states: “During a regular visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama, the presentation would begin with an interpretive film in the auditorium and then move here into the space of the painting. Tonight we ask you to navigate the space of the Cyclorama backwards with us, moving metaphorically against the grain of history and exploring, perhaps for the first time in public, a sampling of the film work of our current queer subject, Crawford Barton.”  Later, John Q states: “Instead of following Crawford’s biography to its end, we bring you back to his migrations.” 
John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.
The films present the Castro, the famous queer district in San Francisco, and of travel. Minimal in their composition and editing, the films are observational in nature; unedited, perhaps unscripted, they seem to hold the lives of those featured in the films. Resaca, GA, Barton’s hometown also happens to be “the site of one of the first battles in the Civil War military Atalanta Campaign.”  What seemed to draw John Q to Barton’s work was the potential to examine his migration to the Castro from rural Resaca in a larger phenomenon of migration, queer migration, and differentiations of space. One of the films depicts men running through golden fields, bare-chested. While watching this moving-image, I was struck by a deep-seated fear – something that causes one to run, to run fast and far away. Especially after witnessing a scene of carnage, destruction, and death represented in the Atlanta Cyclorama, the potentially and possibly joyful images of rural play take on a more morbid atmosphere. Are these fields that of “amber waves of grain” – fields that speak to the national project of America; the fantastic golden countryside? I have to ask then, if these fields aren’t filled with joy, what then are they filled with and why are these men running? Is this moving-image representative of the larger phenomenon of queer migration that prompted John Q to realize this project? What does this mass movement to urban centers mean for America’s rural spaces?
The essay John Q presented during the second turn of the painting starts with General Sherman’s ability to really see geography and an aside about Napoleon’s extensive map collection, both juxtaposed with Borges’ map the size of the place it represents, an absurd exercise of cartography. At one point, John Q points out to the audience that how the painting is viewed is highly controlled:
“In the first turn around the Cyclorama, controlled light directs your attention to the scenes under discussion. The seating apparatus itself takes you on a turn that controls what spaces draw your attention and when. The narrative is set. Your gaze over this space has been determined in advance. It is a visual, pre-cinematic form, which presents the unfolding of geography and history as seemingly inevitable.5 You are a witness to History.6” 
One thing to consider, however: can my experience be completely controlled by another, unseen forces, or composition? Do the spinning gears and directed lights completely focus my attention to the spot I’m supposed to? Can I close my eyes, turn my head – experience this painting differently from the way it’s presented to me? This ability, to close the eyes, refuse to look at the space indicated, has much to offer the archival work that John Q does in its public projects and the ways in which they invite the audience to engage with the particular archives presented. In an interview with Julia Brock for History@Work: A Public History Commons from the National Council on Public History, they describe the way they view their work as public scholarship and what this means for its reception, particularly what their take on “public interventions” is. Joey Orr explains that “The learning that takes place in a publicly constructed project is not unidirectional and can never be predicted in advance, so I do not assume our job is to wake people up. I do hope some of our work intervenes in a more street-level, quotidian way into the spaces where people are carrying out their everyday lives.”  Andy Ditzler further adds: “I don’t think any of us see ourselves as ‘educating the public,’ partly because we’re members of the public as much as anyone else, and as much as we’re artists or scholars.” 
John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.
One aspect of John Q’s performative project is to examine the ways in which we experience painting, video, and installation: how we see; how we navigate the space that shapes and contains them. The painting, though it may appear to be a static entity that can be simply viewed and understood from any time or perspective, is shown to be extremely vulnerable to time and space, the order in which it is viewed in relation to the re-enactment video that is usually shown to the audience before moving into the space of the Cyclorama, facing the gigantic circular painting. When asked further about their take on intervening in a “normal” visual experience, Orr explained that the project is interested in
“how might we visualize the past in ways that foster different kinds of relation to place and history. How might we deal in fragments, the quotidian, memory, and weak theory instead of proliferating the kinds of power that seem structurally reinforced by forms like battle paintings and cycloramas … We understood from the outset that many people would not be familiar with the visual culture theory we were invoking, and this might mean that the connection between how landscape is visualized in cycloramas and how it is visualized through the lens of Crawford Barton’s camera would somehow seem strange. These two very different modes of visuality begin to reflect one another, though, in the context of a critical contemplation of how we do the work of invoking the past.” 
In Husserl’s essay “The world of the living present and the constitution of the surrounding world external to the organism,” he writes that space is a “system of places.”  In the case of the space of the Cyclorama, there is a multitude of places that coalesce in this one site. It is the site of John Q’s performance, the place of itself in this present moment, the place of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, Illinois’ cornfields where it was commissioned, Resaca – where the Atlanta Campaign began and the birthplace of Barton, the migration telos for a queer community of which John Q speaks, a pre-cinematic place that records the history of technology in its 360o turn. The Cyclorama itself and its revolving proscenium seating affords the audience explicitly multiple perspectives; an exaggeration of the way we perceive and make sense of the world: “The entire present world which appears as actual is rather a totality of perspectives for me.”  For Husserl, there is phantom space, a transcendent space that gives space itself while still being able to change through time and with our changing orientations and perspectives, thus perceptions. The Cyclorama is constituted by this phantom space, but also by a plethora of phantom bodies: soldiers, civilians, slaves, Crawford Barton, migrating queer individuals and communities.
Underlying this space is the seemingly coincidental, the encounter that occurs during times of travel. John Q arrived at the Cyclorama and Barton through what would seem to be mere coincidental experiences that then led them down particular paths, which were manifested in the performative essay. Following the notion of “intervention” mentioned above, the surrealist found object presents itself as a model of surprise, the uncanny, and coincidence. Resaca, GA, only about an hour’s drive away from Atlanta, becomes an uncanny figure – simultaneously familiar and strange. One of the films of Crawford Barton’s John Q presented is of a car journey, passing by signs that advertise Georgia Peaches. The passengers of the car smile and look into the camera.
Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.
Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March follows a different path than General Sherman’s March to the Sea, begun in Atlanta, which is the end point of the Atlanta Campaign and the site of the Cyclorama.  Initially a project that intended to follow Sherman’s destructive path, McElwee ends up following women he becomes intrigued with and attached to; a journey back home to the South. Desire, violence and war, and geography become entangled in the movement through the space of the South. Ross McElwee is attempting, trying, experimenting with what love may be for him in a time of nuclear proliferation, the subtitle of the film and recurring theme that continues to creep into his thoughts and dreams. Pat, the woman introduced to him by his parents who becomes somewhat of an obsession for him, an ambitious actress who is herself searching and trying to become what she wants to be, takes McElwee to Atlanta. There, McElwee describes Atlanta post-Campaign; it was a city composed of children, women, and elders – supposedly a weakened and helpless place without its male influence.
What are cities, urban spaces? What do they mean to us? What are we to make of Atlanta? A southern metropole, remnant of war? What of the space surrounding the city? The space between Atlanta and other US cities? John Q’s use of the Cyclorama signals the ways in which urban space becomes a nexus of lives, loves, losses, and travels. Not only does the performance question who is allowed the position of contemporary flâneur,  but also who must take up this position and where. The performance shows us that the metropole and its varying representations hold within them an entanglement of histories, memories, and modes of visuality and experience.
 John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013.
 Personal interview with John Q, May 30, 2013.
 John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013. Here, they footnote  Jonathan Crary’s Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture and Anne Friedberg’s “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur, Flâneuse” and  Alison Griffiths’ Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View.
 Edmund Husserl, “The World of the Living Present and the Constitution of the Surrounding World External to the Organism,” trans. Frederick Kersten and Lenore Langsdorf, in Husserl: Shorter Works, eds. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 250.
 Ibid., 239.
 Ross McElwee (dir.), Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (1986).
 Susan Buck-Morss, “The Flâneur, the Sandwichman, and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,” New German Critique, vol. 31, no. 2 (April 1989): 217-236.
Anahita Ghazvinizadeh and Yoni Goldstein the cinematographer of the film “Needle.” (Orr Mennirom / May 10, 2013)
SAIC student from Iran nominated for Cannes award SAIC student’s short film nominated for Cannes award It’s only been two years since Anahita Ghazvinizadeh moved from Iran to the U.S. to pursue a film-focused master’s in studio art at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, but the 23-year-old filmmaker already has racked up a nomination for the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Cinéfondation Prize.
“I was really surprised and very happy,” Ghazvinizadeh said. “We worked really hard on this film, but I wasn’t expecting that it would get into a great festival like Cannes.”
Ghazvinizadeh’s 21-minute short film, “Needle,” the story of a preteen girl getting her ears pierced, was one of 1,550 entries from 277 schools all over the world.
She said the nomination has been doubly rewarding because it recognizes the first film project that she completed in the U.S. after moving from Iran. Before “Needle,” Ghazvinizadeh had already completed a short film called “When the Kid was a Kid” and co-written a feature film, “Mourning,” in Iran, but “Needle” was the first project she made in the U.S. (read more)