Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Analect (stone, water and glass)

Or a laconic exercise implied through absence, minimalist cause and effect as Confucian saying.

Look above.

First, an off-white curtained rectangle. Next, a disembodied hand grasping a gray stone appears. Seconds pass before the fingers open and the stone drops down out of sight.

On the ground at the same time is a clear glass of water, half-filled or half-empty, in wait.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Notes on Yellow Face

His invention, my ghost, by Earl Derr Biggers roams just off-camera in Technicolor or even digitalized black and white. It is a postmodern detective story to find the other self, a reflection and refraction enveloped in smoky sfumato through greasy plate glass windows. Locate him seated in the red vinyl booth under the omnipresent portrait of Mao Tse Tung. Or is he behind the butcher block cleaving roast pork and duck?

Monday, November 18, 2002

Notes on a Proposed Model for an Orientalist way of life

Green lantern, red lantern? Or shiny mirrored lantern? Not a disco ball of mirrored tiles but a slick, reflective surface akin to Jeff Koons superficial glean. Maybe a DeStijl lantern of LeCorbusierian proportions?

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Form shirks fashion, Or Ray versus Hirst

Charles Ray is the Wilbur Snyder (Wrestler with a Thousand Moves) of the art world, a thinking man’s artist. Smart without being smarmy or condescending. To look at the underrated work of Charles Ray is to wonder about perception as art, or the art of perception, what the things being looked at are. His approach toward making art reworks the familiar subject matter which comprises the formal vocabulary of art: the cube, the circle, the line, the human body, etc. As in Rotating Circle or Ink Line, Ray transforms something regarded as two-dimensional in nature into sculptural objects. A circle on a wall reveals itself to be a spinning surface driven by a hidden motor, or a line suspended from ceiling to floor is actually ink being spilled to be pumped back in an endless cycle. He tweaks these to question the popular conventions of material related to art in general, concepts taken for granted. His playful wit refers to the history of art and its current “isms” without being too obtuse. Somehow the hackneyed formal issues become reinvigorated through his natural curiosity because he simply adds to the continuing dialogue of what the conversation seems to be at the time.

The opposite happens looking at Damien Hirst. To look at his work is to feel cheated intellectually. What you see is what you get, the spectacle of the shock of the new (Bobby Hughes, where are you now, baby?). Indeed, the grandeur of his work hinges on the sensation of the visual experience that alludes to something conceptual. His sliced and diced animals seem to be a poor man’s Jeff Koons as he sort of pays lip service to recent art history (mainly Pop Art or its cousin NeoPop). The sarcasm of butchery as taxidermy in this work becomes a remnant of the 80’s sense of style over content. The artist repeats himself rather reinvestigates ideas to wring out a theme lamely as with his huge ashtray piece. An unctuous feeling occurs to know his persona is featured in Vogue magazine trumpeting the man as personality over his work.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

Ode to Cremaster Five

Cremaster 5
is opera, myth, epic, video

a West Prague Side Story in five parts
by Matthew Barney disrobed and shackled
as Magician (Houdini? Or Death?) as Diva
scaling a proscenium beanstalkish vine like ova ascending the Fallopian tubes and as Giant, Satyrlike creature bourne of Jacobin pigeons

And the return of her Ursula Andress, she who would be Natalie Wood nee Maria's fake soprano's kiss.

His vision in search of origin, of creation or birth and rebirth as baroque copulation becomes her voice, a new species from an asexual process, another rite of passage in his continuing cycle of new gender and new life.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Daylight Savings Time

To spring back and fall forward or vice versa is as a misquote the question. Harry Boris a long time ago suppositioned that walking, scientifically speaking, is simply a matter of controlled falling. This in itself constituted enough material for Peter Land to videotape as a body of work pertaining to how outside forces affect the body. But midway through a fall, descent is frozen as if the hand of God interceded. The expectant and resultant onomatopoeia to conclude said action then becomes a gerund suspended as syntactical pause. Or a burp if you will signalling finally the halfway point. Somehow to indicate time moving ahead or backward as a physical pratfall appropriately encapsulates kinetic theory as perhaps something filmic.

So it seems that Eadweard Muybridge guides my current path, however circuitous its route may be, one frame at a time. At last count, only fifty or so frames remain.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Notes on chinoiserie

First things first is to tie up loose ends literally. Too many unresolved ideas and too many dusty objects lounging about just sit unattended, ignored or forgotten in the proverbial waiting room too exhausted or too injured to glumly stare back. But the inexorable march does happen and finally the mountain stops because Mohammed uttered Simon says.

That said, maybe continue dissecting the lariated stool legs into digestable drumstick portions just by way of stretching out the form. Its minimalism is oddly enough too empty and requires multiplicity. To julienne further divides and doubles, triples if not quadruples that which already exists. Not a bad idea considering that gnawing feeling of this piece being unfinished or rethought.

But do check off repairing the broken cleaved segments because stick it with a fork, it is done. Prepackaged wood dowels predrilled exactingly allowed for the disconnected sections to be glued and biscuited for added strength. Designing a reusable crate for freight of said work, though, is another story.

And what of the hexagonal lamp carcasses?

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Notes on the art of the cut

Enter the dragon, part two

Three slashes across the canvas surface to emulate and reference Lucio Fontana. Puckered slits perhaps bleeding crimson or Francis Bacon dripping reflected by tiled mirrors as diptych. Or curved extended plane. Or mismatched screen, each panel with a possible total of ten lengths in descending order, tilted to snake out.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Notes on Endless Column, Blue and White Variation

Joseph Heller wrote sometimes a great notion.

Which amounts to as good an explanation as any for regurgitating Constantin Brancusi as a new series of work. Like Bruce Nauman whose affinity for puns translated into photographic exercises as text, substitute cultural context to remake Bird in Space or At the Beginning of the World. Perhaps outcome is manifest sculpturally through aforementioned orientalia. What began as paraphrasing with blue variation of the Endless Column via porcelain rice bowls begs a complete sentence.

A fuller picture to define this investigation needs to be developed.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Upon traveling to British Columbia

In the course of very long respites, the urge or obsession to record simply subsides as far as very long respites go. Distractions naturally occur. Like travel abroad from within domestic borders. But let me backtrack first.

The onerous prospect of facing a seven day work week unabated from Labor Day until just before Christmas proved a demoralizing realization. Enough so to prompt a preemptive strike as a means to compensate. One week or five days plus the weekend away in exchange for one hundred and five consecutive times of punching the clock is sure enough Luddite arithmetic, but given the creative accounting philosophies affecting current economics, who is to say otherwise.

And so explains somewhat the rather conspicuous layoff. Revivification meant time spent on the Sea to Sky Highway roaming the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in a rented Buick Grand Marquis replete with luxurious leather upholstery and powered doohickies to satisfy even the most discriminating of retired senior citizens. On the road minus Keroauc retracing in fact some of his footsteps unintentionally certainly defined a sense of place as inhabited by a prior and palpable history. To look at locales witnessed by the eyes of those countless before us fits what Roland Barthes espoused in Camera Lucida of a photograph of Napoleon taken by his sibling. The awe he held of sharing the same perceptual "space" if you will that "stared into those eyes" failed to breathe the intense revelation to perplexed colleagues when the French philosopher recounted this experience.

The purely visual is sometimes hard to translate.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Contextualizing Identity through Popular Culture as Performance, Video and Installation

Kabuki or Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Charlie Chan or Gladys Knight and the Pips? And which is stronger, a rock or water? To be Asian or to be American is the ontological question. Or is the question, more appropriately, to be somewhere in between, straddling the proverbial fence?

What all of these disparate questions seem to share in common relates to combining old ideas heretofore considered as individual projects that over the course of much time and labored thought dovetailed into a concept for a larger new piece. Probably as a result, this revelation, this change in direction represents an attempt on my part to break from a predictable aesthetic often associated with a conceptual albeit rigid linearity characteristic of previous work.

The summer term began with four ideas for new works planted deeply in my mind as definitive projects to execute: growing a lawn indoors, Kabukized Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a portrait of the artist as a Pip, and finally, the parable of the Stone versus Water as metaphor of the difference in Eastern and Western attitudes toward life and living. Each was intended to be a separate work. But something quite unexpected happened during the course of concurrently conceptualizing how to visualize these notions into actual work: each idea began to relate to each other in ambiguous terms under my continued scrutiny. This prompted more questions of pinpointing the exact nature how these projects linked. What about being a Pip refers to Kabuki? How does the aforementioned parable relate to indoor lawn maintenance?

Thus begins the dialogue that transforms these distinct questions from becoming the usual series of work. To address these additional questions, determine why and identify the elusive quality of the relationships between each idea requires a strategy of dissection and deconstruction through research and more analysis. To do this I write. Often the mental approach of the physical action of writing notes (my way of sketching out an idea without actually drawing) reveals hidden aspects of the idea of a new piece itself. This process disciplines how a concept evolves usually from a one-liner into something more layered. Mostly, the result is a synthesis of stream-of-conscious proselytizing and apriori logical polemics, all of which is culled from a variety of fictional and nonfictional readings. The following offers a summary of this writing process/artistic methodology:

Within a demarcated, confined space- probably indoors, roll out preplanted grass rectangles to form maybe fifteen by fifteen yard square area on top of a three-inch deep wooden box platform built to accommodate packed soil for lawn growth and planting. Interior site location is dependent on natural light source accessibility, if not availability, as photosynthesis will allow grass to root and grow on a regular basis. Proximity to sink only facilitates irrigation, as watering the lawn by connecting a hose to a facet is certainly preferable to sloshing around using the labor-intensive water bucket brigade method of running back and forth to water grass.

bell hooks, in discussing how Malcolm X changed, transformed his misogynistic political views in her book Outlaw Cultures touches upon the subject of a white supremacist internalized mindset of preprogrammed colonization. One is affected as a person of color in their perception of the dominant culture, whitewashing by natural instinct or edict, all other colors in race. The "subliminal" lesson is that the white (Americanized or Europeanized) way of life is supposed to "civilize" indigenous, inferior (or unchristian) cultures. The term "civilization", interestingly enough, is euphemism for the righteousness of the "white man" to subvert and annihilate that which is opposite to it or considered wild or formless. An appropriate analogy as a new work to investigate this idea might involve the lawn and its maintenance, specifically, its manicure.

Growing a lawn indoors in order to mow it weekly pertains to a particular conditioned state of mind that permeates through acculturation from institutionalized systems or the powers that be, in an insidious manner, how one becomes saturated and brainwashed to value white Eurocentric ways of seeing. In simpler terms, to be All-American, within a minority context, is to assume a white guise; some might say to "sell out" or "buy in". No matter how one maintains their cultural roots and integrity, what we learn from Eurocentrically written history books eventually manipulates the subconscious into adopting the same prejudiced criteria to judge or perceive what is good or bad. The set of standards becomes slightly skewed, altered to reflect white majority mainstream tastes: white is beautiful and black as well as other colors ugly; God (Christian monotheism) supreme over alternative religions and belief systems. The mission, which began to convert other nonchristian cultures, is strangely successful in secular terms. European society through cultural imperialism determines the perceptual agenda for other Third World countries to modernize their industrialization efforts to computer age technology in order to keep pace and not lag behind. The implication of which is related to the notion that cultural failure equals cultural inferiority (Japan is the exception to a certain degree as Post-World War Two restrictions precluded this island nation from any significant military buildup. The subsequent American presence in varied forms influenced the Japanese psyche to abide by, adapt, and reinvent their sense of nationalism as a means to reclaim themselves as a world power, an economic giant based on technological leadership).

Why are Americans obsessed with manicured lawns? Is it coincidental the relationship of prosperity, wealth is associated with traditional American values e.g. the All-American Dream of house and the Norman Rockwell white picket fence surrounding and protecting the perfectly precious front and back lawns? But the majority (White) of Americans cut grass, mow lawns as a sign of, to reflect their culturally economic nobless oblige. Even people of color follow suit, infected by similar disease. Blindly assimilating the worse aggressive traits of these cultural fascists lording over entire ethnic communities, sometimes whole ways of living oftentimes hundreds of generations old become lost, thrown away like detritus in favor of, or in deference to achieving the glory of the American Dream.

All of which only raises more questions to wrestle with such as how am I affected by these cultural and historical forces? Is my compulsion to mow a lawn related only to the loose metaphor of the colonizational effects on my person? Does cutting grass every week mean that I am an unwitting victim or willing participant in this cycle? And how is this conveyed within the context of the work?

Include as documentation videotape of the artist mowing the lawn, or another lawn outdoors, every week. Quality of image determines whether videotape is to be projected on the wall or played back on a monitor. Installation as video projection limits how the work is presented only in darkened spaces. Visually, the projection extends into the actual lawn edge, traversing boundaries between fictive (two-dimensional) and nonfictive (three-dimensional). Technical restrictions of media, of projection is problematic as interior space, in order to project video image optimally, ordinarily must be darkened to an almost pitch-black setting that is contrary to stated lighting conditions ideally suited to nurture lawn growth. If it is impossible to reconcile the foreseeable lighting dilemma, then priority is primarily to focus on the lawn first, or perhaps rethink work to divide the installation into two separate rooms by bifurcating the space into a well-lit lawn area or greenhouse and the darkened video space. The whole point of the lawn image in the video is to satisfy the compulsion on my part to cut it.

Also related to this main issue of identity, or the perception of identity and how it is controlled, is another idea for another work to restage the cult classic gore movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Kabuki theater. In-depth research as well as repeated viewing suggests strong comparisons between the Japanese theatrical form and the horror flick genre especially shared characteristics such as styled makeup and melodramatic movements that revolve mostly around tales of revenge.

Begin storyboard work in order to shoot raw video footage for respective lawn, Kabuki, and Gladys Knight pieces. Tighten conceptually the relationship between each work as larger whole. Familiarization of overall plotline of movie in question facilitates derivation of basic idea for edit. Script should last no more than a half-hour to test run for ironing out any kinks.

The horror film genre replicates its literary antecedent solely as cautionary morality plays pitting man against himself; his metaphysical shadow if you will, susceptible to evil and its abysmal pitfalls. Pure goodness of soul usually triumphs over satanic evil, but in contemporary society, such extremes in character are much too simplistic an answer. Evil manifests itself in multivaried, complex forms too complicated to explain in just purely religious or philosophical terms. Scientific or psychological or even supernatural or extraterrestrial reasons are also part of the larger puzzle that is the human perception of belief systems enacted to govern human intellectual and spiritual concerns. Man institutes certain moral safeguards in place to prevent disorder, chaos (as with the lawn project analogy of something wild disrupting a man-made sense of natural order). Life in Judeo-Christian terms is a constant test of oneself resisting sin and maintaining a gospel of observing God's edicts so as to enter heaven for everlasting salvation. In Eastern (most Asian) societies, an inherent understanding related to Eastern thought and religion exists of a natural balance, the yin and yang, that is a continuous battle between light and dark, of opposites. How to express the Western (in most cases, Hollywood) influence on Eastern culture in this work refers not only to the cultural manifest destiny and how it affects problems of acculturation but also to the reappropriation of imagery, iconography borrowed in a filmic context.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the perfect model to act as a symbol of American mass consumption. It is a story of a serial-killing family hell-bent on murdering victims out of a personality-possibly mental-disorder, frightening viewers disgusted by psychotic hacking of the human body in gruesome slaughterhouse fashion (as if to say human life is nothing more than a slab of meat one eats). It is also a metaphor for the perceived American penchant to cannibalize other cultures. Using a mechanized machine to cut up and off limbs to kill certainly illustrates a dichotomy of the American psyche: everyone understandably reacts in horror and then, surprisingly, in fascination. Herein lies the contradiction of mass public character that one becomes sick initially, but then returns to gape, bloodthirsty. Is the capacity for violence, as some critics say, the result of media pandering to the lowest common denominator that creates distance, an eventual emotional detachment from reality? Is the actual line blurred between what and how often one sees a certain event or thing and the event or thing itself?

But the primary question remains, how does adapting Texas Chainsaw Massacre address the cross-cultural issues of identity that speaks of my own voice? What is the conceptual point to doing this? And is what is being said simply a one-dimensional reading to subvert the cultural context of this film with that of another?

Instead of verbatim adaptation of the film, the work of performance and installation artist Paul McCarthy can serve as a model to offer ideas about how a different artist treats similar subject matter. When Drea Howenstein asked my interest in his work, specifically, what about his art captures in content that which relates to my current projects on hand, what stood out strikingly is the palpable sense of visceral danger his pieces project. One feels uncomfortable, almost nauseous looking at what he does almost as if his intent, somewhat innocuous, sometimes docile, is to expose the hidden, nascent violence present in any simple act or thing in American contemporary society as the viewer walks away unsure of whether to laugh or be scared. This ambiguity essential in successful work compels the viewer to wonder about its tongue-in-cheek quality, to impugn if the outward skin, appearance is the actual representation of its meat and bones, if you will. Most of what McCarthy stages involves characters, beings of popular culture and its various guises, costumed as theatrical cartoons straight from Hollywood movies and television who the artist transforms through scripted performance to act out tasks or movements that betray the potential to mutilate and inflict harm. His work overtly references the horror film genre in its content as well as traditional Japanese Theater in ritualistic-like movement. McCarthy in these performances bespeaks a stylized fictive violence that seems detached and without a moral conscience typical of modern Western society. Because of prolonged, excessive bombardment to daily instances of acts of horrific violence, viewers become blasé to the cannibalization of human social interaction. Such can be said of Kabuki theater with its tales of wronged figures seeking justice, oftentimes victims of human frailty or moral flaws, fighting each other in the tragedy of life for honor, glory, or revenge. It becomes symbolic as a useful tool for McCarthy to ritualize nondescript menial action performed to imply potential violence that is male testosterone in nature. Men or caricatures of male (sometimes boyish) popular cultural iconography suffer from "Whose dick is bigger? Mine is so prove it or I'll beat you up" syndrome according to Paul McCarthy.

To ritualize as Asian something very American especially in Warholian popular culture, such as what Texas Chainsaw Massacre represents requires reevaluative editing. One needs to dissect the cinematic structure of this film within a political and cultural studies context. Can a madman family of characters be viewed as less than evil or mundane, diffused of a charged stereotype through a spiritually ritual process?

Slaughtering strangers, "other" people as livestock to barbecue in the movie also relates to the use of foodstuff as prop present in McCarthy's work. The cannibalism in this movie is a sardonic, very black comment on the dog-eat-dog (or forgive the pun, man-eat-man) nature of American popular culture as literally man consumes his neighbor to satiate his hunger to conquer things unknown and foreign to him. Most people equate eating human flesh as a savage, atavistic act so barbarian as to cause intense repulsion.

The violence that is a central part of the action in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is implicitly mythologized in Asian cinema (and theater). Both possess a poetic violent beauty as stylized action scenes symbolically also refers to a patriarchal order, a male code of who is in charge and in control. Strangers, a group of outsiders, then, represent a dual role of foreigner, an immigrant (illegal alien) or a traveler (tourist). These newcomers confront either the inchoate dominant culture intent on "consuming" i.e., cannibalizing everyone from without the community (a cinematic metaphor for acculturation and assimilation of minority groups) or the "Ugly American" sightseeing new, strange places simply to amass souvenirs in favor of learning about the indigenous people and their culture. Texas Chainsaw Massacre iterates the American (Western) belief that places dissimilar to the idea of industrialized and urbanized civilization as being backwards, without Christian regard to the precious value of human life.

The lesson to be learned from Texas Chainsaw Massacre involves a xenophobia prevalent in how newcomers strain to feel welcome, to become accepted as part of the community without losing their identity. To be symbolically and also literally slaughtered so as to be cooked in the so-called "melting pot" for dinner is an scathing indictment by director Tobe Hooper about how Americans treat cultural politics in general.

Recreating what McCarthy so acutely alludes to in his work which includes the topic of unnatural food for consumption, the whole eating process might be perceived as copycating except that this newer project illustrates a continuity of ideas in relation to the taboo cuisine theme in my previous work. It is understandable to feel a sense of duplication and even plagiarism in exploring ideas some other better-known artist monopolizes as their particular forte. However, both of these concepts deal with touchy subjects open to a cultural-specific interpretation. Utilization of an Asian aesthetic, though, both decenters and offsets the Western hegemony of a singular morality imposed on a colonized culture, hybrid in nature as a result of media-related longing to Americanize.

Also the issue of performance as theatricality is another formalistic aspect of McCarthy's work that influenced the incorporation of scripted movement and a soundtrack into this synthesized work. But the inclusion of an audio component specifically derives from another idea involving Gladys Knight and the Pips. The original concept was to scan photographs of myself into the background of the actual Gladys Knight and the Pips record album covers. The choice to appropriate or "sample" this particular popular African American rhythm and blues singer and her backup vocals mainly deals with the group dynamic of a trio of male singers providing vocal support to the featured lead female voice. Thus, this project satisfies my lifelong desire to be a Pip, to be onstage but several feet in the background, part of the support structure. It is an apt metaphor to illustrate an Asian penchant of avoiding the spotlight, of preferring to be behind the scenes: marginalizing the marginalized from the background into the foreground. I would literally replace one of the Pips or represent myself as a "lost Pip".

But why the decision to incorporate the Pips as a crucial piece to this larger entity relates to their carefully choreographed dance steps synchronized, in harmony, with their harmonizing. Viewers often associate dance as ritualized movement in response to music. This fit the analogy intended to express that one can see a comparison as well as a difference in the regulated reactions to a structured system. What I learn from McCarthy is the nonspecificity of contemporizing something. Of importance is the absurdity and relevance of this observation. Any act or thing can be rendered silly; since when this occurs, its meaning shifts to a broader scale. It allows for the application of different codings. The universalization that takes effect expands the sociopolitical and historical layers to be read from the collision of cultures. Also not lost is the irony of employing another oppressed minority as role model for the other to emulate since their histories in the United States often parallel in terms of discrimination.

Possibly feature a two person cast. Protagonist enters staged setting in mock Kabuki costume, perhaps a ceremonial kimono that is stripped off to don a white linen suit reminiscent of what Charlie Chan wears. Or maybe the performer comes onstage already garbed in the white linen suit and prostrates beside an altar-like structure housing a chainsaw. Lights dim as another figure appears in background singing Gladys Knight and the Pips' "A Midnight Train to Georgia". The main actor begins a series of ritualistic movements choreographed to the music. Instead of dancing backup steps in typical Pip fashion, the actor as Charlie Chan performs what can be interpreted as martial arts forms, which eventually evolve into a lawnmowing motion.

On one hand to regulate by an imposed aesthetic on grass length growth signifies to viewers perhaps a very rigid orthodoxy. A conditioned response taught that becomes ingrained as predisposition learned indirectly by outside of educational influences as the videotaped documentation of mowing the lawn illustrates. This Charlie Chan ghost-like figure represents the assimilated nonAsian Hollywoodized ideal of the emasculated, effeminate Asian male as the heroic good guy who fits, despite obvious "Orientalistic" traits, into the prevailing stereotype.

To merge, even collide cultural images through collage technique parallels a freer approach allowing for a circular flow that is less definitive in the logical linearity often accused of my earlier work. Which loosely explains the question of the recurring image of Charlie Chan. It certainly references a different popular cultural icon familiar to the mass public.

The image projected above and directly behind the indoor lawn shows a static shot of a backyard cropped to exaggerate its vertical plane. Every thirty seconds to a minute approximately, the abovementioned figure will pass through this frame either in the fore or background pushing a gas-powered mower. Within a certain amount of time, the artist and mower, outside the periphery of the viewer, starting from the outer edge involutes toward the center into permanent view for the remaining duration of this shot.

The protagonist, in turn, parodies the Homeowner maintaining status quo, acquiescing to community standards of a "keeping up with Jones" social order. Perhaps, seeing someone wearing a white suit suggests to the viewer a hired domestic servant performing manual labor associated with upkeeping the estate. Usually minorities are employed to function in these roles. Constant subliminal seduction compels the individual of means to believe that lawn care excellence equals the achievement of material happiness. And what is more typical to highlight this notion than domesticating nature. But is the question again of how an ethnic minority becomes influenced to see things in singularly Western criteria readable? And to what extent is this question relevant, or even important, to a general (nonethnic-specific) audience?

Add to this discourse and growing project yet another idea for a different work that deals with the passive wisdom associated with Asian culture: Which is stronger; a stone, unyielding and hard? Or water, flowing and translucent? This often-told parable examines the question of how nature or science is literally perceived within a bicultural context. Usually how one answers or perceives this question results from their cultural upbringing or perspective.

Show a stone being dropped into a pool of water from bird's eye view. As the rock or pebble falls and sinks toward the bottom, narration informs the viewer of a sifu (master) instructing his younger disciple this parable by asking him the aforementioned question. The dialogue is comparable in style and tone of the character Kwai Chang Cain from the television series, "Kung Fu". As the narrator reveals the correct answer in his wisdom to be "water", the viewer sees water engulfing the stone to prove his point. Shoot as video or possibly as a series of photographs. In contrast, quickly intercut to another shot of a rock of indeterminate size as it falls through the air. Underneath its path as its target is a glass of clear water. As the rock lands, the glass is crushed, broken into many shards, splashing water everywhere. The rock, one can clearly see, is twice the size of the glass of water. These videos to be projected on wall when performance of actor as Charlie Chan dances kung fu moves to the Gladys Knight and the Pips song.

The oppositional format of these videos impugns what is perceived as the timeless truisms of fortune cookie philosophy and what is perceived as the physical, empirical experimentation that is part of a general Western societal attitude reliant on the scientific method. Like the lawn project, one can infer how the subversion of this parable in Western terms as the rock smashes a glass of water is another form of cultural imperialism. But mainly both videos act as pro and con dialogue, which expresses the dichotomous opinions of and my bicultural reaction to nature as a whole. How what is seen, felt, and experienced contributes to the confusion that is my bicultural western upbringing.

Given the fact that these projects deal with like issues is excuse enough "to go off the road" and experiment---not in the usual "you're in grad school---go ahead, try something new" way, but something else, a freer, less self-conscious approach to challenge the methodology, the aesthetic, the solemnity that pigeonholes most of my recent work. That is the main criticism of my work: that each finished piece is considered a complete thought, a singular self-contained metaphor related to a larger body of work. So meeting with Drea Howenstein during the summer produced a more poetic way of seeing how all these loosely related ideas might come together: tentative connections from each idea that appear somewhat ambiguous at first but are very much relatable in terms of an afterimage. One can see how each work resonates as a circular, almost contiguous narrative; each component overlapping, a residual sense of being part of but separate from its antecedent. What it becomes is something less defined than from earlier work; more of an ongoing than complete thought.

I am dealing to locate a consistent theme to reconciliate these disparate realities that beg some form of, or suggests a, conflictual solution. Think seriously about how the quality of a video affects the grass itself. To show the actual grass in darkness in order for the projected image to register is cause for the grass to die. The visibility (or lack of---unclarity) of this image is the metaphysical shadow alluded to that results in the dilemma of which direction the overall project follows: an issue of controlling or being controlled by the colonizational influence.

Ultimately, what came to pass resulted in taking chances beyond the familiar. Trying a different approach to projects that otherwise might look and feel the same as if the shoe fits, wear it. The entire process itself weaving from one tangent to another link back to the original taught me a new way of seeing how I would normally go about business. Analysis through my writing process clarified to a less cryptic degree the relationships between each idea. I begin to see the structure of this ongoing work as episodic in nature. Or as example, one work as an element speaking to the others as a whole.

It now seems that the bulk of what consumed my studio time focused more on conceptualization than actual artmaking. There is nothing tangible other than this recap on paper and my sketchbook to document the evolution of what essentially is an idea. Everytime I examined one direction, other questions would crop up as a result causing constant backtracking to cover all bases. To be truthful, as the project progressed through the summer term, what I originally thought to be sketches quickly implemented, snowballed into something that overextended and challenged the ordered little world of how I see making art. And that is, I have come to accept, a very good thing. Considering the condensed time frame of the summer term, not great timing but a very rewarding learning experience nonetheless. My conclusion is to continue slowly to examine the particular components of this huge undertaking before actually committing wholly to its execution. So as is my habit, work on this "eight hundred pound gorilla" will continue along with other projects as well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Notes on "First go in, then close the door"

Luaun doors abutted together in descending sequence forming in gradual steps an architectural structure show the physical manifestation of Chinese calligraphic stroke order. A series of pen on vellum drawings illustrate as architectural blueprints the axiom of "First go in, then close the door" employed as a mnemonic device to correctly write the ideogram for the word "sun" in Chinese. The written character resembles a square with a line horizontally bisecting its center. To form a box first and then draw a line across is incorrect stroke order. An apt analogy in architectural terms would be to impugn the logic of enclosing the exterior walls first without an opening to allow entry into the interior. Constructing these doors as a penmanship exercise follows the Confucian notion of a priori linearity. Each step is akin to the mathematical absolute of lineal progression.

Small frames showing each individual brushstroke in exact stroke order are hung in between each appropriately actuated door counterpart. Placement of the doors in accordance with the diagrams is deliberately reversed to emphasize the difference in the reading orientation in most Asian cultures. Conceptually the doors dematerialize from the typical Western reading of left to right, deconstructed into an ironic minimalist aesthetic evoking weighted cultural and political connotations of inclusion and exclusion, of access. The interrelationship of how these disciplines overlap defines the parallel of the axiomatic as it relates to the calligraphic and its particular application to the architectural.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Modestly Speaking

A modest proposal entails transforming a closet space in which two possibilities exist:

One notion nostalgicizes retro-sixties television kitsch via Batman, in particular, the moveable secret bookcase which slides open to reveal twin Batpoles when either Bruce or Dick or even Alfred triggered the hidden button inside the hinged flip-top Shakespeare bust. An interior meant for storage hollowed out as disguised passageway acts as extended metaphor for the transfiguration of alter ego to something superhuman, or of mythological proportions. Such iconography transcends the popular cultural landscape to denote a historiography of place related to representations of Self versus Other. Recreating the set from this show casts a mirrored reflection that reverberates in perpetuity, image repeated in descending order.

Perhaps build a bookcase into the actual door left slightly ajar allowing a glimpse inside of video footage from actual show or reenactments of parts of different episodes.

Or install a handmade Japanese doorway curtain or ornate screen in front of three Chinese lanterns alternately flashing red, green or yellow light attached onto walls.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

On a sense of rotisserie time

The current cycle governing day to night spins an imperfect circle. It continues to roll but in wobbly fashion, feinting first to the right then hestitantly left like a young Jackie Chan stumbling about in Drunken Master. No matter how familiar though, the terrain it traverses is quite acned and potholed. Nonetheless the roundish shape being drawn completes an unconventional though predictable track.

Which might explain how rotisserie leagues affect the change of seasons and consequently the perception of time. As the work of On Kawara suggests, how is time typographically or conceptually marked? Like a ticking clock whose second hand accumulates incremental space, every causal effect of any sporting feat so connected to the human experience becomes an abstract number instead. Is this the simulacrum that Jean Baudrillard refers to? To be so far removed from the actual thing so as to champion its substitute in another compacted form metamorphosizes into pure spectatorship. Except that flesh and blood then assumes a postmodernist quality divorced from its self-contained reality. These flattened images subsequently lose their primacy to reference the concrete action of physical interaction only.

The significance of inscribing meaning to an essentially leisure culture is then hypervalued because the spectacle of the event is implied, literally read between the lines. What constitutes a historical record develops to produce a fictional nostalgia manufacturing an industry of retailed memorabilia. But the relationship between documentation of performance and its objective form as collectible translates into cyberspace as hinted at by author Robert Coover. Is there any benefit psychically to be derived for a particpant from engaging secondhand the vicarious thrill of the Modernist glory of sports?

This obsession descends daily, sometimes even hourly, but to be so preoccupied with the aggregation of statistics is abnormal. Or can it be a subconscious project of redundant movements that dictate the gist of urban existence as Tehching "Sam" Hsieh demonstrated in his yearlong performances?

Friday, August 09, 2002

Prima Facie

City of Chicago
Department of Revenue
P.O. Box 88298
Chicago, IL 60680-1298

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to contest the parking ticket # 0017704423-12 issued for code violation 9-80-110A Abandoned Vehicle.

On the date in question of this violation, I drove from my house near Howard and Western in the early morning at 8:30 AM to the Lakewood Balmoral neighborhood. As is my customary practice and in clear observance of posted No Parking and other signs, I parked my vehicle about 8:45 AM on Magnolia in order to ride the El to my office downtown from the Berwyn stop. On this specific evening, I returned from work to pick up my vehicle at approximately 9:15 PM. That I was ticketed for having legally parked my vehicle on the street for what amounts to twelve and a half hours hardly constitutes abandoning my vehicle.

Please understand that photodocumentation to prove my claim is impossible to provide as I simply drove my vehicle away from where it was supposedly abandoned. I must stress that my vehicle is fully operational and in good working condition. I cannot fathom why a ticket for abandoning my vehicle was issued for a car parked legally for half a day on a public city street.

Thank you for your time.


Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Notes on a former Chicago Cub lefthanded pitcher from the late fifties

Where are you now, Larry Jackson?

In the bullpen warming up with Grover Alexander maybe? Or hitting long fungoes to Tris Speaker? But Hot Potato actually threw righthanded, contrary to what Johnny Poy Lee recalled. So was that the legacy a soon-to-be father from Toishan saw on the mound that sunny day?

The predestiny of nomenclature explains running into your doppelganger crisscrossing ordained basepaths somewhere out on Idaho fields. At six foot two inches tall weighing one hundred ninety pounds, the ball released sixty feet six inches away probably zoomed in faster than ninety-plus miles per hour. But did he command a breaking pitch, something off-speed or more wicked like a nasty slider?

Perhaps old footage exists of his delivery, his signature windup. Then the possibility to copy his motion, to assume if you will his identity becomes an idea for a project exploring the nature of imitation.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Beyond Jack Benny

Twenty plus twenty equals forty, the sum of which is determined in dog years. This sad fact magnified its internal logic as truism only yesterday while duffing the fairways. The night before saw some two hundred and thirty odd balls being launched from automated two-tiered Astroturf mats to break in new graphite woods and double-cavity irons. A mere five hours later at the first tee only continued the lactic acid buildup.

Gone are the carefee days of weekend warriorism when mind and body readily cooperated to wake up early dawn en route to nine holes immediately followed by an hour of shooting hoops or softball practice all before opening up shop by noon. After closing the day usually ended pitching three to five innings at Stewart.

Such rubber-armedness once proved the resiliency of youth. Or the foolhardiness of growing up consumed by sports enough to play out childhood fantasies well past sensible adulthood. Then comes the inevitable reality of sore, tired muscles which signals going out to pasture.

Eighteen holes regardless of carts or not tend to exacerbate any delusions of former athletic grandeur. Sure, to hit straight, long and narrow after the compound ankle fracture is reward enough for the yips, but not by much as conventional wisdom states, "Drive for show, putt for dough."

But pain is still the unenviable currency of the aged.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Our homogenized Coca-Cola

The idea of cultural homogenization or the "McDonaldization" of the globe discussed in the Stuart Hall reading parallels a particular work by the British artist Gillian Wearing. In her video I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, a woman somewhere in England is seen blowing into a glass Coke bottle that produces a few bars of the titled tune. The screen then splits in half to reveal another woman in a different place doing the same. This formula continues every minute or so multiplying exponentially the different women of different ethnicities in sync blowing away until all that can be seen are tiny grids of squares pulsating a breathy rhythm.

What is at issue concerns the artistic response to this phenomenon as either reaction as a form of criticism or reflection as homage of a perceived reality. The artist employs a strategy of recycling a successful commercial media campaign to reinvent the old message of world peace as a multicultural statement about the pervasiveness of a Western corporate giant. I read Coke being tantamount to cultural imperialism. But is the fragmented perspective of the multiplicity of difference as sameness addressed by the artist symptomatic of her cynicism or her irony towards the idealized Benetton world as global community? Certainly, westernized information and media technologies create a perception of a homogenized "world-culture" but how do contemporary artists address this question culturally? Is Wearing aware of her role as artist within the sociopolitical history of the British Empire as a colonial power? Or is she simply reviving, as is vogue the nostalgia of something from the70’s?

Her distance is very apparent in this work as what transpires as narrative seems to be in the third person. This leads to a possible belief that Wearing is well-versed enough in this cultural discourse to portray herself as an observer who understands the politics of corporate identification in relation to cultural identity. So is she guilty of a kind of cultural tourism because of her Britishness or is she questioning these historical antecedents through a cool sense of 90’s irony?

So is the majority of contemporary art a cookie cutter pattern of apparently oversimplified, over-resolved work echoing the mass media claim that we live in the same Star-Trekked world. This is a fine line in how many artists today negotiate the eggshells of issues concerning race, gender, politics or sexual orientation.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Boston Massacre sans Tea Party

The lost weekend of sorts originates diagonally across from the Manhole with uncharacteristic tapas and immediately blurs, a wavy television scriggle just after "and the home of the brave". Ray Milland, both hands grasping a sweating glass of sangria, whispers for everyone to wake up. "Time to go, time to fly," he coos and magically the winds push large white clouds speedily by.

We land near Plymouth Rock ahead an hour multiplied four times. A pilgrim points the way, leaving us to follow a crooked zigzagging line of red paint and red brick backward toward Protestant sanctuary amidst gray inscribed obelisks and worn shaled headstones. But halfway our progress halts for oysters on the half shell in Union near a public meetingplace adjacent four million numbered tattoos stretched skyward. Alas no ice and no juice is just the best of a headache, stomach rumbling in rebellion. Siesta cures what ails us enough to sue for enough clams to surf on turf though.

Legally redeemed thusly is solid logic for the Big Easy and its high-decibelled pseudo circa Top Twenty Mardi Gras. Center stage saw spasmatic middle-aged leg stomps as if cramped only to disorient on both knees expelling repeat offensive flatuence. Thar she blows and call me Ismail as we sounded retreat, sleeping past all alarms for a poetic rendevous mid-morning. Later our trip to bountiful is interrupted momentarily through ancient (and pilfered) Chinese sculpture, over-sized Theirren stacked plates, table and chairs and stainless steel balloon poodles, but resumes north end up. Handwriting analyses indicates pasta or simple, old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs as prelude to a missed sunset cruise on the Love Boat. Then coordination and finally it is sushi dreams and martini wishes at Bluefin and Barcode via the reflecting pool under a torrential downpour.

Again morning becomes Electra craving congee and roast duck while waiting for nonexistent storms to subside.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Notes on portraiture

Quite a drawing to live up to but very doable in fact. First shave latitudinally along the scalp. Next super or mega gel longish brush cut straight up to affect a Bert and Ernie Sesame Street look. To obtain that telltale orange skin, apply Q-Tan or similar self-tanning agent. Now somehow figure out how disconnected squarish glasses sit on my nose without the middle bridge support. A funky pair of horizontally striped rainbow-colored pants and a long-sleeved brown tee shirt completes the picture.

So to mimic photographically a portrait drawn by my niece in Crayola washable markers as performance documentation simultaneously reinforces and upends the notion of life imitating art, albeit her art, her perception, her vision however childlike. But why such an elaborate technical process just to recreate an image? Is it vital to incorporate theatrical production to establish a versimilitude when to digitally alter the snapshot could suffice?

Friday, July 19, 2002

Rist versus Lachowicz

A forty year old man talking about two women artists from the Nineties can be "DANGER, Will Robinson!...DANGER!"

So against my usual affinity for things art historical, something guttural and endearing about Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist and her videos seem very vox populi in nature given the poetry of flowing narrative imagery. Is it her familiarity of MTV that she utilizes to seduce my couch potato television myopia? Or could it be her manipulation of the medium to merge the popular cultural world associated as slacker into a universalized statement about "being a girl"? Whatever it is, even Chicago White Sox-watching me (So Hurtus Maximus is now really the Big Skirt), the typical "guy" can access its contemporary sense of beauty.

"Sip My Ocean" is her video installation of the Chris Isaak song, "Wicked Game" that reworks the notion of the remake as a universal value translated. Rist dually projected her piece as a mirrored image into a gallery corner at the MCA. She sings her version of this song from a hauntingly feminist perspective; accenting certain passages, changing the inflection in her voice to the point of unexpected screams. I stood transfixed by the power of how this artist transformed through appropriation something created by another artist to be reclaimed as her own. It bespeaks of the politics of perception through interpretation, of the want to be someone else through your own eyes or mind.

The same cannot be said for me about Rachel Lachowictz. As much as her work references the history of art, it is her strategy of appropriation (ala Sherrie Levine) through the specific material of lipstick to remake Donald Judd or Marcel Duchamp that fails eventually. No doubt, her feminization-when I saw versions of the urinals at LA County Museum of Art-operates successfully. But then the redundancy of her idea begins to lose steam. How many other items or works need to be recast in lipstick before we get the point? Somehow Lachowictz needs to incorporate other "girl" material or concepts to reengage the viewer to see something fresh that adds newer dialogue to her increasingly trite work.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Precursor to September 11

Written years ago and recently unearthed is a synopsis of a challenging work that infiltrated my thinking in the weirdness of its subject eerily presaging the surreality that befell the World Trade Center.

You hear at the start of "DIAL H*I*S*T*O*R*Y" how noble death can be, like an airplane in a graceful swan dive that bellyflops to the ground and KABOOM! And so begins your video rollercoaster ride disguised as a documentary about airline hijacking over an hour long by the artist Johan Grimonprez. Nonstop actual news footage replete with early videocam graininess of televised images recount the supposed origin and subsequent chronology of "skyjacking" to present day. But not in the usual smarmy PBS account of past events with that annoyingly know-it-all winky eye. No, that would be too Bill Moyers. What you see floods your memory of skewed patriotic feelings and media-influenced hatred of these terrorists who hate America and its Western (Eurocentric) ideals as Grimonprez retells this story as fictionalized, polticalized history through a narrated voice that implies his own. But is it strict agitprop or romanticized historical poetics? We witness people on the political fringe who need to call attention to their "causes". Yet somehow the politics of such a politically motivated act become humanized through his quirky use of throwaway commercials that acts to segue these segments which in turn editorialize his rather cynical leftist radical leanings about this topic. The video treads atop fragile eggshells in its "both sides of the story" approach combined with a healthy dose of realism, raw scenes of the aftermath of violent death. The innocent intentions of forcibly coercing a flight as means of political asylum quickly become a war of terrorism against Western hegemony. And you wonder if Grimonprez actually advocates the mounting evidence of death and destruction as justifiable martyrdom, acceptable tolls of causalities? Or as his use of excerpts from Don DeLillo’s fiction "White Noise" and "Mao II" might suggest otherwise a metaphor heralding the politics of modern life and its dangers of death.

Monday, July 08, 2002

Romancing Margins

In A Special Relationship? Cultural Studies, Academia and Pedagogy, Alan O’Shea questions how "the misunderstanding of ‘institutionalization’ can lead to the idealist positioning of the cultural studies practitioner as an ‘outsider’ or a romantically marginal ‘semiotic guerilla’ relates to a pedagogical orthodoxy in the field. In specific, O’Shea refers to a phenomenon of "romancing the margins" by cultural analysts whereby the danger is present of deconstruction becoming a (self-) representation of the marginal figure. What occurs then follows the logic that "although the figure of the cultural bandit offers…a certain glamour and piquancy (and hence is popular with students), it misrepresents its social location."

Is the inverse possibility of being viewed as elitist reposition the validity of representation itself? So how then does one who produces and/or critiques culture avoid over-romanticizing the margin? And what is the role of those in such positions insofar as their pedagogical responsibility?

I discussed showing Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympiad, "Triumph of the Will" to an art appreciation class as a strategy to discuss the social accountability of the artist beyond the usual discussions of Nazi propaganda or cinematic formalism in the context of a modernist architecture. Afterward, the class learned of the historical context that the film was made and its intended purpose before opening the floor for discussion in relation to that information. Henry Giroux stressed that it is vital to "never dehistoricize, depoliticize and decontextualize this kind of work" because of the peril of it losing its sociocultural meaning for the class or audience.

The point also comes to bear in how the cultural content of my own work is related and interpreted. Indeed, my art is a bicultural search for meaning of place, to situate myself in what is history, past and present. I often ask, " what becomes of those who traverse in between these worlds, people with their feet planted in more than one place? How do they confront or cope with these issues?"

But is the gist of the questions asked in such work typical of romancing the margins really dependent on the larger political project of what the artist intends by way of pedagogy. Is it a tightrope for those who see their work as being more than simply spoonfeeding a different side of the coin to tread? Do artists like teachers run the risk of becoming a cliched mouthpiece for these types of discourse that seem to only "tell" rather than "think"?

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Notes on Autobiography: Paintings and Drawings by Julius Cavira

Enter the library and along the west wall above the tall bookshelves hangs a series of oblong horizontal oils on canvas, each a portrait in repose alluding to the subjectification of the romanticized. On the adjoining space to the left and suspended above a paperback rack in the center are two elongated vertical panels distinguishable from the others only by the absence and lack of direct reference to the artist per se. Two somewhat related large-scale drawings round out this exhibit in a separate computer room behind glass.

Looking at these paintings begs the question of just who this person is, this artist who only allows a glimpse sometimes in silhouette or just in fragmented closeup, of himself, his back literally to the viewer. The title of the show vaguely suggests a story about his life, a tell-it-all but what is read skims the actual text. Instead an index that shifts inexplicably from first- to third-person causes us to wonder why the literal and metaphorical cat-and-mouse game? This confusion occurs due to the desultory narrative that obfuscates the thematic focus which ought to unify these paintings collectively. What is discernable appears predicated on an ambiguous version of Asian American boy cool. Is the intent of this body of work supposed to represent lofty notions of idealized morals? Or is it commenting on the subconscious osmosis of cross-cultural powers-that-be which define him? So the overall impression that comes to mind of the artist, i.e., these paintings is convoluted.

But still the artist speaks formally to cinematic notions of space. Perhaps his use of the overt widescreen proffers a clue as to the bifurcated compositional strategies that inhabit his perspectival interiors. Does he simply occupy space? Or is he in control, determining his place? It is as if he is compelled to juxtapose the architectural planar geometries of his set (or setting as it were) with film noir to illustrate various chapters of a poetically artistic life yearning for affirmation. Is then the artist an edited clip of different films he sanctions influential?

These works also feel out of time as the artist runs the gamut of surface treatment in thinly painted washes of turpentined color to evoke a Rembrandtesque sfumato seemingly at odds within the contemporary milieu. His earthy palette and shiny varnish implies a past, a history ordained to lend validity however jejune or suspect to representations of selves.

Ultimately the sum of the parts reveals a problematic cry for attention. He rather shoots his wad in kitchen sink fashion conceptually trying much too hard to justify himself as a relevant and important artist rather than paint a simple self-portrait. Sometimes the seduction of paint carries a heavy art-historical burden that unnecessarily adds aesthetical weight to an otherwise uncomplicated idea. It can blind the baby from too much light.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

A Pedagogical Thought

Happenstance exhausts any possibility for routine. Present any student a malleable situation eliding definitive criteria and the results vary from either the proverbial five-mile stare or worse case scenario, epileptic seizure. What needs to be stressed is that failure can be serendipitous. Johnny can read (or as it applies, sculpt).

So all my psychic aura is sponged dry, an expedient byproduct of eleven needy albeit inquiring minds. But such a power drain is to be expected. Maybe to reverse the flow involves blistering fingers, bruising egoes and consequently toughening skin.

That is the stated purpose governing any doable three-dimensional curriculum. Establish comprehensible parameters that define the project at hand to allow for lateral movement. But resist spoonfeeding.

Saturday, June 29, 2002

Sexism and the Aesthetic of Pornography: David Salle's Representation of Women

In Racism and the Aesthetic of Hyper Real Violence: Pulp Fiction and the Other Visual Tragedies, Henry Giroux argues against what he terms the "aesthetic radicalism" that marks the films of director Quentin Tarantino. His cinematic oeuvre "attempts to render the underbelly of society on its own terms (but really) betrays the overt racism that informs his films" as Tarantino exhibits a blatant disregard in how he justifies his use of racial slurs in character dialogue as being a part of realism, his reality. Without acknowledging and assuming any responsibility of how such language is situated within a larger history of its cultural and political meaning, Tarantino propagates through these derogatory associations the power of the white dominant group in the name or the cause of a hip brand of coolness. Giroux points this out as a conscious strategy to douse the flames of racism by trumpeting it as formalism in favor of White Boy aesthetics. A product of the eighties, Tarantino belongs to the era of Reagan-Bush predatory capitalism, a fusion of greed and egotism.

As such, this contention also applies to the artist David Salle, a Neoexpressionist painter who vanguarded the return of the figure on canvas using postmodern discourse concerning fragmentation by juxtaposing unrelated iconic flotsam with demeaning portraits of women culled directly from assorted hardcore girlie magazines. Supposedly his paintings represent a culture, "our" culture, anesthetized from the requisite moral obligations resulting from external influences within societal standards elongated by geopolitical, technological unpredictabilities. The artist overlays popular icons/symbols on top of monochromatically brushed female nudes as pornographic vignettes using collage principles to compose pseudo-narratives with actual objects to break up pictorial space. This imagery per se bears resemblance in meaning to the not-so-subtle cynicism and White Boy Cool irony as defined by Tarantino.

Is it coincidence then that Salle, also considered as the darling of the eighties art scene, incurred the wrath of feminists who found his exploitation of women pornographic too? Like Tarantino, Salle defends his social indifference through the formalistic vocabulary of art for art’s sake. How art history perceives Salle’s role then is iffy at best, impugning his dismissive callousness to such warranted criticism at the expense of social and cultural relevance by asking what the pedagogical purpose such work offer. All of which begs many questions such as:

Why does an artist reject the larger context of critical accountability to the images or works they create? Is it because of the existing Western canon of art that acts as the primary educational tool to emphasize Eurocentric dominant concerns within art history? And why is such importance placed on the primacy of Western art doctrine to interpret most art made outside these boundaries in these terms?

Sunday, June 23, 2002

A Sense of History, Or Comments from A Dialogue: Culture, Language, and Race

"Here," Tanaki-san points, "behind this boulder is where Chiang Kai-Shek in his pajamas hid from Communist troops; history changed when they found him." And the Japanese businessman on holiday tells me of when his country invaded China and of how Mao and his defeated army conducted their Long March in retreat. He keeps on, story after story, as we continue through the verdant southern Chinese countryside. Before the day ends he asks a simple question: Is modern Asian history taught to American schoolchildren? I tell him "no" and, from this point on, begin to question how history is perceived and learned as it relates my life experience.

Paulo Friere in his discussion with Donaldo Macedo speaks about combating oppression by creating pedagogical structures to allow the oppressed to retake what has been denied them through their ability to think critically and the option to act on their world as subjects of history and not objects. This pedagogical approach relates to my personal anecdote and is the same strategy employed by the African American artists Fred Wilson and Renee Green who both skewer the traditional civility that Henry Giroux referred to as the antiseptic Westernized concept of museum. Both in their work ask the question, "Who determines history?" Or in the case of my example, can a personal event, an autobiographical moment, affecting or relating to a certain group of people be regarded as history with a capital "H"? It might, if historicized within a textual and/or museological context is the point. Wilson and Green utilize installation as museum site to invert the meaning of stereotyped readings of objects, events or images, usually outside the context of what is considered art or history. Ironically, these staid institutions commission either artist to draw from their actual collections to reposition and revise another way of seeing the relationships of what the museum as a whole represents sociopolitically and multiculturally by juxtaposing the different objets d’art into an oppositional meaning. Wilson, for instance, will question the authenticity of such cultural plundering by mixing antique pewter ware with iron shackles of a slave or an actual KKK hood in an antique baby carriage. This reinvention of meaning of how the relationship of what is seen to each other changes its historical context and calls into question larger questions of who controls how the dominant versus the "other" culture is dominated. What is called into question then centers on the politicization of perceived identity as historical record. Hal Foster in his book about the current trends in American art, The Return of the Real, notes that contemporary postmodern artists such as Renee Green and Fred Wilson incorporate anthropology in their work as a critical means to impugn an "ideological patronage" for the cultural "other". The artist as ethnographer--- in this case, someone else hired to "record" your image--- exposes the irony of a "subjectified" subject being objectified. Other questions also being asked in both of these works include "who controls or determines how this type of history is portrayed?" as well as "Is what one sees on view of historical importance or value because of its context, presented under glass?"

These questions pertain abstractly to identity and the outside (cultural, political, and historical) forces that shape perception. "What happened before?" is just as relevant a question to ask as is "why am I?" The definition of one’s self pertains not only to the psychological and the philosophical, but very much to the historical.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Remembering Darryl Kile

Bang the drum slowly fifty seven times minus thirty three years. The thrill of the grass is gone, replaced by the greatest slump of all time. Uncle Charlie, expecting the local but getting the express, weeps.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Serve It Forth versus On Eating, a Texas Death Match

Choosing books about food to read is a funny thing. It seems a majority of what is written falls into the category of illustrated recipe collections or step-by-step cooking tips to prepare a simple or fancy dish. Up on a ladder searching the alphabetized shelves of the cookbook section of a prominent used bookstore, this notion becomes fact. Every possibility that appeared interesting as a serious book about food by its cover, nevertheless, when opened often showed many pretty pictures with a minimum of text. But luckily, two titles of interest, or rather two books written by two familiar authors, deviated, stuck out like a sore thumb, from the ocean of "flavor of the month" cooking manuals.

One book that immediately caught my eye was a slender volume from North Point Press of Serve it Forth by MFK Fisher. Subtly colored of ripe orangy mango and trendy light mauve, yet graceful, its cover features a Hurrell-influenced black and white photo of a younger MFK Fisher staring pensively off. Years earlier as a sales clerk at a major discount bookstore chain familiarized me with her name and reputation as a bigshot, a heavyweight, who wrote elegant prose about eating, food, and those involved in both. I took a chance, enamored by its refined classic cover design that whispered "tasteful" in my ear, and flipped through a chapter entitled, "The Standing and the Waiting" while crouching on a stepstool nearby.

What I ingested certainly whetted my appetite to continue on as MFK Fisher reminisced about returning to dine at her favorite out-of-the-way restaurant as a young innocent in France. At the center of her anecdote is a waiter whose perfect service a number of years ago, she absolutely requests, wanting to impress her dining companion, a notable connoisseur, with his skills. This sad fellow, weakened by alcohol, older, and only a shell of his former self, she discovers, was dismissed by the owner just that morning. But he swallows his pride for the sake of MFK Fisher and allows this man the final glory of waiting on her table. As the night at this restaurant progresses, the old guy, shaky at first, grows more confident and through immense force of will transforms himself back into what he used to be, preserving her nostalgia, her perfect moment. I imagined hearing violin strings and said to myself, "Might as well read another----just to make sure."

Next I browsed the chapter entitled, "Garum," of which a passage was read aloud during class as an example of Roman cuisine. Her account of this concocted condiment that Romans became addicted to also reveal her scholarship concerning the history of gastronomy. A wonderful writer, MFK Fisher interweaves the recorded tales of the extravagant circus many upper class Romans spent on exotic evening-long banquets just to "keep up with the Jones" and how, through sheer sensory overload and abuse, come to incorporate garum as a daily part of their diet.

It was hard not to keep reading on, so I decided, one book picked out, one more to go. I climbed back up the ladder and continued my search. Several minutes later, after rejecting a few prospects, I noticed a blue collar-sounding title called Why We Eat What We Eat, a paperback written by Raymond Sokolov. His name rang a bell as a columnist for the Natural History magazine.

While Serve It Forth by MFK Fisher can be described as dessert, something sweetly pleasurable like "tangerine sections dried on top of a radiator in a French pension, then cooled in fresh snow on the windowsill to grow miraculously plumper, hot, and full," Why We Eat What We Eat is strictly "meat and potatoes," the main entree. His book is a didactic historical argument about how Columbus changed the way the world eats. Employing careful research to support this premise, Sokolov dissects his hypothesis geographically by investigating the cuisines of different cultures and ethnicities at first. He points out that most of the food items we associate as authentic cuisine endemic to a particular culture, or more specifically, a certain country most probably originates from another culture or area. For instance, most Americans know Mexican food as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas, but before the Spanish colonized their land, as Sokolov shows, "Mexican cuisine had no dishes with beef, pork, or lamb. There were no dairy products, no milk, no cream, no butter, no cheese. Fried Foods were unknown." Then, according to Sokolov, the Spanish settled into Mexico and brought along many domestic livestock to supply themselves with familiar foods. Eventually, their meat, milk, and cheese made the Mexican food we recognize, possible.

Secondly, Sokolov extends his supposition to include specific foods such as the tomato. A New World food, this fruit, some say vegetable mistakingly, travelled back across the Atlantic to become a main staple for Italian cooking. This so-called food revolution is responsible, as far as Sokolov is concerned, for the cross-fertilization, exchange of traditional cooking ideas and foods that ultimately created nouvelle cuisine as new inventive dishes surface from one culture borrowing from another.

Like Fisher, Sokolov travels the world to encounter first hand his food experiences. The notable difference between this similiarity is that Sokolov visits various places usually as a socioanthropologist interested in food and cooking. Fisher is a gourmet prone to the trimmings of the gastronomic world. While he is plain scientific curiosity, probing information to check its authenticity, she, on the other hand, epitomizes the finer arts of higher and better living. Her book is a poetry of gastronomic anecdotes; his book, a feast for the mind of factual information written in the first person, an exploration of the changes in the world's tastes.

Both the books I have chosen represent a love of food. Through the gourmet eyes of both Sokolov and Fisher, although his is more objective and hers more traditional, subjective, the world of food can be tasted, seen, heard, pondered, and felt. To read as I did about food from their perspective, their distinct writing styles compares to your basic two-course meal. I gorge off the big course of Why We Eat What We Eat first, leaving room for Serve it Forth as dessert. Educational, enlightening, and entertaining, the only thing remaining to do is loosen the belt buckle and sigh, "Mmm boy, good reading."

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Remembering Vincent Chin

"They all look the same" repeated ad infinitum inside a Joseph Cornell coffin, a broken bat stabbed through her broken heart.

In memoriam the ponytailed samurai centerfielder fungoed pitching-machined horsehide, vicious line drives loudly cracked against chain-linked fence and another Chin (no relation) halved a 32 ounce Louisville Slugger longitudinally so that its violent Americanized phallus becomes a red silk Chinese fan when opened.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Notes on an alternative, parallel universe

Create a dream world sculpturally, a Mariko Mori cyberplace or postpunk Paul McCarthy kindergarten from hell. Delve beyond the unbearable darkness (or lightness) of being within. Only the shadow knows what lurks in these antechambers. Now hit the play button and record simultaneously.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Notes on a heavenly mandate

Remaking Defiant Ones politically incorrect is heavenly mandate. Yellow and rainbow tethered, skip down the lane hand-in-hand. However the straight-but-not-so-narrow voice confuses preexisting pom-pommed Grease excerpt as multicultural Logan's Run gone bad. New footage of parallel jogging speeds to dead sprint gratis grapes and coffee. Both then mistaken to be Sherman and Mr. Peabody in way-back machine rewinding their great escape from one nation, two systems.

Or promulgate Matthew Barneyish sadomasochistic metaphors. Certainly handcuffs reference aberrant sexual ties-that-literally-bind as opposite teams attract and gives homoerotic meaning to spastic three-legged race.

And the queen of the ball evolves into a celestial being.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

The Pedagogy of Disney Consumerism

In The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence, Henry Giroux cites the incredulous statistics of the staggering influence the Disney Company exerts worldwide in terms of the communications industry. Nearly one quarter or almost twenty five percent of U.S. households fall under their direct magical spell of media propaganda. But also of staggering importance is how these totals are designed to bombard children into becoming loyal Disney consumer/acolytes.

Entertainment for Disney then becomes a deliberate educational power as an extension of the corporate ideals and culture of white middle-class suburban society "to shape the public memory, national identity, gender roles, and childhood values…to determine the role of consumerism in American life." Because of the ubiquitous permeation of its well-groomed lovable, family-oriented public person advocating wholesome fun, the interior mechanisms driving this cultural engine is oftentimes confused as purely fantasy. Sure, other critics as Giroux points out, decry what Disney has come to represent, but what of the overt corporate "cultural imperialism" which insidiously masks the swindle of fulfillment that the general public literally buys into?

This is a lesson not so unfamiliar to my upbringing as the first memory I learned of art related to Walt Disney. In class, whenever I drew a facsimile of Mickey Mouse, rather than be complimented on my budding artistic skills, the general response from teachers and even some classmates took forms of warnings against copyright infringement. Stories about being sued by this fascist monolith hell-bent on preserving the sanctity of allowing no one else the opportunity to profit from their creations certainly placed the fear of God in my mind. That this cultural machinery could teach me at that young an age to view this cartoon character not as something delightful and warmly cute but cold and of the adult world hardened my perspective.

Throughout the globe, children find solace from the drudgery of compressed life in the fantastic retreat of what Disney offers on the surface. Everywhere one turns is evidence of Disney utopia. So in the parlance of pseudo-Disneyspeak, How could something so harmless as a bunch of cartoons and their related theme parks be so bad for you? This danger pertains to issues of a larger corporate vision to monopolize and privatize the spaces once considered noncommodified.

Friday, June 14, 2002

Notes on NeoOrientalia

Paul Rand designs Orientalia is a many splendored thing. Just like the world of Suzie Wong according to Eero Saarinen recontextualizes circa Man in the Gray Flannel Suit chic as postminimalist object or decor.

Here twin curved Herman Miller plywood chairs, one painted porcelain blue, the other trimmed lacquered red sit beneath oblong Barnett Newmanesque tryptychs framed in blond bamboo. And latticed screen panels painted faux Bauhaus accordion sumi-e patterned wallpapered walls. Embroidered silk curtains decorate bare aluminum casement windows while tasseled Chinese lanterns emit tinted light through Mondrian-colored glass. It becomes a new floating world where styles hybridize the yin and yang into acculturated Modernism.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

On Gastronomy (for Bob Loescher)

Part of the hoi polloi, descendent of rural peasant stock is certainly all the wrong pedigree to wax poetic about nouvelle cuisine. But growing up in the Chinese restaurant business did afford tiny peeks at the gastronomical multiculturalism that is Trio. What helped immensely to ease the uncomfortable feeling of being out of place can mostly be atttributed to watching the Food Network as for what to expect.

The evening started off well enough as the hostess checked our coats and then led us to our reserved table. Being addressed as Mr. Lee by the entire waitstaff took some getting used to as I can only think of my father as ever being called that. Seated, what struck me odd about Trio at first turned out, after some thought, to be deliberate.

Exposed copper piping wove in and out through sheer fabric, billowy clouds, suspended on the ceiling. Cherry bentwood chairs, handcrafted in a modern style, clashed against the unpainted red brick fireplace and French countryside whitewashed cabinetry. A trompe l'oeil mural of a meandering ivy canopy on cracked terra cotta-colored stucco spanned across the opposite wall. Abstract gold and purple vaguely Asian shapes on muted blue-grayish ground monotypes embossed on deckled paper hung throughout the intimate dining room in simple white frames. Then the bulb above my head clicked on. All this interior decoration fit the eclectic motif of a cosmopolitan cuisine of Asian, French, and Mediterranean influences. Trio really refers to the three cooking styles combined to create something unique and contemporary.

Michel, our pony-tailed maitre d', handed us our menus as the waitstaff set a wicker basket of freshly baked bread on our crisp white tablecloth set off by blackish marble slab placemats. I opted to save some time and sounded very much in the know, pronouncing the word, "degustation" so as to solicit only the slightest smirk. After ordering two glasses of merlot, Michel informed us it would be the chef's choice to design our own degustation, but asked if there might a particular food to be excluded from our dishes. My companion, Madeleine objected to any rabbit being served in favor of the house specialty salad out of deference to her own pet hare.

Dinner began a minute later with Steven, another waiter, offering a white artist's palette of domestic caviars with share mirrors of seafood. Dollops of green wasabi, clear Absolut vodka soaked, traditional black, orange Northwest Salmon caviar complemented the bits of egg and red, finely-chopped salsa and shrimp. Just the arrangement of this color wheel inspired enough guilt not to dig in.

Our second course reemphasized the triple blend of cooking traditions as I was presented with a Bento Box of different nontraditional sushi and tempura. More American ingredients such as raisins and walnuts were substituted for seafood making for a delectably fresh crunchy texture. Also served was a wild mushroom and parmesan risotto perfumed with white truffle oil. This seemed a calculated pun of rice-based food to throw off the usual preconceived notions of pilaf.

Roasted American red snapper doused with sweet and sour leeks, red pepper-kaffir lime sauce as well as Maine sweet shrimp and crabmeat wontons in a smoked salmon-hijiki broth consisted of the third course. Color me enviously green when my companion received the snapper and I got the wontons. What I ate were gigantic ravioli wontons that tasted wonderful, but of course, to eat wontons, no matter how exotically prepared, sort of defeats the purpose of finer dining for me.

For the intermezzo, Steven brought out two small stemmed glasses of berry-rhubarb granita. Naturally sweet ice without being too sugary, our waiter informed us this break would cleanse our palates for the next course, our main entree.

Applewood smoked tenderloin of beef with yukon gold potato puree,charred onions, and wasabi infused veal reduction certainly atoned for the wontons. To stress the contrast of All-American red meat (cooked medium rare) with radishy wasabi drew attention to the sublimal theme of the chef's magic of juxtaposing Japanese with traditional Midwestern fare. Madeleine oohed and aahed over the honey and lavender glazed pheasant breast in a caramelized salsify, bittersweet tangerine sauce. She marvelled too at how the chef contemporized what could be a very rural dish with a westernized Asian sauce.

After this gluttony of gourmet cooking, we joked about not needing to drive through Mickey D's on the way back to grab some real, substantial fast food. Even though the portions appeared modest, it suited the entire gastronomical experience and two and a half hours of fine dining only makes up with quality, what is lacking in quantity. Besides, we came to understand that many tiny dishes amounted to one gargantuan meal.

Finally, dessert, or what Michel called assiettes. Now we witnessed wry, sardonic melodrama. Just to throw us for a loop, the kitchen dreamed a sampling of creme brulee, root beer float, chocolate dried cherry bread pudding, and perfiteroles. Imagine our laughter when we realized how French met Main Street, U.S.A. to whip up this humorous comment to end our degustation. Wise guys, we thought, but loving it. Try as we did each dessert attacked our tastebuds with rich chocolates, sweet fruits, and drizzles of numerous sugary flavors. Yes, we fought the desserts, and the desserts won.

Madeleine, a health buff (nut), whined about not eating for the next few days in addition to forcing herself to run a few extra miles to work off all the rich desserts and food. I felt sated to eat many creative foods, prepared to make me a king for the evening. I walked in Jethro Bodine, a country bumpkin stumbling around in Beverly Hills, and walked out a prince. That, after all, is the reason to try new things.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Notes on my hared lip

Spiralled stanchion jetty slanted in descending order revamped, the center of which containing a polka-dotted spinning dial, offsets either an abstract (and unstretched) canvas as Oriental rug or perhaps glossy Twister pattern mural.

Suppose entire installation relocated to accentuate a right angle so that it somewhat resembles a poor man's version of the Persistence of Memory but outlined by pujii stick barriers. Then standard dialogue between wall to floor interrupted if formal composition transgresses traditional demarcation separating perpendicular planes of figure to ground relationship.

Actual enamelled discs of varying thickness substitute for flat circles transliterating two-dimensional space for three-dimensionality. And maybe the imaginary lines projecting from the hypotenused area beyond incompleted cube could be developed as enclosed interior.

Next step then is to reject site in lieu of object as architecture. Build a series of boxes copying Donald Judd, except each one larger than the previous with the final rendition room-sized. Inside, paint all surfaces (including ceiling and floor) as described above.

Or Larry Poons banging Yayoi Kusama threesoming Sol Lewitt. A decorative orgy of geometry quoted and footnoted.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Notes on the cone of silence

Getting smart exponentially eighty-six times louder implodes inner ear drums speaking popular cultural tongues. Something chaotic, something controlled acts as narrativized object maybe. Constructed cones either stalagmite or stalactite or even Luddite megaphones in pairs regurgitate tin cans attached by a string into Doric columns.

Question then of static versus kinetic (audio or video) activated by motion sensor dictates whether form follows function or vice versa. Clear glass wired for short distance gobblygook or Donald Judd solid forms?

Monday, June 10, 2002

Death to All Flying Things, part two

Surgeons transplant recycled cadaver ligament to rebuild damaged knee. Time of operation accelerates, the ramification of Frankensteinian electrodes, instantly rehabilitating injury via medical tricorder. The concomitant wear and tear bionically repaired certainly recalls science fiction.

Robin Cook presaged a Soylent Green future lying in coma where unanimated bodies dangle like slaughtered meat awaiting reprocessing. Such is modern reality that echoes the postmodern culture of conspicuous consumption. Everything and consequently every being is replaceable. But is advanced biomedical technology truly dystopic?

Fractured Patellae is now Torn Labrums.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

Lolita revisited

How Vladimir Nabakov opens Chapter Five of his novel Lolita is pure scatology. Imagine "THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH as I look back on them" and probably what comes to mind is something maudlin, in need of Kleenex. Certainly Nabakov agrees, but he chooses to wipe away another bodily substance. Nostalgia tends to blur memory but not for Humbert Humbert. For the author these reminiscences "seem to fly away from me in a flurry of pale repetitive scraps". He reworks this "pages of the calendar falling off" metaphor as the lyrical simile "like those morning snow storms of used tissue paper that a train passenger sees whirling in the wake of the observation car." His genius of observational detail gives "body" as it were to these words in both a literal and metaphorical sense. The reader happily follows the dorsal physicality of memory as the "butt of his joke" or palpable fecal imagery to be easily expelled, flushed away.

What a wise guy he was. And what a masterful writer, too.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Watching Television by Brian Doyle

"Soon I had a TV in my own room. I watched TV as I ate breakfast in bed on my ET (the movie) TV tray …The TV in my room was a Magnavox…It, however, had both cable and remote control."
-Brian Doyle, Remembering TV at Home

Imagine, if you will, a place not unlike where you live, a comfortable space to sit back and relax. Think about the room where you watch TV and welcome to the Doyle Zone.

Sculptor/video artist Brian Doyle loves to watch television. Television consumes much of what interests him. In fact, his art reflects his fascination with its culture and technology. For Brian, the boob tube is more than just an electronic vehicle intended to broadcast mindless drivel to dumb down the masses. That would be too Phil Donahue. No, what appeals to this artist in addition to the sociology of its overall influence or what Marshall McLuhan coined the "medium is the message", is the three-dimensionality of the actual equipment, its housing, its shape or its objecthood as sculpture.

What identifies his work is his choice of the instrument to transmit these ideas. The television set becomes an integral part of the interior, another piece of furniture in the domestic sense. "Love Seat" is his sardonic and sadistic sofa converted into an electric chair. That he intends to strap the viewer into this contraption questions the relationship between the TV and the user (addict)/ audience. In this as in all of his work you can sense the physical presence whether real or implied of a television set. This connotes a space or non-space that explores the movement inherent of this distance that leads to what Brian refers to as the paradox of motionless movement or static mobility.

One of his few works to exclude an actual television set, "Take a moment for yourself (Saddle Arm)" deals with static mobility as an interactive sound sculpture. An upholstered couch arm constructed as a seesaw horse, riders who mount this oversized teeter-totter can hear the growling sounds of thumping noises, of tires running over road reflectors at high speed. Try as you may to buck back and forth, no distance is actually traversed. It is an illusion of time to convey nonexistent travel as with television.

Brian extends this concept further in his installation "FLT 346 with option to pause." A television is lodged in a ceiling like a balloon escaped from a little kid's hand, becoming a fleeting childhood memory. The image played on this set is of the sky in motion, as seen from an airplane window. Clouds pass by in an endless loop as the viewer, uncomfortably ensconced in a slanted armchair, hear the constant drone of jet engines. It is a scene of travel, but without context, neither here nor there, his non-space. The viewer can use an upholstered remote control altered to either play or pause the video. This is an effort to push the distance between the TV and the remote, to accentuate the sense of connectedness the user experiences utilizing the remote through limited options.

Robert Smithson believed that history is a facsimile of events held together by flimsy biographical information. Brian Doyle incorporates this concept into his art to include television culture. In "Raise", an installation with white vinyled rope stanchions and two televisions suspended from the ceiling, the artist continues to allude to the non-space of the public arena. A looped videotape shows the artist seated on a raised platform raising (seig heiling?) his right arm to gain attention. The audio plays the "back from commercial break" guitar riff intermittently that suggests the artist is located in the audience of the Jenny Jones Show. Here, the television set and its transmitted images become inverted to reflect the willing fascism of popular culture, the omnipresence of television and its pervasiveness in our private lives even in public spheres. It encourages you to tune in and watch as the morality plays of a contemporary nature rule the airwaves in the postmodern forms of Jerry Springer, Rikki Lake, and Jenny Jones. Everywhere you go, it is impossible not to see its power. TV is Go(o)d as his elevated monitors that abound in this open public space can attest.

So is it wrong to worship at the altar of television? Brian thinks not, counselor. Forget your NPR liberal whining about the wasteland of television. Learn the new language being communicated by the Madison Avenue-coveted target audience range of eighteen to twenty-eight years old that rejects this dystopian model of a culturally dysfunctional society.

The humorous edge to the message of his medium provokes us to rethink outside of populist terms the role of what television can mean in our society. It is too easy to blame the mass culture of TV for the loss of High Culture. The modern world, our contemporary milieu changes and adapts to the new technology constantly. Brian Doyle is part of this brave new world that embraces the vox populi within the institution of television.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Postscript for a many-splendored thing

1. go to the corner
2. face the wall
3. kneel down
4. straighten your back
5. grab your earlobes
6. raise your elbows
7. hold still

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

A pugilistic response

Even Joyce Carol Oates agrees. A cartoon anvil the size of Palookaville weighs heavily when pummelled against unbrined tissue. So is that Vesuvius or Sinai?

The Marquis of Queensbury rules every three minutes still while kidneys jaundice and rabbits punch. But the sweet science never defies cranial logic. Just ask any great white hope (not Bob) about the nutritional value or lack thereof per cauliflowered ears. Next time feign a right and work the body.

Monday, June 03, 2002

On the importance of being Oscar Gamble

First comes cotton, a Bozoed afro, not to Harlem but the Bronx Zoo. Thirty one times the blind man with a pistol shoots his bouffanted, clenched fist thrust upward and outward. So black is beautiful but power below the belt infatuates. Picture an unpulped Jules (the Southside hitman), recodified and twice removed resurrecting Shaft as neofunkified Victor Mature isometrically parting steeled pillars.

Next follows the crouch, his Answer to the question of who the man be, helmet flopping off defiantly five- inched unaerodynamic coif. No watermelon man for the rightfield stands, only Geoffrey Cambridge bedecked as Coffin Ed jiving Clyde the Glide and Raymond St. Jacque nee Grave Digger Jones.

Always remember if inside, yank it; if outside, spank it; if down the middle, crank it. And get Christy Love because the downtown hardwood strutters still vex how Chocolate Thunder brought down World Be Free.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

The Joy of Abstract (House) Painting

Life imitates art and vice versa aptly describes the polychromatic palette freshly rollered throughout. Pure, uninterrupted color flowing from one room to the next. Why use gessoed canvas when empty walls suffice. Spreading pigment albeit commercial grade acrylic latex reincarnates Romantic notions and Neoexpressionistic passions, turpenoid notwithstanding. Just ask Ellsworth Kelly if painting is antediluvian, rather than dead as contemporary art dictates. Gaylen Gerber certainly made a decent living so far following this strategy.

But a multi-hued house eschews popular notions of interior aesthetics as work of art to assume the white cube itself. The venue metamorphosizes from a exhibit space to a place of exhibitionism. Thus art becomes wedded to decorating within a Duchampian context. Such is the postmodern offspring of Architectural Digest meets Frieze.

And that poor restless soul Mondrian (whose Neoplasticist self propagated how all aspects of design to be a part of daily life and limited to a basic grid structure of horizontal and vertical lines with areas of primary colors to achieve a dynamic balance) just rolled over in his Modernist grave.

Later today the importance of being Oscar Gamble.

Friday, May 31, 2002

On Sex, Art and the City, or Araki, Kusama and their Tokyo Decadence

"Trust me. I won't hurt you, have trust in me," he coos into her frightened ear. Willingly bound spread-eagled to a chair designed for deviant sexual acts, an unclad, nearly naked, young Asian Audrey Hepburn lookalike named Ai stares bewildered even before the opening credits roll. Her pale yellow nudity only punctuates her bare vulnerable limbs helplessly subject to the prurient whims of her customer. She is a prostitute who specializes in catering to the idiosyncratic, often sadomasochistic predilections of the horny Japanese male. Her clientele includes the rich and powerful, a corrupt assortment that ranges from gangsters to corporate executives.

Her john, an unctuous sort, looms over Ai like a circling vulture. Garbed in fashionable yet casual attire that bespeaks of no good, he wears the tailored open-patterned, open-collared silk shirts tucked into loosely pleated pressed slacks favored by the Yakuza. When she protests his attempts to gag and blindfold her, he exhorts Ai to relax, spouting eccentric fascistic pseudopolitical doctrine in praising her innocent sense of comeliness as ultra-male chauvinism, "Someone as pure and courageous as you…is the only hope for this rotten Japan. I worship you. Sluts who screw around during college…and then end up marrying doctors and bureaucrats…I call those sluts whores. You're great, do you understand?" She succumbs to his entreaties only to be betrayed as the trick injects a syringed needle of a clear liquid substance into her exposed thigh. A close-up of her drug-induced torture reveals a blank submission as Ai comes to understand the bleariness of her fate.

And so begins the Ryu Murakami 1991 film Tokyo Decadence, a searing, disturbing, and extremely graphic indictment of the twin hypocrisies of excessive materialism and sexual puritanism, which combine to create an exploited underclass of sex merchants forced to feed the perversions of their powerful tormentors. This sexually explicit, challenging, sentiment-free portrait of a high-priced Tokyo call-girl resembles a documentary-like parade of savage sadism allowing us to journey through the smutty sex underground of the titular city, witnessing and experiencing sexual degradation, confusion, and despair. As Ai's world of drugs and prostitution grows darker, she begins a desperate search for a way out, including a futile attempt to win the affections of one of her more civil clients before eventually losing her sense of self, literally and finally her mind.

Such is the allegorical message of depraved turpitude that infects what was believed by the director as the strength of a morally upright Japan immune to the dangers of sex, drugs and the criminal underworld.

But what does this cautionary tale reflect of its endemic culture and sexual mores? Does the director Murakami advocate the tradition of sexual objectification and subjugation of women as borderline pornographic figures in order to propagate it? And more specifically, how does he perceive the role of the Japanese female in said society? A long tradition exists within Japan of its complex attitude towards sex and eroticism despite what most Westerners misperceive as meek asexual Asian manhood and his overeroticized woman as femme fatale. The notorious pleasure quarters operating to satisfy male hormonal needs even today date back to its early feudal history as a specific culture of the geisha is developed and ritualized to provide entertaining and lighthearted company for men. These women behave as second-class citizens subservient to the patriarchal demands of its societal proprieties and merely function to reinforce and maintain this status quo. In fact, films such as Double Suicide, Utamaro and his Five Women, Enjo, and even Genroku Chushingura often reference these geisha houses as socially sanctioned sites of phallocentric lust. Such places are similar to the saloon of cowboy lore except that by Western standards these are judged as sinful houses of ill-repute in violation of moral and legal jurisprudence unlike their Japanese counterparts. Consequently, a type of masculine superiority complex runs rampant as the rule rather than the exception. What is inferred from the subtext of Tokyo Decadence centers on a contemporized, but very cynical view of geisha tradition.

In Utamaro and his Five Women, for instance, the director Kenji Mizoguchi creates a thinly veiled portrait of the famous painter Utamaro glorifying the Yoshiwada district famous for its pleasure quarters and how the courtesans who became his models manipulated their henpecked circle of men who formed his coterie. His sympathetic portrayals of the five women announce his views toward a broader feminism somewhat going against the grain, in fleshing out each of the female characters to humanistic effect. A fuller picture develops to activate the relationships between the artist, his disciples and the women involved when questions of artistic improprieties clash with governmental codes of patriotic conduct. However, in Tokyo Decadence, a microcosm of this Mizoguchi pro-Japanese, pro-feminist model is subverted by Murakami to address his disgust of the innocent (in his view) woman child being victimized by the evil inherent of predatory capitalism. The physical pain Murakami ostensibly inflicts upon Ai then becomes metaphorical of the resultant suffering the modern Japanese woman endures. Forced to wiggle her thonged ass until she climaxes in front of an uncurtained skyscraper window pretending to be a "despicable horny businesswoman", a humiliated Ai admits to another client that "I've discovered that I have no talent whatsoever". To which, he retorts, "After forty years, I've discovered that I'm basically a horny bastard." How misogynistically appropriate, it seems.

Only later in the film when Ai escapes the strangling hands of a necrophiliac who insists he can only make love in the projected image of Mt. Fuji if she plays "dead" does she regain some margin of control. This is apparent as a subtle reversal of roles occurs with Ai in the hands of a dominatrix named Saki who "shows her the ropes" if you will. Through example she lashes her badly toupeed whimpering male love slave "Turtle Face" with a cat-o'-nine-tails for disobeying her orders to drink the urine that Ai pees into a silver dog bowl.

Yet the director Murakami who also doubles as the author of this story, seems to imply that the internal factors dictating how women are treated and regarded in Japanese society can also be attributed to decidedly abstract and externally concrete forces.

Often the comparison between the raw energy that life in the streets exude equates a popular notion of unfettered sexual urges. All bets are off with those unfortunate to pound the pavement or what Hollywood termed the "asphalt jungle". The city as object of desire is transformed into the city as place where the forces of desire are set free. (Diana Agrest, The Return of the Repressed: Nature in The Sex of Architecture) The photographer Nobuyoshi Araki echoes this sentiment, espousing that "without obscenity, our cities are dreary places and life is bleak."

Such primitivism houses much material for both Araki and Murakami to erect their respective arguments. Each employ, even exploit, this metaphor of architecture as city to be distinct elements within their oeuvre that become symbols of patriarchy emphasizing the dominance of Western cultural imperialism.

For Murakami, though, the skyscraper becomes the political and ideological conditions, which engender specific architectural responses to understand both "the cultural conditions in which buildings are produced and...the relationships of the power that structure the physical environment and produce the socio-psychological (sexual) conditions in which the lives of men and women are lived". (Ghislaine Hermanuz, Housing for a Postmodern World: Reply to Alice T. Friedman) That bubble economy Tokyo in the 1980's experienced a real estate boom resurrects visions of former imperial grandeur for Murakami; he overlaps scenes of exterior and interior geometric urban sprawl symbolizing the price of modern civilization to coopt the milieu associated with the Wall Street-inspired animalism. This zeitgeist, he feels, is responsible for a greedier brand of Japan business superiority, a Samurai ethic that transposed a warrior mentality into achieving military-like corporate efficiency as substitute for an emasculated historically warring nation. It fuels the competitive killer instinct intrinsic of male testosterone that simply stokes runaway sexual drive as those who feel the rush of power and life from the fast money in the very fast lane. Combine these factors and what ensues is a recipe for unabated carnivorous sexual appetites in need of instant and constant relief. Perhaps it is these circumstances that impel Murakami to portray the bankruptcy of these kinds of aberrant sexual behaviors.

Unlike Murakami, though, Nobuyoshi Araki physically interacts with the space of the city. Night after night during the height of the giddy 1980's megasuccess of "Japan, Inc." to coincide with the full bloom of the Tokyo sex industry, this photographer visited the city's adult entertainment centers for shooting, particularly Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku. For him, what these places offered was the opportunity for reportage of contemporary urban morals: it became the central locale, a zoo for variety of sexual creatures. However, Araki is always "aware of the fiction inherent in the supposed "objectivity" of standard documentary photographs: as long as subjects are aware that they are being photographed, they are not being photographed in their natural state." (Akihito Yasumi, The Photographer between a Man and a Woman, Tokyo Lucky Hole, Taschen)

Like Murakami, at least Nobuyoshi Araki has the good sense not to disguise his subjects or his subjectivity about women and his sexual desire. His photographs are gritty black and white pictures of the Japanese sex industry, which Araki transforms from base and vulgar images of prostitutes into portraits that become a historical record of a specific time of 1980's excess and hedonism. His camera displays a common respect for these women and their profession that he seemingly glorifies. No doubt, what is shown can be perceived as pornography, but without the anticipated exoticification and eroticization of women that the viewer can expect. Much like early Nan Goldin, he captures in his subject matter a carefree comfortable snapshot quality of private (nee sexual) moments made public. And like Jack Pierson, he portrays these scenes not as dirty but as matter-of-fact. That Araki includes himself as part of these photographs adds an interior dialogue about the lifestyle he documents. It skewers the polite stereotype of modern Asian society as robotic and sexless. The viewer sees an interaction between the photographer and what he photographs without the loose condescension that can be incriminating. Therefore the city became his personal playground to express a genuine surprise at the strangeness of the encountered sexual scenes from a delicate distance.

If Araki captured the inner city grittiness of sexual profit and commerciality then Murakami appears intent on drawing comparisons with the Meiji Restoration and modern Tokyo hypercapitalism. Is Japanese society a slave to the rampant Western Pop culture that unduly permeates its sense of tradition and history? And how does this effect its identity? Is Murakami overstating the quotidian argument of spiritual purity of his Japan being corrupted by outside powers? The answer to these questions interestingly enough may lie in a subsequent scene early in the film when Ai consults a fortuneteller to enlist the gods for her salvation. In a truly wicked satirical instance of brilliant casting, Murakami resurrects the legendary self-committed and forgotten artist Yayoi Kusama to portray this dowdy, dithering relic whom stares through a magnifying glass to prognosticate Ai's future. Wistfully, cryptically and prophetically, fortuneteller Kusama stammers a recap of her own life as a warning-in-kind to Ai, imploring, "Your wish requires you to follow three rules. First, place a telephone book under your TV. Second, don't go to an art museum in the west. There's a thick mist in that direction...and a woman alone will be lost in it forever. And thirdly, find a pink stone...make a ring out of it...and wear it on your middle finger. You follow these three rules and God says that you'll be happy."

The unexpected cameo appearance of Yayoi Kusama signifies how the director intends a cultural and art-historical connection to his theme of sexual obsession. It is as if Murakami is saying "my Japan requires a spiritual cleansing." And who better to convey his message than someone considered a victim of the corrupt West? Kusama perverted prevailing niceties of the art world throughout the sixties and seventies with "her relentless use of the phallus, which can be interpreted as a defiance of the oppressive male power by symbolic appropriation (that) arose in part from her deeply-rooted anger against the rigid conventions of Japanese patriarchy and social conformism. Kusama's psychosexual aggression evolved as stubborn protest against the restrictive social, economic and political environment of prewar and wartime Japan. Accompanied by sensations of anxiety, displacement, and isolation, her obsessive-compulsive state was driven by a fixed image of the phallus and a need to control its threatening proliferation through the act of giving it form." (Alexandra Munroe, Revolt of the Flesh, Chapter 9, Scream Against the Sky, P.197 Harry Abrams) Her story acts as the real-life story within the larger fictional story.

But is the film a conflated Japanese biopic version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with Ai as Holly Golightly as Kusama herself? Certainly Ai is seen shopping at Tiffany's to buy an extravagantly expensive pink opal to don for the proscribed and aforementioned promise of good fortune. So what is Murakami hoping to achieve in his remake? Is it supposed to be a homage or scathing parody? In doing one or the other or both, Murakami seeks to ask who is to blame for this present state of affairs. Does he fault Japan or America? Or both?

Watching Tokyo Decadence informs us about the preoccupation within a cramped geography the Japanese obsess over things sexual. It is a part of their collective self that sometimes can be over-the-edge. But it should surprise no one that the complicated issues concerning how the ancillary topics about their attitudes towards sex definitely affect how Japanese men tenuously relate to Japanese women on these terms. In the end, Murakami questions whether women "really have come a long way, baby" even amidst his definition of this libertine excessivism.