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.