The human existence is failing,
Only moron and genius
Would fight a losing battle
Against the super ego
When giving in is so damn comforting
And so we go on with our lives
We know the truth but prefer lies
Lies are simple simple is bliss
Why go against tradition when we can
Admit defeat. Live in decline.
Be the victim of our own design
The status quo built on suspect
Why would anyone stick out their neck?
Fellow members of club "We've Got Ours"
I'd like to introduce you to our host
He's got his, and I've got mine
Meet the decline
living in a small house w many families
pretty girls, all with other boyfriends
i'm 15 years old or so
i kiss the girls; it's dangerous because their boyfriends and families are very mean
i have sex with a girl in the bathroom tub, door open, very risky
go upstairs, try to have sex with this other girl,
her father and brother find us
go crazy / spray my eyes with harsh cleaning product, blinding me, i run off, run away down the street
lots of events in which i am tortured
high speed chase down small-town road, being shot at
i'm running away with other derelicts / we steal and are dirty
we are chased by townspeople in pickup trucks
in one scene i am beaten to death by people with pitchforks and torches
lots of screaming
i am running away from a house of a family i have wronged
two hooligan brothers decide to run after me
i am barefoot
they can catch me, but instead set up a missile-launching device in a tree
it's a napalm bomb
i run across the street, asking them them for mercy
they follow, slowly giving up
a random bum gets hold of the missile-launcher/catapult and fires it
i am struck with an a-bomb and i completely disintegrate in slow motion
it's heavy and intense and i blow up in a huge fire of intense pain and heat
all of it starts to happen over again, with little changes of detail
i go to a 99 cent store looking for a lighter, barely escaping the blinding by the girl's families
suddenly the camera pans out an i pop through a television and i'm watching these horrific events as an innocuous viewer with my friends
it's like i'm editing it on a computer
we're watching it, hearing the screams, and i'm adding a score, toying with the pace
I finally made it to the Guggenheim on March 10, 2010: the final day of Tino Seghal’s takeover of the famous rotunda. I conceded to go alone, since my numerous attempts to schedule a social outing there had failed. My solo adventure became a profound one.
There are two parts to the exhibit. The more evident piece features a couple embraced in a slow-motion make-out session in the middle of the lobby floor. It immediately reminded me of his piece in the After Nature show at the New Museum (that institution’s best exhibition to date). In that previous work, a single female writhed around on the floor at the end of a stairwell, also in slow-motion, and with an oddly seductive quality that mesmerized me, perhaps because the woman I witnessed (and the subsequent woman I watched a second time) stared into my eyes... I will never know if that was instructed by the artist, or is it was a unique flirtatious encounter. Sehgal's work is frustrating like that.
This embrace between a young man and woman, called Kiss, was in fact choreographed by Sehgal, and mimicked quite closely four famous kisses from art history (Courbet, Rodin, Brancusi, Koons). This was told to me by acclaimed art critic Jerry Saltz, who I saw at the top of the rotunda, having taken the elevator up as I always do. By doing so, I inadvertently missed the second – and more significant – aspect of the show: an audience-activated piece called This Progress. Instead, I had created my own experience, which was that of punctuated loneliness.
Seeing two lovers permanently intertwined, as if they existed outside of time, is lovely. It hits me in the gut, being as I am a romantic, and feeling very vulnerable and susceptible to such gestures at the moment. I leaned over the edge of the museum’s short walls from perhaps ten or twenty different heights and angles, staring at the couple, and thinking passing thoughts, sometimes thinking nothing. I also observed the crowded rotunda, full of conversations, of people milling about. (Are this many people free on a Wednesday afternoon?) The bustling liveliness made me feel more aware of my solitude, and put me deeper in touch with dangerous ideas of despair.
As I paid closer attention to the throngs of amblers, something seemed amiss; most of these chats seemed fabricated. Not everyone talking seemed like natural friends. They seemed guided. Indeed, as I later discovered, these conversations were the bulk of Sehgal’s solo show. Sehgal’s army of regular folk - interpreters - was engaging the museum-goers in a predetermined conversation. This reminded me of the first piece of Tino Seghal’s I ever saw: Welcome to This Situation at Marian Goodman Gallery uptown, in which, upon entering a back room, one is met with a small group of twenty- or thirty-somethings who proceed to engage in a grad-school-type conversation about theory and history. Ultimately, if you stay long enough, they ask you what you think, thus creating an objectless (but not un-commodifiable) work of art.
After seeing Jerry Saltz on various levels of the museum, I decided to ask him what he thought of all of this. He loved it, primarily because it activated the space in a way that visual art cannot really accomplish. Like sculpture, Sehgal’s situations make one aware of the present moment, in space and time, and engage one as part of the artistic experience, instead of simply consuming it. This is roughly the idea behind the recent Relational Aesthetics movement, which was also given an unconventional exhibition at the Guggenheim about a year ago, called theanyspacewhatever. (It was far less impressive than Sehgal’s show. I left feeling very little.) Saltz insisted I experience the entirety of Sehgal’s vision. He must have doubted my will because he gave me $20 to make sure I devoted my time to returning to the bottom of the rotunda and starting up the ramp from the base. It is here, you see, that a child greets you and starts you on your journey to the top.
“Hi, my name is Ryan. This is a piece by Tino Sehgal. Will you come with me?” This is the greeting from one of many elementary-schoolers lined up at the beginning of the ramp. YES, I say, and the child takes me for a walk. He says, “Can I ask you a question? What is progress?” Moving forward, I say. He insists that I add to that toward something better, at which point he hands me off to a girl (age17-27), and tells her what I’ve said. She asks me what I'm progressing toward. I tell her that I want to capitalize my film and video art, to make a living doing what I love. She turns the conversation into one about film; we talk for about seven minutes about dissecting movies, Stanley Kubrick, all the filmmaker friends she knows, and my general goals in this field. Then another girl (age 25-35) interrupts us with a comment about something else. Her and I proceed up two more flights, talking about art, work and life. She then disappears and an elderly man greets me. He tells me a pretty long story about his daughter’s boyfriend, who is making a film financed by German and French money (called The Edge, to be released soon…). He goes on about how difficult the process has been for this man, but how he has persevered, and how his ultimate goal – to make a film – is nearly accomplished. He then tells me It’s been nice talking with you, this piece is called This Progress, and disappears.
I am left then in this interesting mental space; I feel inspired, encouraged, even a little loved and appreciated. It’s a lie. Sort of. I decide to do it again. This time, the conversation is less career- and goal-oriented, more love- and romance-oriented. I talk about break-ups in my life, about connections I’ve made with people, about the idea that perhaps sometimes you have to move backward to go forward. I try to reveal this fabrication with some of the participants: Do you use this line on everyone? Did somebody else tell you we talked about this or that? They didn’t waver. Why did the first old man tell me this story about filmmaking? “Clearly you’re a filmmaker! What else could you be?!” he says to me, after looking me up and down. Hmm.
I want to analyze the present moment, to ask the guides how they got into this position, what their days are like in this space, how odd it is to be having this seemingly organic conversation in such a rigorous, intentional way. Can I ask a girl for her phone number? Can I switch topics completely, or must they stay focused on this idea of progress? Is this progress, really??
Tino Sehgal seems to be a Richard Linklater fan. The experience of This Progress is much like the rambling, philosophical discussions had in Slackers, Waking Life and Before Sunrise/Sunset. Being personally engaged in these conversations does indeed bring it more to life, but doesn’t necessarily make it better. For instance, who is to say that this girl and I are to have a more interesting conversation than one penned by a writer for two actors to enliven? But clearly the substance of what is said matters less than the act of participating in a dialogue beyond the surface of small talk. As Jerry Saltz articulated, the space is activated in a way that visual arts simply cannot accomplish. Participation is important. In art? Maybe. In life? Definitely.
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The Lost Coast Trail, Northern California
It is almost the one year anniversary of my first and so far only trip to the mysteriously named Lost Coast of California inside the King Range National Conservation Area. Therefore, I thought I would share my experience as best as I can recall—mainly because, as you will see, it was quite impossible to keep a journal of our time on the trails and because it was such an amazing and intense experience it is just difficult to describe what happened.
File on the beach, early on the journey
What could be better than an engineer-turned-architect-turned-experimental composer? How about one that fought against the Axis of Evil and had his eye blown out by a tank?
Iannis Xenakis' show at the Drawing Center is quite simply off the hook. I suggest getting to it if you are going to be in New York between now and April and have a bit of time on your hands. While his drawings are the focus of the exhibition, the multimedia stations steal the show. In one booth, a computer program written by Xenakis simulates synesthesia by translating his 2-D structures into symphonic poems allowing the viewer/listener to "see" the music and "hear" the drawing. The effect was both striking and subtle, way more interesting than being comforted by the "stranger" after a long night cocktails and awkward conversation.
This video doesn't do it justice, but may give you an idea: