Ideas

Aesthetics

4/6/10

My Morning

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I awoke this morning from dreams about my mom as a destitute field worker, taking me around the dust bowl of a poor yet magical America. My alarm went off at 9:15 and I felt gross. My skin was oily and I could feel a zit by my right eye, which was crusted with sleep. A 212 phone number rang and I quickly composed myself and hopped out of bed, hoping the call was from my photo editor. Instead, it was a woman from Scottrade asking about my account transfer. I did not want to deal with that so I got off the line quickly, threw clothes on and headed outside to sit in my car to prevent a street-sweeping ticket.

The right side of the road was completely full. Usually it's completely empty from 9:30-11 on Tuesdays so that the gutters can be cleaned. There must've been a memo that I didn't get saying that cars wouldn't be policed today for some reason. At 9:45 the street sweeper drove by, accomplishing nothing. What a pointless city service. Why deploy the street sweeper and not the parking enforcement? I watched the trash collectors do their more valuable job before heading back inside.

I collapsed on my bed and contemplated giving in to my tiredness, but decided to stay up and possibly go to yoga at noon. I felt ambivalent about yoga because it's such a hassle, but wanted its benefits all the same. I ate a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, took some Sudafed and sat on the couch for an hour, watching the romantic comedy Someone Like You. At 11am I decided that I was wasting time and went to my computer to handle an email from my old professor George. He forwarded me a job opportunity, so I thanked him for it and then applied to the photo researcher position. That felt like an accomplishment. I then made up my mind to go to yoga, threw on my yoga outfit and left.

The song playing on my iPhone was The Decline by NoFX, one of the most epic songs ever made. This was my favorite band in 8th grade. They released this EP (1 song long) in 1999 or 2000, as my love for punk rock was fading. This was the final triumph of the genre. It is still a pleasure to hear.

I missed the Q train by seconds and wondered, where could I have recovered that time? If I had caught the walk signal on Livingston? If I left moments earlier instead considering an email sent by another old prof, Simone, to whom I debated responding? Regardless, the express train was gone so I decided to take the R to 8th street, which was closer to Yoga to the People. On the train, I decided to replay The Decline over and over between the 13:17 min point to the 14:53 min point. The song is 18:21 minutes long, but it's that section that really does it for me. The lyrics are about the decline of western civilization and gives me chills every time I listen to it, the way a great movie does at its climax. I decided to type up the lyrics from this section of the song, as they are incredibly poignant and moving.

After typing up the words on my notes app, I closed my eyes to enjoy the music and subsequently missed my stop. I mean, I never get off at 8th street, let alone take the R train, so I had no sense of things. I got off at Union Square at 11:50. It's best to be at least 15 minutes early for yoga, as it fills up fast. I considered walking from Union Square, but decided I'd definitely miss class that way. I considered going to the downtown 6 train to Astor place, but that seemed risky as well, since the 6 train was on the other side of the station. I crossed the platform and a downtown N express came. I considered abandoning yoga and salvaging this excursion by going to school and transferring some scanned files to my flash drive, which I brought with me for this exact circumstance, but I felt gross and didn't really want to go to school. I then decided that if another express train came before the local, I'd just go home. The Q showed up a minute later, at 11:53.



Lyrics from the section I typed up:

Save us!
The human existence is failing,
Resistance essential,
The future written off,
The odds are astronomically against us
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

4/1/10

3/27/10

Dream (killed repeatedly, the world explodes)

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feelings of chernobyl / eastern bloc / dull greys

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

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lots of events in which i am tortured
high speed chase down small-town road, being shot at

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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

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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
a lot like Terminator 2

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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
etc

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



3/23/10

3/18/10

3/16/10

Dream (Catatonic, with special powers)

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I'm laying in a meadow that's become a battlefield. I'm a peasant, and all of us peasants are running around, fleeing a mighty, evil army. I don't make it far. I don't recall being slain, but I end up on the ground, unable to move. Fellow peasants rush to me once the violence abates, and realize that I'm in a catatonic state.

As I try to talk, bubbles of foam form at my mouth. These bubbles become odd precious objects to the people. They grab each one as it forms and put it aside. Children eat them and find them to be joyous. I blink my eyes and a light goo emits from out of them. This is also collected.

Members of the evil army approach. They want to know what is up with the commotion. A leader peasant explains to them my curious situation, and the soldiers sit down and partake in the wonder.

Flashback: I'm in a castle, but the inside is designed like an uber-modern living room. A feast is being prepared. People watch TV and drink beer. I walk around aimlessly, unable to fit in socially and not hungry.

Then I'm walking the castle grounds. The light is very particular; I'm not sure what time it is. A Robin-Hood figure, a Tim-Robbins-type, meets me and takes me under his wing. He insists that I stay with him to be safe, though it feels like he's getting me into trouble. Sure enough, one or two bandits (that feel like V for Vendetta types), storm the castle in search of our hero. He rushes off and takes me with him. I'm carrying a bag that contains something of dire importance. I feel powerless, but amped.

We jump off of the side of the castle into a huge moat-like river. I fly through the air and dive into the river. Under water, I realize that I can breathe pretty easily. I begin to feel catatonic. I bear important artifacts on my person, and realize that the bandits (who now resemble Mr. Smith from the Matrix) are after them. I stay underwater and hide within a forest of coral. I am hiding, but capture seems imminent. I black out as they capture me.

On land, they stand over me. I try to speak and bubbles of foam fall out of my mouth.

3/10/10

Tino Sehgal - This Progress

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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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3/8/10

3/2/10

2/24/10

Look For It In The Funny Papers


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It’s been said that in fascist societies, or in ones that are heading speedily toward fascism, the best critical discourse you can find on the social and political hot buttons of the day will be in the funny papers, not the front page news. We’re in a moment like this today, I believe. Artists like Joe Sacco, Ari Folman, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi are offering some of the most humanizing and probing topical inquiries around, while “real” journalism is sounding as jingoistic as our warring policy-makers.

In 1963, Ernst Gombrich wrote that one of the strengths of the cartoon format is the "flash of pleasant insight" it can offer at having made the unfamiliar clear in an instant. But he also reminds that this flash is really the illusion of an explanation while really the analogy is rather incomplete." So to with political analysis in the mainstream news - though it's staged to inform, whenever a shorthand formula is applied to very nuanced and complex relationships, the semantic products become a minefield of abstractions and incomplete systems (never mind the hand of the advertisers and other stakeholders shaping the essential content). Back in the day of the British Empire, one of the most pervasive and popular tools of the Indian nationalist message in the early years of its crystallization was the newspaper cartoon. In particular, the cartoons from the satirical weekly The Hindi Punch from 1904 chronicled the popular debate on the changing imperial map and India’s stakes therein, while maintaining a safe distance, via seemingly innocuous humor, from the long arm of Britain’s surveillance and censorship. These cartoons lived and operated under the radar of serious social criticism, but carried with them a measure of reformist currency that only becomes clearer in historical retrospect.

“The Sentinel,” published in April 1904, disposed a subtle, abstruse symbolic treatment of Tibet and India’s conjoined relationship in the imperialist stance, but condensed and made instantaneously digestable the connections between imperialism abroad and imperialism at home. 1903-1904 was a crucial year’s turn on the British imperial stage - it witnessed the Younghusband ‘Expedition’ to Tibet, the third time India would bear the financial brunt of an expansionist British colonial project (Indian taxpayers had also funded incursions in Afghanistan and Burma earlier in the century). The cartoon was drawn in response to a recent public address by the British Viceroy on reviewing the last five years of his colonial administration; a type of State of the Union delivered from the executive seat of British India.

The Sentinel standing astride the geographic bounds of the British Empire is pictured here as an Indian sepoy. At attention with rifle resting on his back shoulder, the front hand is outstretched and disproportionately enlarged, detached in scale from the rest of the body, fingers hovering above and marking exactly in their span the east and west sides of the northern borders of India and Tibet. The disembodied, out-of-context hand signaled the discorporate and excessive forces of imperialism. The Sentinel is cast as a passive and virtual enabler of events, engendering very little in the way of direct action, but inflecting a certain tone on the reluctant role he plays in Anglo-Tibetan affairs. The message is intangible but still palpable; its language is equally bound up by the didacticism of cartoon shorthand, and the ambiguity and tenuousness of the analogy it seeks to make, but cannot quite spell out.

2/21/10

Diet as Lifestyle

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Stephan Colbert interviews John Durant of hunter-gatherer.com, who doesn't eat processed food or dairy, but does eat meat. What are humans meant to consume? It's an interesting question.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
John Durant
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

2/8/10

The Lost Coast

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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

Get thee to the Drawing Center

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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:

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