Thursday, June 30, 2005
It's amazing how quickly films move away to be "history" and not "film". I have just seen, after a few years, Krzysztof Kieślowski's Short Film About Killing (1988, Polish title: Krótki film o zabijaniu). And I hesitated before writing about it. I mean - how new can a 1988 film be? Then I realized a huge chunk of what I put here could be considered old (goes as far as the beginning of the 20th century!), though to me it is quite contemporary (or participates in contemporary culture).
But feature films participate in the showbiz culture, which has an awful influence on their longevity. Of course, the cinema elites (italics are meant to suggest irony) go back to old films. But why shouldn't old films participate in the artistic culture the same way paintings and music pieces do?
Kieślowski's film is haunting. It is exactly what it announces: a film about killing. About how humans kill other humans. It follows the case of a murder, followed by the (capital) punishment. Story-wise we don't get much more: a few secondary characters, a few coincidences, apparently insignificant situations. What else do you need? Killing is not about reasons, is it? Not about the rational ones that "explain", as in a Agatha Christie novel. It is about something strange that happens, that convinces the killer that through annihilation he creates. But this, of course, is my reading. Kieślowski does not allow himself to go that far: he merely exposes, in such a way that upon leaving the cinema huge arguments arise about what is evil and what isn't, about innocence and cruelty, about all these things we might have once thought were important issues to deal with, in art, in life.
All this is filmed in yellowish tones, with a horrible-quality film tape, which intensifies the desperately grey tones of Warsaw in the 80's. Having lived there as a child during this period, I can only confirm this. Even the bad quality of the tape seems to belong to that era, like a proof that this really existed.
It is a heavy film. Extremely European, far from the Hollywood speed or dynamics. At times, its weight is simply unbearable. There are moments which seem incredibly naive, clearly "written out" and not really integrated with the flow of the film. But Kieślowski was a thinker: he thought out through his films. And he thought well. Maybe that's why he ends up convincing - he was trustworthy, not through the way he answered, but through the way he asked questions.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
That's why performance art is invariably so lousy - it spits in the face of honest human reaction, all those trust fund frauds locking themselves in a bathroom and claiming it is in solidarity with actual prisoners who don't have Guggenheim fellowships.The artist, obviously, defends himself as best he can. It simply isn't enough.
I believe this particular artist to be of fairly poor artistic merit. He seems unconscious of the history of jumps in performance art, as well as unconscious of how delicate a matter he is entering by referring to 9/11. What's more, he acts with very little sensibility to the issues he's addressing: and when you're an artist, that's a cardinal sin.
On the other hand, it shows how fragile the U.S. still appears, how traumatized, to the extent of censoring anything that comes close to Ground Zero.
What would you regard as a central issue in your recent texts?
How should I know, and if I knew why should I tell you?
If you reject this idea of a central issue, could you mention some of the interests you pursue in your writing?
This was the part of the interview I was interested in. But what comes later some might find creepily prophetic:
Your plays have been performed in East and West Germany [the interview takes place in 1984], in the United States, and in many other countries. You partipated in many of these production and recently have directed your plays in both Germanies. (...)All quotes come from an interview that first appeared in H.Müller, Hamlet Machine and Other Texts for the Stage (New York, 1984)
a) Where is the theatre, in your opinion, a more efficient instrument of social impact?
b) Where would you prefer to direct, and to watch, your plays on stage?
a) In the East. b) I would like to stage MACBETH on top of the World Trade Center for an audience in helicopters.
Terms like 'Despair,' 'Pessimism,' 'Guilt' are often used by critics writing about your work. DO you think these are adequate definitions of your intentions and/or values?
Three times No.
People familiar with your recent texts often complain about a total lack of hope in your writing. What is your opinion?
I am neither a dope- nor a hope-dealer.
Would you care to comment on your views about the future of our world which you paint so darkly in your work?
The future of the world is not my future. 'Show me a mousehole and I'll fuck the world.' (Railworker at the soft-coal strip mine Klettwitz, GDR.)
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Monday, June 27, 2005
Brick of Coke is part of the Experience the Experience project by Monochrom (from the site: monochrom is an art-technology-philosophy group of basket weaving enthusiasts and theory do-it-yourselfers having its seat in Vienna and Zeta Draconis). It consisted of creating a brick of Coke (yes, the drink) and then, well, experiencing it.
It is/was a performance/installation/conference/weird thing happening in an artsy context. You can see it all step by step here. Of course, it is social criticism. Of course, it's moralizing and trying to be subtle while you're at it. And come on, give me a break. But then again - they did end up with a brick. And a brick is a serious thing.
Those people at Monochrom are kind of crazy. They know their concepts, but they just seem to like to go out of control - and then provide a pretty, entirely controllable certificate to prove it. While at the same time inserting themselves back into the formal confines of the art world.
Nice touch. A little sticky, and smells of burnt candy, but hey, nothing we can't handle.
Then, of course, comes the question Sean Bonner asked: "what do you do with a 3 and a half pound brick of coke after you are done showing it off?" Try to stick a miniature shark in it and sell it to a rich man?
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Feedtank is a collective of artists using technology to create interactive, playful spectacles. Their inventions have all to do with movement and image, and more precisely, with creating through the interaction with an image.
The three works they have been promoting are: Dance Floor Moves, a projected interactive dance floor, Full Body Games, computer games combining virtual with physical space and movement, and TransPose, a digital musical instrument that allows the musician to create music by moving around.
What I like about Feedtank is that they manage to keep a fun, clearly entertaining spirit in the diverse areas they work in. At the same time, the work could go beyond the "fun". So far, Discovery Channel included them in an episode about gadgets. Now that they can certainly make a living out of it, I'm expecting something more.
Kollabor8 is a project/site where artists from all over the world (that means you) can co-create a picture. Each picture is rearranged by the following artist, until - another artist decides to move in. Often, though not always, I get the impression the first one is the best, maybe because it has the guts and strong, clean expression of someone determined to do a certain thing, while the changes often bring about confusion, haze, and it might take a while for the dust to settle down. Then again, sometimes it does, and then we can really enjoy the new landscape. Or change it completely, of course.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005
This is where the post was supposed to end. Instead, through the links on Keiser's blog I discovered his other projects, and among them, a painting of fighter planes commissioned by the Naval Institute (US Navy?). And that got me mad. It reminded me of Top Gun, the Hollywood commercial for the army, and the very innocent-looking but no less present apology of the (US) military spirit. "Our brave boys." Art propaganda is propaganda. I went back to the painting-a-day and it seemed false. Cheating. Fake innocence.
Of course, Keiser doesn't say anything about the war in Iraq, the US foreign policy, or even his own political stance. He simply made a painting, and if it was an apology, it was an apology of an important instution, one that many, many people find not only useful, but crucial to maintaining stability in the world.
The problem is, I couldn't help myself. The candy-like picture was just so distant from the classic-looking daily paintings. In all its photographic naturalism it was...fake. Then I
remembered all the great (or good, or somewhat interesting) artists that have at a given point defended wrong positions, bad revolutions, morally dubious ideas, adding clear, happy, vibrant colors wherever it was necessary. Mayakovsky, Shostakovich, but also Sartre (all three at one point defending stalinism), without mentioning Leni Riefenstahl or Heidegger (both idealizing the nazi) or other stories of the sort. Today the world seems more complicated, the "sides" are less obvious (though the lack of distance blurs the image), but still, we have Oliver Stone (a Fidel Castro admirer) and several others. And we have artists who defend war, who justify (what I consider to be) injustice and who speak out in a way I don't agree with on many other issues. Does that disqualify them as artists? Never? Always? To what extent?
(...) In an Institute of Permanent Creation, we might work on "gap-filling" games, and new ways of communicating on the individual, group, and international levels.Robert Filliou
We might develop anti-brainwashing devices. Or anti-erosion programs. Toward that end, we might make a study of people with a gift for living, in any walk of life. We might map pit new areas of communication (...). We might investigate other gaps.
SEXUAL GAP: no need to elaborate. The sexual revolution must go on.
MIND GAP: it seems that the human brain is too slow to grasp the universe, or everything happens in the world at the same time, for that matter; or too gfast to stick to one particular practical problem: it spills over, then, and bad thought drives out the good. (...)
We might develop tools of self-awareness (...). And ways and means to put all these tools into practise (performances, toys, games, events, happenings, etc....). I need not elaborate, because in my mind all these things must be studied by the students and the artist. It is essential. (...) Think of what other artists like Cage, Brecht, etc.... might bring up, I mean man, just imagine what the students could get out of direct concrete contacts with such people, and these with such students. (...)
The artist should not try to influence anyone. (...) For remember, Allan, bulls die, and bullfighters too, eventually, but bull fighting is eternal. L[e] rêve des hommes fait [l']événement.
Robert Filliou, 7 Childlike Uses of Warlike Material (1970)
Among the Fluxus artists were some of today's most renowned names.
What happened to Fluxus? This.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
The Bridge, by Mogens Jacobsen, is for all you architecture freaks and color freaks out there (you know who you are).
The idea is so simple: limit the screen to a band, then copy the top and bottom line of the band until they fill the screen.
Another proof that avant-garde can do fine without cutting-edge technology.
ps: There is also a flash animation showing the "evolution" of the work. Notice how the fact of seeing it change through time makes us want to instinctively give it a sense, a meaning...
pps: Of course I added a pixel.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
1) Art that is directly playing with politics is still difficult to cope with. It seems vulgar, it seems to enter in a dialogue with people who don't deserve it (I don't only mean this or that politician: Clean Hands is a reference to an anti-mafia group of the same name).
That's my first, largely intuitive, impression. Then I realize this attitude of mine might still be a modernist left-over, and on a conscious level I would probably associate it with a defensive artistic attitude of hiding away into the abstract, the "purely artistic", i.e., whatever is not directly related to current events and problems. In that sense, maybe I would instinctively opt for art that doesn't deal with time that is as raw as the time of everyday news.
Surprizingly, I would say we allow some forms of art to enter the political (and generally social, current, raw-timed) sphere more than others - films related to politics or social issues are okay, plays require some level of abstraction, while sculptures tend to stay far from the "raw world", paintings - as well; but photographs, on the other hand, integrate the current/ political with not problem, same as literature. The "finer" the art, the more resistance to reality? It almost seems as if the political game Monti plays were an intrusion (?).
Compare Clean Hands with Beuys' Fat Chair.
Without attempting to compare the quality of the two works, I can still say Beuys' work is a relief. It moves away from the immediate into a zone of phantasy and subtle allusion.
(Curiously enough, the dadaists, who were very openly political in their endeavors, ended up by being associated with random poetry and the search for the unreal (surreal, we would anachronically say today)).
2) Being Polish, I could never make a bar of soap from human fat. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I don't think so. A huge part of our school lectures have to do with war. We learn about the Nazi experiments with creating soap from human fat both in history lessons and Polish literature, on several occasions. Most of us (including myself) have visited Auschwitz, etc., etc. A Polish person could maybe (maybe) have created something similar to Beuys' work (1964), "sublimating" the trauma of war (for a modern "sublimation" of the war experience, check out the Georgian/German newimages blog). The case of Gianni Monti's work is quite different: it is creating the object itself. It is changing its significance to a playful-ironic-political one.
What's ironic is that the two works I mentioned were created by a German and an Italian, both apparently able to overcome the weight of direct war associations of war. The Poles were the war's victims - and after all these years, the 27-year-old author of these words still discovers it influencing how he thinks and creates.
ps: if anyone is still interested in the tired discussion about "is it art", or feels like being appalled, I've addressed that in my comments at this site.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Abbas Kiarostami became famous with the film A Taste of Cherry (1997), then confirmed his class in Ten (2002), a powerful film created with a near-unparalleled technical economy.
In Five, Kiarostami seems to go further than ever before. The subtitle says it all: Five long takes. Five takes*. Long takes. Of water, and a few other elements. We have the beach, the dock, the shoreline and the pond. We have nature. We have a person from time to time (though the people are no more important than dogs, ducks or a piece of wood). We don't have much more. For 74 minutes.
In the first of the five takes, we might still think a minimalist story will be sketched. Indeed, something happens. A piece of wood gets... well, something happens, I wouldn't like to reveal the fragile plot (attention: many reviews do reveal it!) , as the discovery is part of the pleasure. If you take pleasure in slow discoveries. And dubious ones, since the further on, the less story-like it all is. Time seems to stop, literally, and we are left to choose between pure contemplation and total desperation.
The question of time brings me to my main impression: there is still a huge distance between a gallery work and a film meant for cinema. One of the participants of the Serpa seminar, the greatly underestimated Victor Erice, who (as I've been told by some other participants) has been working with Kiarostami, revealed an apparently little-known fact (almost none of the reviews mentions it and the organizers didn't seem to know it): the film was actually first made for a gallery space. That changes everything, both relieving me and disappointing. Relieving, since in a gallery we may allow this sort of anti-rhythm, as we go in and out, put it in and out of a larger context. We can leave, or stick around to contemplate. In a cinema, the conventions are quite different: we are there on an unwritten pact with the director. We accept to stay, given he accepts to take our presence into account. Frankly, I don't think Kiarostami does that. The disappointement also comes from here: it is only and installation, and somehow it was later adopted as a feature film. I can imagine when the idea of turning the installation into a (cinema) film came up at some point, the director thought this would be an interesting experiment. Well, for me the experiment is a significant failure. Mainly, because the time this film creates is another type of time, one that does not care for beginnings and ends, while a film's beginning and end are a "simple" matter of fact. In that sense, even the slowest of films has a dynamic, one which I could not find here.
Of course, there have been comparisons made, and rightly so, between Five and Rauschenberg's white paintings, John Cage's 4'33, I might also add Yves Klein's exhibitions of void. In this sense one could say this cinematic avant-garde arrives as a late-comer in the world of art.
I would argue the matter is not that simple. The question is: what sort of experience can this kind of work provide. The specificity of a film has to do with the duration of its form. In the case of Five I felt trapped within a cinema framework. I wonder how it would be to see it on video, or on TV. The images aren't breathtaking, but they are contemplative. During the discussion after the film some participants suggested it does not allow one to stop watching, because at any moment something might happen and a great tension is present. I replied suggesting that, as I've noticed about 1/4 of the audience doze off, this would have to be a true revolution in the way we see cinema and the relation between the spectator and the film. Someone agreed (!) saying the dream-like character of the film is very close to actual dreaming.
I could imagine myself putting on Kiarostami's work at home, in loop mode, to watch it from time to time, or doze a bit, then go back to watching. Then again, I think I'd rather doze off on a beach.
Which is why I probably wouldn't go to a concert of 4'33 either.
Unless, of course, the interpreter were really good.
*Those aren't actually five takes: the fifth one is quite thoroughly edited and cut. Which adds some doubt to the question of "genuine" filming Kiarostami seemed to be defending.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Bruce Busby, Creativity Enhancement Shelter #BMCD702 (2002)
Note: circular door with reintroduction portholes
Nylon fabric, Aluminum poles, thermoplastic
10' diameter base, 10' high
RECOMMENDED USAGE: Fifteen minutes of splendid isolation inside a self-supporting Filter Tent
FUNCTION: The static action of the tent's lightweight fabric membrane activates reconfiguration solely through location airflow. Strategically placed intake vents increase airflow through the static action membranes. Coerced location airflow channels the transformed constructive particle formations by way of reintroduction chutes or mesh portals.
BENEFITS: Enhance creativity and build immunity to multi-faceted chaos and creativity limiting commerce driven negotiations. Protect against (1) energy and imagination draining CIEI including Oxydipostulatoxigen (MicroFictional Categorical Capacity), (2) visual distraction and elemental compromise (now scale), (3) conceptual criticism (functional validity is indisputable) (MacroFunctional Capacity). Combines the necessary influx of function with the urgency (currency) of Art. Portability encourages widespread installation.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Truly great art has the strange effect of making us, the spectators, feel intelligent.- António Damasio, director of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa, during the conference Brain, Body & Emotion. The conference was part of the 40th Festival of Music and Dance in Sintra (Portugal). 1000 people came to see the professor talk about the brain and emotions. The place was absolutely packed, people crowded in the entrance and nearly fought over the (free) tickets. The presentation was interesting, not too savvy, not too light. Any specialist who has spoken to a non-specialized audience knows how difficult it is to maintain the balance. Here, he even dared to make some inspiring interpretations of the artistic experience ("Art manages to make us stop, and focus"). A beautiful discovery for me was that aesthetic emotions are triggered by what Damasio calls emotionally competent stimuli, which is an expression I truly adore.
Monday, June 13, 2005
art and life converge in a system which keeps on expanding,
which I can put all my concerns into, where I can use everything
that I see. when I watch a documentary and I see how someone
drinks a coffee, puts on his coat and goes to work,
I begin to like that person.
- Urs Fischer (here's an interview with the artist)
Urs Fischer, Untitled (2000)
[The pictures have been taken in two different galleries, which explains the totally different shapes. The fruit seems to be changed regularly.]
Sunday, June 12, 2005
One Free Minute is a mobile sculpture [by Daniel Joliffe] designed to allow for instances of anonymous free speech. Callers to One Free Minute's cell phone are connected to an amplifier and have their speech projected in public space for exactly one minute. One Free Minute also houses a digital archive of calls made to its answering machine, which are played back randomly between live calls.
There are two ways to participate in One Free Minute:
>Call the archive number and leave a message for future performances: 614-441-9533
>Call live during a performance- see http://www.onefreeminute.net for the performance schedule.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Fortunately, a wind of change seems to be rising. One signal is the art of Greyworld, a group of four designers (artists? publicists?) who decided to declare war and make art that's close to people, interesting, enchanting, and thus - public, in the proper meaning of the word, that is, accessible to a (general) public. Their most recent work is called Bins and Benches, and
is a collection of intelligent street furniture which will move independently within the extensive public piazza in front of The Junction [Cambridge, UK]. In-built technology will allow these unique items to respond to the needs of the humans that share their habitat. This will include sympathetic responses to weather conditions.The benches will flock together at certain times of day, hide in shadow when the sun is burning, or under protection when it's raining. They to have people sit down on them, and so will try to attract the people e.g. at night gathering closer to the club zone, or forming geometric shapes to attract attention. The trash bins are more shy and solitary, they usually wander alone, though they like the benches and sometimes stick around them. (an extended description is here).
That's how it looks in written form. I am anxious to read a review.
Greyworld have several other very pretty public projects. You can find them on their site. It's also worth checking out the diversity of the projects proposed to the Junction's invitiation-only contest. I must say, though, that the Bins and Benches seem to have deserved the victory.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Lamaze is the breathing technique for pregnant women we have all seen in films and series (and some of us surely experienced). Lamaze is now also a musical instrument, that one puts on like... well, like a stomach of a pregnant woman, and pushes buttons like on an accordeon. The sounds are those of a breathing person.
The instrument as such is one thing, but I'll tell you another: I will never look at bagpipes quite the same way.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
In the 25 years since China abandoned rote communism and embraced the idea of encouraging private enterprise...Maybe because, in need of having "serious artists", it refers to a Wu Yu Ren as an "internationally recognized artist". I have never heard of him, so I Google-checked it. Now, this seems pretty cruel, but if Google doesn't know you, the world pretty much doesn't either. I'm sure Wu Yu Ren is an excellent artist, and now that the article is published he is internationally known, at the least. But that would be the sin of what is called a "self-realizing prophecy" on the part of the journalist.
Or maybe, because of the way performance art is portrayed in the article:
performance artists--members of the ultra avant-garde who specialize in shocking their audiencesMy point is that if this is an article for people who know nothing about performance art - I sincerely doubt it can do any good. Not only is the above statement false, it corresponds to a stereotype that is cerainly no more accurate in China any more than it is anywhere else in the world.
Then again, I did put the link. That's because it is rare to find anything about what the art world actually lives like around the world. If you want to get another, deeper picture of performance art in China, try this article. I found it after writing the above. Here is what I found:
Performance art is often seen as gratuitous violence, nudity, absurdity - a naked emperor who struts only to see who will first avert her eyes, obscuring the many playful, joyful and moving performances created by some of China's most outstanding artists. Here we look beyond the gore to a performance art that embraces life.
Monday, June 06, 2005
The Past is Behind. That is the title of this little drawing by L.A.-based artist Mel Kadel. I look at it carefuly. Something about it is quite disturbing. The past. The past is on the right side. You see, in Western culture we read time as we read text: from left to right. Our past is on the left, and our future - on the right. Well, here, the rules are different (as they should be on the real moon). Either time moves the other way, or, maybe, the girl is jumping, setting off, being blown away, and the past is whatever she dares to look at in the right-most position. But then probably this is the moon, and she is landing her jump, and when she falls she looks down, at the ground, not behind her. In any case, the past is absent. Not even a shadow to count it. This abstract landing is, of course, a dance, full of grace and asbent-minded, as only a dance can be. Did I say there was no shadow? I was wrong. There is one poignant shadow: on the face of the girl, as she is flying highest. So the sun is on the right. Behind.
There are many other drawings by Mel Kadel I really like. Here are some examples:
girl with bicycle wheel shoes #2
Some of her drawings remind me of Linda Zacks, others, of the great Lithuanian-Polish artist Stasys I have to write about some time. The latter might have a different technique, but there is just something about the way of seeing the world, the birds...
...that really makes me feel good.
Polish Easter, Mel Kadel
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Which artists do you like?
I like Francis Bacon best, because Francis Bacon has terrific problems, and he knows that he is not going to solve them, but he knows also that he can escape from day to day and stay alive, and he does that because his work gives him a kick. And also, Bacon is not self-indulgent. Some people will say, "What do you mean by that? He always paints the same picture." That's true - he always paints the same picture, because he is driven. But he is not self-indulgent. Never.
(...)what does modern art as such mean to you?
What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definite way of expressing yourself. This is why modern art will continue, because this condition remains; it is the modern human condition. (...) [Modern art] is about the hurt of not being able to express yourself properly, to express your intimate relations, your unconscious, to trust the world enough to express yourself directly in it. It is about trying to be sane in this situation, of being tentatively and temporarily sane by expressing yourself. (...) It is about the difficulty of being a self because one is neglected. Everywhere in the modern world there is neglect, the need to be recognized, which is not satisfied. Art is a way of recognizing oneself, which is why it will always be modern.
- Louise Bourgeois (interview with Donald Ksupit, 1988)
Saturday, June 04, 2005
These days one cannot cling to his own specialty. Improvisation is always the high card. The crucial moves will always be made with the left hand.- quoted from memory, my translation of a Portuguese translation of Walter Benjamin.
I'm not really sure if it was meant to be a critique or just a statement of a fact, but it made me think. Aren't the "post-avant-gardes" based on the principle of innovation? Isn't the idea of having to be new and different exactly the "left-handed trick" attitude?
So what we might be living is an art world of right-handed painters, sculptors, poets, writers, theater directors, that all create works with their left hand, because "that's the trick"?