Literature

Pecha Kucha Night at CoCA, Seattle. Thursday 7pm

Just found out about this one and won’t be able to make it because I’ll be in San Jose covering West Coast Green. But you all should go! These are great…

Please join CoCA as we play host to Pecha Kucha Night. This month’s theme is "Trouble". You’ve got some, we got some – let’s share. We’ve
assembled an incredible roster of writers, visual artists, race car
drivers, actors and other creative luminaries. Share ideas, see great
work – we’d love to see you there!

(more…)

Wabi Sabi, Biogerontology and “The Book of Tea”

by Daniel Flahiff

“It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is
a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible
thing we know as life.”

- Kakuzo Okakura
The Book of Tea

via Whisky River

carriage house

In art school we called it Wabi Sabi, in reference to objects that are imperfect, decaying or in various states of entropy. Picture an old barn, a rusty shovel, or even a rock worn smooth by rushing water, but be sure to leave out the romanticism. Wabi Sabi embraces and celebrates decay, acknowledging it as an essential part of life. The movement of all matter in the universe from order to chaos, from organization to disorganization.

(more…)

On Ugliness by Umberto Eco

UglybettyJust read a great review of Eco’s "On Ugliness" in the Telegraph. I confess a weakness for Eco’s essays and fiction, but Brian Dillon pulls no punches in his attempt to put Eco into historical place. Worth the read, made me want ot read him again:

"By the Romantic period, the grotesque and the sublime were established as aesthetic categories, and the decadents of the late 19th century loved nothing more than a deathly consumptive countenance. In the wake of 20th-century avant-gardes, unadulterated beauty looks saccharine, immature or kitsch. We seduce only with our faults, wrote Baudrillard. Or as Johnny Rotten put it: there’s nothing so boring as a pretty face."

read the rest after the jump HERE

Doris Lessing’s ’07 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Dorislessing"The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative."

read the rest after the jump…via The Guardian

La Révolution du Jour: Art, Memory, Form and Peter Schjeldahl

Huang_yong_ping_const_site_2_2007

Form is how memory works.

Peter Schjeldahl dropped the above mini-aphorism on us about three-quarters of the way through his Oct. 8th, article in The New Yorker, "All Together Now" which covered the 2007 Istanbul Biennial, among other things. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking alot about memory too, mostly because I’ve recently gotten back in touch with some old friends who seem to have entirely memories of our childhood together and I’m not sure how this could be. After reading Schjeldal’s article, I thought I’d try to get some of these thoughts down on paper and see what kind of connections I could find.

Sarcastically, the first thing I thought after reading Schjeldal’s assertion was, whew! Now we don’t have to worry about the hippocampus, basal ganglia or all those pesky neural pathways in the limbic system. Forget those cumbersome classifications like working memory, phonological memory [whatever that is], visual/spacial memory, procedural, declarative, and semantic memory. Olfactory sensations? Emotions? Nope. Form is it.[yep, I know about these obscure things because I'm on meds that influence these systems and I have an obsession with knowing how I'm 'knowing', if you know what I mean...]

Guernica Well okay, obviously he didn’t meen it that way you’re thinking, but I’m not so sure. Schjeldahl made the statement, with no apparent irony, in support of a remark by curator Okwui Enwezor that "contemporary art spaces risk becoming ‘incubators of amnesia,’ devoid of historical recall." In this context we have to conclude that Schjeldahl would like to see art spaces–and by extension art works–that are ‘incubators of remembering,’ and ‘rife with historical recall.’ As if David’s The Death of Marat, or Picasso’s Guernica were viable models to aspire to. Too much? Maybe, but Schjeldahl’s statement certainly betrays a longing for a more engaged, even efficacious art. The notion is touching, nostalgic and powerful.

Lascaux After all, the history of the relationship between images and real things is one of continual distanciation; as EH Gombrich had it, "in primitive societies, the thing and its image were simply two different, that is, physically distinct, manifestations of the same energy or spirit. Hence, the supposed efficacy of images in propitiating and gaining control over powerful presences. Those powers, those presences were present in them."

In other words, the power to paint the bull was the power to kill the bull. In this sense, art did change the world, it gave man the ability [psychologically and therefore physically] to survive. It was as if we were literally in Plato’s Cave; the shadows and the reality behind the shadows were one and the same. Not entirely unlike some video games…

After_walker_evans_sherrie_levineToday, it’s a post-Postmodern, post-Simulacrum, post-Theory, post-[insert favorite enemy here] world, and art is made up of:

a vertigo of serial signs–shadowless, impossible to sublimate, immanent in their repetition–who can say where the reality of what they simulate resides? -J. Baudrillard

Art has evolved–like any other complex endeavor–mathematics, science, poetry–quite indifferenent to concerns outside itself, with its own lanquage, theories, factions, professionals, critics and fans.

And while it often takes everyday life as its subject, contemporary art does not address an everyday audience. When Sherrie Levine rephotographed Walker Evans work, did anyone outside the art world take notice, except to laugh, jeer or write dismissive articles in local newsletters? Which brings us again to the subject of language. Memory, history, politics and form are all of a piece, unified through language, naming and knowing. In other words, we’ve been hi-jacked once again by narrative.

RashomonNarrative, not form, is the stuff of memory. If the form we are talking about is visual, which one assumes given Schjeldahl’s profession and the subject of his article, then his use of the term is an obvious set-up, and a good one at that. For if form is how memory works, it begs the question, do the blind have no memory? How would the lack of this one sensation eliminate a major aspect of cognition?

It doesn’t, obviously, and Schjeldahl isn’t implying that it does. I think he is implying something entirely different: synesthesia, or the union of the senses. Can we smell red? Can a sound taste bitter? Or in this case, can one see history ['see, that is history!], or more precisely, can memory be seen ['that is what I saw!'...Rashomon anyone?] both questions which have at their core the classic aesthetic nut, ‘Can art change the world?’

Too big a jump? I don’t think so, given the context of Schjeldahl’s article. It’s implied by the guilt-ridden invocation of the idea that artists somehow have a responsibility to keep people from forgetting…about political and social injustice and atrocities one assumes.

But that is not how art changes the world.

Piss_christ_serranoEvery ‘outrageous’ or ‘blasphemous’ or ‘seditious’ work of art is always already dismissed by the general public–the audience it most likely intended to arouse [Serrano's Piss Christ anyone?]–and counted on in advance on by the ‘institution’–the very power it probably intended to denounce. Need evidence? The following list is in no particular order and is by no means complete: Constructivism, de Stijl, Bauhaus, Dada, La Révolution surréaliste, Situationists, The Personal as Political, Fluxus, Happennings, Futurism, Expressionism, Suprematism, and most of the art of the seventies…

Whether stated or implied, much of this art attempted to align itself with the la révolution  du jour. Of course, I’m just as guilty as the next. I’d like to believe that the practice I’ve given my life over to has some kind of importance beyond the limited influence of galleries and publications, friends and critics. I often play with these ideas in my work, developing projects that use the language of global aspiration and political ambition. The projects have been accused by some of signifying the inability of art to change the world. Conversely, they’ve been called flat-footed agit prop or propoganda; an ironic attempt to revive a 60′s, grass-roots ethos.

But that is not how art changes the world.

For_pr_copy

So now after all this, how does art change the world? I don’t really know, but I have a kind of working definition which is helping me in the studio and elsewhere. It goes something like:

  • It can let us know that we are not alone.
  • It can make us question assumtions we didn’t know we had.
  • It can show us things in a different way.
  • It can stimulate our imaginations
  • It can be absolutely useless, and in so doing, be invaluable
  • It can make the world a better place by the simple fact of its existance.

I’ve strayed far from the subject of memory, true. But I think this post makes a kind of sense, because just as we need to believe we are doing something worthwhile, we need also memory, for as Saul Bellow said:

Memories keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.

(to be continued…)

Joan Didion and “Alienation from Self”

Alienation_from_self "If we do not respect ourselves … we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Hellen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous…

It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something so small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — their lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home."

–Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

via the excellent Maud Newton

Waiting; Roland Barthes

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I am waiting for an arrival, a return, a promised sign. This can be futile, or immensely pathetic; in Erwartung (Waiting), a woman waits for her lover, at night, in the forest; I am waiting for no more than a telephone call, but the anxiety is the same. Everything is solemn; I have no sense of proportions.(…)
Waiting is enchantment: I have received orders not to move. Waiting for a telephone call is thereby woven out of tiny unavowable interdictions to infinity: I forbid myself to leave the room, to go to the toilet, even to telephone (to keep the line from being busy); I suffer torments if someone else telephones me (for the same reason); I madden myself by the thought that at a certain (imminent) hour I shall have to leave, thereby running the risk of missing the healing call, the return of the Mother. All these diversions which solicit me are so many wasted moments for waiting, so many impurities of anxiety. For the anxiety of waiting, in its pure state, requires that I be sitting in a chair within reach of the telephone, without doing anything.(…)

The being I am waiting for is not real. Like the mother’s breast for the infant, “I create and re-create it over and over, starting from my capacity to love, starting from my need for it”: the other comes here where I am waiting, here where I have already created him/her. And if the other does not come, I hallucinate the other: waiting is a delirium…. (more)

via the incomparable wood s lot

“I Write for Myself in Multiplicate…” Vladimir Nabokov

Vintageerotica ". . . as I have said often enough, I write for myself in multiplicate, a not unfamiliar phenomenon on the horizon of shimmering deserts." — Vladimir Nabokov

"Even though you think you know exactly who you are, it is very difficult to have real understanding of oneself. Your self-conception continually changes as you discover more and more about yourself. If you have complete understanding then even ideas of the wisdom of enlightenment or the status of detachment will be seen for what they are – tentative and delusive."
- Dogen
Shobogenzo

via Whiskey River

Nancy Davenport Awarded DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art Grant

Nancydavenport_workersleaving

This photograph made me immediately think of this email I found in my Inbox:

Les maçons désoeuvrés venaient par habitude tourner chaque jour autour des
chantiers. Les mains dans les poches, chaussés de lourds sabots, ils arrivaient
piane-piane…

[The unemployed masons had the habit of coming, each day, to hang around the
work yards. Hands in the pockets, wearing heavy wooden clogs, they slowly
arrived...]

–from "Mémoires de la Société d’agriculture, commerce, sciences et arts" by
Société d’agriculture, commerce, sciences et arts de la Marne

And big congrats to Nancy for getting this:

DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art is delighted to announce its very first production grant to New York based Canadian artist Nancy Davenport. The grant helps Nancy to complete a project titled Workers for the 2007 Istanbul Biennial. DHC/ART is committed to initiating and supporting the production of new work by Canadian artists in a variety of media through an annual commission or grant.

Workers is an ambitious media installation which laterally tackles the representation of labour and issues arising from globalisation by connecting Norwegian workers to their out-sourced Chinese counterparts in a seamless, multi-screen DVD environment. At the centre of this merged, moving frieze of animated portraits of both sets of workers is an image of a factory — itself subjected to digital enhancements where workers gather at the gates or rocket into outer space referencing film pioneers the Lumière brothers and
Georges Méliès.

via French Word of the Day and NancyDavenport.com

William Gibson on “The Future”

Future Sunday August 12, 2007
The Observer

The present has recently caught up with William Gibson. The great prophet of the digital future, who not only coined the word ‘cyberspace’ in his debut novel Neuromancer in 1984, but imagined its implications and went a long way to suggesting its YouTube and MySpace culture, has stopped looking forwards. ‘The future is already here,’ he is fond of suggesting. ‘It is just not evenly distributed.’
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