July 28, 2005

An Artist Writes

Charles, old bean, this is how it's supposed to be done:
"We should do our artistic work so well and politically correctly that the working class of the entire world will be able to say -- NOW THIS IS MY VANGUARD PROLETARIAN ART." -- Rodchenko (1932), in "Experiments For The Future".

(Some memory in me -- a slightly-garbled version of the phrase "NOW THIS IS MY VANGUARD PROLETARIAN ART", truly a slogan for the rarified -- stirred when I read both Esche's anaesthetic sludge and Les Murray's much more enjoyable name-calling the other day, something which led me back to this little gem...).

July 26, 2005

The Flight Of The Bumblebee

"And the greatest benefit of all is that in that delusion, resistance again becomes possible and we can, in classic The Matrix vein, fight the monsters even when they are inside our heads. Only art can do this today, it seems to me, because only art has the permission to imagine without ridicule." -- Charles Esche in full flight in Apex Art.

What would academic writing like this be without a leaden reference to The Matrix? And to think that only art has the permission to "imagine without ridicule" shows a certain lack of imagination, no?

(I thought writing like this -- a sort of earnest High Modernism written with a Postmodernist's gift for irrelevant pop culture references and airy hand-waving -- died out a decade or two ago. I guess not).

July 25, 2005

Doublespeak

"I rather prefer the expression shoot-to-protect rather than shoot-to-kill -- I think that is a more accurate description of what happened." -- John Major in an interview quoted by the Guardian today, describing the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Metropolitan Police. But in this context what is "shoot-to-protect" if not "shoot-to-kill"? Why not just be up-front about it and say "we believe we need to shoot-to-kill innocent people in order to protect society"? The fact that in this case the killing didn't in any sense protect might give some of us pause for thought; maybe a bit of thinking about the meaning of the word "accurate" would be appropriate as well.

And from the same interview: "There seem to be many people who, for reasons that are irrational, dislike the Anglo-Saxon way of life". This is an odd way of characterising a culture and ideology -- tying it to a specific people and (ancient) geographic origin rather than a long history involving a complex mixture of cultures, races, origins, etc. (what about all us Celts? I suppose the Scottish Enlightenment was just historically-irrelevant chopped liver?). I don't think I've heard the term "Anglo-Saxon" now for years except as code from racist groups in this country; John Major definitely isn't part of all that (at least as far as I know -- he seems a pretty haplessly-decent sort of person), but it's still an inflamatory and exclusionary way to put it. Do you have to be Anglo-Saxon to be part of that life?

An Interesting Town

"L.A. is an interesting town because you meet a lot of people who want to tell you how great they are." -- KCRW's Nic Harcourt's wry aside in an NYT Sunday Mag a few weeks ago.

An interesting town, for sure...

July 23, 2005

The Underground

More bombs in London -- and the local Bay Area TV news plays the story second behind a court decision about one of the Governator's ballot initiatives. Of the maybe five minutes given to the London story, three were dedicated to a couple of mini-stories about the bombing's effects on the Bay Area (no direct effect at all, but never mind -- lots of shots of BART trains running through downtown Oaktown to keep us locals feeling important and threatened). Another self-congratulatory minute or so was dedicated to showing how the Bay Area was helping London (not at all, but we Bay Areans like to think of ourselves as very "giving" people...).

For most of America, I'd guess, international news is only a pretext for talking about America; this is particularly true of California, where almost any event can be turned into a pretext to talk about ourselves.

(The various local and national media here always call the London Underground "the subway" (as in "A bomb went off in the London Subway this morning...". For me it's about as jarring (and, in context, as unprofessional) as hearing the New York subway referred to as "the New York Metro" (or BART called "the Underground")).

July 21, 2005

Necessary Forgetting

Les Murray in the Paris Review (again), discussing "the necessary forgetting" (of "all the unutterable gaucheries and lunacies of [...] earlier lives [...]"): "We do compose a soul for ourselves, I think, an inner biography that has this grace of selection -- the poem of ourself, if you like." (italics his).

For many (but not Our Les) it's probably a heroic epic (with heroic gaps, no doubt...), but for me it's a poem in many different languages, most of which I don't understood, a confusion of rumours and murmurs. And it's not a poem, more just an unstructured glossolalia...

(And where would Murray be without his cherished self-pitying fantasies of being an outsider, about fighting the Good Fight for the Ordinary Man, of always seeing himself as the little Aussie Battler (urban people need not apply...), of bringing down the elites? Parts of the Paris Review interview come across as an extended primal whine therapy; it makes me feel uncomfortably like I'm overhearing the resentful, self-pitying, belligerent and manipulative self-justifications of a school bully... jeez, Les, when I was a kid in boarding school, it was the country bruisers who beat the shit out of people like me, not the other way around. Such is life).

Hollow-Core

Barbara Homes, a friend of mine in Oaktown, has started "Hollow-Core", a new blog for her hollow core artwork -- "A Make Believe Metropolis of Household Proportions", as she puts it. She's currently got a show in San Diego, which has been going very well, but that's ending soon (and now Barb and Scott have to truck the bloody things back from San Diego).

These things have to be seen live to get the full effect -- a miniature city of hollow core wood (old doors, things like that), internal lights, etc., that works so well partly because of the play in colour, texture, and light between the soft yellow-brown-pinks of the wood and the flouro (and other) lighting shining out through the holes. And there's always those bright orange extension cords snaking their way through the city...

July 19, 2005

Burning Man

"Think Burning Man, and you think of naked revelers, a sprawling impromptu tent city layered with dust, eye-popping art in the middle of the desert, and the torching of a four-story wooden man." -- the start of a multi-page corporate celebration of Burning Man in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle a few weeks ago.

Not exactly. What comes to mind to this cynic -- who's watched it grow from a beach-side thing in the fog of San Francisco to a fully-fledged Big Media Event -- is a carefully-calculated spectacle, a desecrated desert, an annual meeting of that great herd of independent minds, a grim determination to express individuality in rigidly (and claustrophobically) tribal terms (a strained tribalism based mostly on generic tats and piercings), whole armies of 30- and 40-something Silicon Valley techies, systems administrators, SoMa design consultants, "creatives", all striving too hard to be different (just like everyone else there), and an atmosphere of rather desperate and determined self-proclaimed "alternativeness".

(The thumbnail sketches of the five highlighted Burning Man participants in yesterday's Chron might give you some sense of the whiff of tragedy surrounding the event (you'd really need to see the accompanying photos to get the full force of it all, though; names have been elided below to protect the guilty...)):

"BP: The 44-year-old quality assurance engineer lives in San Jose. He has been to five festivals. He appreciates what he calls 'Playa Magic' -- things turning up just when one needs them."

"GC: The 36-year-old content manager of a telecommunications firm lives in San Francisco and has attended four events. The best part? 'Learning that I am enough'."

"SS: An artist originally from Los Angeles who now lives in Pacifica, S., 33, has attended four festivals. His best memory: 'Making the impossible happen'."

"BS: The artist and advocate for Burning Man has been to two festivals. Her worst experience was when the wheel of her golf cart fell off mid-playa and she had to carry it back to camp."

"CM: The 30-year-old lawyer from Pacifica [what is it with Pacifica?! -- JL] has been to the festival once. Her worst experience ended up being her best: she got lost but was able to find her friends without any help."

And they all lived happily ever after.)

July 17, 2005

The Technique Is The Message

Battleship Potemkin: the claustrophobia of the long lens... (but that soundtrack!). Visual genius, it's all angles, contrasts, diagonals, movement, motifs, faces... and editing. Montage, mise en scene, jump cuts... any political message is entirely undercut for me by the spectacle, the wonder -- the technique is the message. (And why haven't I seen this before?)

(Part of Flix).

July 14, 2005

Born To Drive

Back in our formative proto-Punk days, we read a breathless article or two in NME or Melody Maker about someone called Bruce Springsteen, who was being hailed as the new Street Poet, an authentic voice of The Street. Great! That was what we all aspired to be... so one of us managed to steal a copy of Born To Run. We put it on the turntable, let it rip, and...

We sat there, almost literally open-mouthed, jaws dropping after only a few bars. How could this have anything to do with the street? This overblown, maudlin, sentimental, lumbering anthem to America? We quickly moved on to other things, and Bruce was forgotten.

Some time later, though, it clicked: when Springsteen -- and by extension, most American musicians -- talked about being on "the street", they meant driving, they meant being in a car. For us it meant walking, or lounging around under shop awnings or on front porches, or gossiping outside Redfern Station or on Crown Street, or something on foot. We didn't have cars (we couldn't afford them, let alone find anywhere to park them...). For us "street" meant something light-footed, conspiratorial, something that might run down the alley between Wilson and Abercrombie Streets late at night, something of the foot traffic and chance meetings surrounding the Tin Sheds or The Hub. Something to do with life lived on a street. For Springsteen it seemed to mean bombast, ponderous speed, chrome, rubber, the world viewed from behind a steering wheel or windscreen, power...

A sharp epiphany, for sure. One which also later helped me understand American takes on the whole "Punk" thing...

(Part of Punk (and Later)).

July 12, 2005

itsalwaysthequietones

yes, it is (tina mcclelland). soft porn for aesthetes? one part Cindy Sherman, one part Natasha Merritt, one part nothing at all? my sort of aesthetics, though: all surface, indirection, combination, evocation, manipulation (in all senses of the word), self-portraits that give nothing away... (it's all in the raw material; as with Natasha Merritt it's pointless asking whether she actually exists). way too much of me in there -- somewhere.

(as always, god save us from those who'd label this "transgressive" -- this is commercial art, all light and allure...).

July 10, 2005

Die Rättin

A billion years ago when I was living in downtown Berkeley, I had a brief relationship with a German woman who had a pet rat. It was nice little thing, smart, clean, affectionate, and weirdly placid. It -- I never learned its name, but its gender was emphatically female in conversation -- would accompany my lover on walks through Berkeley nestled in her shirt between her breasts, the rat's head periodically poking out over the lip of her top or through the gaps between buttons. It'd stay looking out like that for minutes on end, apparently just watching the world pass by. Being Berkeley, people who saw it were pretty evenly divided between those who flinched or had to stop themselves from running screaming, and those who thought it was cute.

And yes, I kissed those breasts. Wouldn't you?

July 09, 2005

Total War

War becomes total war when it's a shared state of mind, when everyday activities occur in a mental landscape of unseen bombings and small-scale threats; total war's a mostly-quiet Armageddon, a typically-bloodless daily grind; total war develops in little increments.

The bombings in London will probably be seen as a significantly more canonical event than 9/11 in the long term, mostly because bus, car, and train (etc.) bombs -- random, low-tech, mobile, easy to deploy, deeply effective at sowing fear in the everyday -- are the inevitable future for any reasonably-constituted Western democracy. There's simply no defense against technology's relentless democratisation of access to destructive power that doesn't strip a democracy of either privacy or openness. And the stakes can only rise.

Think "bomb in the BART tube", for example. It's not a matter of "if", but "when". That's total war for those of us who have to use it...

July 04, 2005

July 4th, 2005

"Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected." -- Oscar Wilde (of course).

July 01, 2005

Lifestyle Zen

Zen seems to have become truly popular in California when it started being recast as an exotic species of self-help program (complete with simplistic inspirational slogans), rather than as an interesting and complex religion or philosophy. For many people here, Zen is just the latest slightly hip lifestyle accessory (not that that's exclusive to California, of course -- I see the same thing in both Sydney and London, but to a lesser extent). The new Yoga, maybe, in the same way that to admit an interest in Zen (or Budhism in general) 'round here nowadays often just provokes knowing and rather patronising responses complete with eye-rolling and tart comments about buying a Prius or moving to Marin.


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