Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everlasting Neil

I look to Neil Young as a model, an artist whose music clearly permeates the way he lives, feels and thinks. And the way he lives, feels and thinks becomes his music. His practice is him. No matter when or where, he’s always being Neil Young.

But, this quality can’t really be described as continuity. As Young says in Sunday’s New York Times profile:

“How did I get to where I am? I mean, what happened? Where’s the guy who wrote the other songs? Where’s the guy who wrote a lot of the early songs? There are some songs I can’t even sing. I don’t even know who wrote them. But I know I did. When I listen to myself, I go, ’O.K., but I can’t do that now.’“

This is every artist’s truth. We change, art changes. But at the same time, there is continuity. I think it somehow lies in adaptation, in allowing a work to change to fit a moment. Young explains:

“I want every song to be coming from me, not coming from who I was or who I’m trying to be or who people think I am or who they want me to be […] All those things are out. It’s just got to be: ‘Is this going to flow like water through me? Can I swim in this sound?’”

Although conclusions are boring, you could say an artist does write the same song over and over again, just in different ways.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Calgon, Take Me Away

I suppose art that makes you want to puke is better than art that stirs up no feeling at all. [Insert here your favorite truism about indifference].

That said, Alex McQuilkin’s video installation entitled “Joan of Arc” at Marvelli Gallery had me literally throwing my arms up in despair. The two-channel piece juxtaposes scenes from Carl Dreyer’s seminal 1928 film rendition of the martyr’s story with images of the artist pouting unconvincingly into the camera and shaving her blown-dry locks.

Watching a white, privileged woman – with the power of art success to bolster her – comparing herself to one of history’s most legendary persecuted figures is a reflection of American arrogance, unawareness and downright stupidity.

The press release suggests that McQuilkin (at age 27) yearns to validate adolescent angst, especially in the face of condescending adults (like myself). Her goal, it seems, is to represent her suffering – through imitation, through theater. What she achieves, however, is the opposite. She comes of as a shallow fake.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paul Celan

I imagine that the way I am before poetry is the way many are before contemporary art. Most of the time, I just don’t get it. I want something to hold on to – a narrative, an opinion – but, usually when I think I’ve got something, I get befuddled in the next line. I have a hard time going with the flow, letting the image rise up in my head, letting go of analysis.

I’ve got a huge challenge in front of me, then, with Paul Celan, whose 1960s poems experimented with poetics (I think I know what that means). He lay his faith in the word, not the lyricism of the word, and consequently many of his words are invented. I’m fascinated when I read about his poetry, but when I have an example in front of me, I need to draw on patience and a loose mind. You can’t rush through them.

Here’s an example, from his book Breathturn, translated from the German:

NO SANDART ANYMORE, no sandbook,
no masters

Nothing in the dice. How
Many mutes?

Your question – your answer.
Your chant, what does it know?


Monday, October 22, 2007

The H Word

(Marcel Broodthaers, Femur d'une Femme Francaise)

One artist stereotype is that we’re moody and dark. These remarks in Roberta Smith’s recent review of two Chelsea shows focusing on death flavors the myth. She says:

“Their message is that all art, basically, is an attempt to explain, fend off or accept death; to commemorate, or communicate with, the dead or deities; or to defy death by making something that lives on. Not surprisingly, both shows are rampant with skeletons and skulls — as universally essential for physical life as they are symbolic of its inevitable end.”


“Mr. Tricot’s essay in the Cheim & Read catalog provides a coda for both shows. In a startlingly Beckett-esque quotation, extracted from the work of the noted 17th-century Spanish writer Francisco de Quevedo, Death admonishes a reluctant victim: ‘What you call to die is to finish dying and what you call birth is the beginning of death and what you call to live is dying as you go on living.’”

Rolling your eyes or loving it? I personally love it. Although I do wonder if talking about living and happiness could ever sound as juicy. Could the ‘h’ word ever be the stuff of art, but eschew the sentimental, the quaint and saccharine?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

La Chinoise

Call me na├»ve, La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film about revolution-minded students is far from outdated, despite the reviews I’ve read.

Visually, the film feels entirely fresh, with each frame dappled deliberately with red. Text, still photographs, interviews, theater, musical interruptions all combine to form a true inquiry into change, political action, and role of art. What makes the film complex, also, is that doubt about revolution plays a role in the film as well. Violence is questioned, and also ridiculed. So, you’re not left feeling like you’ve just been told the one and only way.

All this reminded me how there’s very little room to talk about radical change without being labeled irrelevant, or worse, outmoded. While revolution may not happen over night, it’s the spirit that is so energizing; such a relief from the drone that a better world is idealism.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Image Potential

I’ve become so used to the idea that art is a luxury item, I almost forgot that in many contexts, it not only is integrated into everyday life, but has a role.

As Ken Johnson says in his review of “Bon: The Magic Word” at the Rubin Museum, on view through January:

“What is art for? What should it be for? What can it be for? Ask today’s art world these questions, and you’ll get a discordant babel of answers. So it is useful to check in on times and places that were not so conflicted. Consider, for example, the art of Bon, the centuries-old indigenous religion of Tibet, presented in a beautiful exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art. The purpose of Bon art was, unequivocally, to help achieve spiritual enlightenment.”

I think it would be arrogant for many artists to make work with the intention of it being useful to others. Meaningfulness and usefulness can only be a rare bonus in a context where images have become ordinary, replaceable, and above all, acquire-able.

Nevertheless it’s just nice to think that there continue to be practices where images help shape mental outlooks. Through visualization, there is internalization.

The painting here was made in 2000, anonymously. It's used in Hindu practice as a meditation tool. Once the image is in your mind, you can draw on it, recall it, both as symbol and image. A collection of these Lingas, as they are called, are on view at Feature through October 27.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Does the horse make the rider? Part II

There’s of course, psychological aspects to having a studio or being studio-free.

The fact of shelling out a rent has somehow been my proof that I am an artist. I studio, therefore I am. But, the space has recently represented a pressure, a place where I must produce, where I have to prove myself, through discipline and struggle.

In releasing the studio, I hope to release my art, give less room to the super ego, more for the Id; bend my rules of what I think an artist is, and in turn, become a better one.

Now, keep in mind, these were precisely the same reasons why I took a studio in the first place. I wanted to have my own space for art only. A place to let go. And for a while, it did serve as such. And it may again in the future.

Anyone looking for a room of their own, may be interested in this one. If so, contact me. I think the landlord might rent the two spaces separately. Therefore, you’d get a 200sq ft. room with 4 huge windows, for $550.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Does the horse make the rider?

I’m seriously giving thought to giving up my studio. The main impetus is money. The whole space is $950, of which I pay $550, when the small adjacent room is sublet. But, I just lost another tenant, thanks to my landlord.

Anyone living outside of New York is probably vomiting right now. Anyone living in New York, should be vomiting, but we’ve forgotten. These numbers are outrageous.

Upstate I could rent an entire warehouse and make Christopher Buchels. But, I'm no Christopher Buchel. Most of my work is made at a desk.

On a practical level, this consideration also pushes me to let it go: no video studio visit happens in a studio. If you want someone to see your work, in my experience, you have to bring the studio to them (in this case, a computer).

Major cons include:
1. Can I make video work in the same place I eat and sleep, and translate
And more urgently:
2. Can I really consider myself an artist if I don’t have a studio?

I take some comfort in David Hammons. In a 2002 New Yorker profile of the artist, he says:

"I decided a long time ago that the less I do the more of an artist I am. […] Most of the time, I hang out on the street. I walk."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Double-Header Wednesday

Double-post today.

In Hilton Als portrait of Kara Walker in The New Yorker this week, he ends with a sentimental vision of Walker celebrating her retrospective in a Paris restaurant with her gallery and others. Also, at the table is Octavia, Walker’s daughter, who sits there drawing.

Walker reminisces, “When Octavia was four, we were at an event like this […] And people were saying my name. And Octavia looked up and said, exasperated, ‘Kara Walker, Kara Walker. When is it gonna be my turn?’”

As if what the child wanted was to be an artist. Dream on folks. The child wanted her mother’s attention! And then the child turned to art hoping that if she did what her mother loved to do, she would get her attention. Maybe her mother would even be proud.

Children of artists psychology 101.

In no way do I mean to paint Walker in a bad light. What I’m trying to say is, as much as Kara Walker’s work brashly delves into social devils, we cannot forget how personal these must feel to her, not only as a black woman in the world at large, but as the child of a family that, from the sounds of it, doesn’t know how to be one. She refers to family intimacy as an “experiment.” And while art has served as a fantastic outlet to air ghosts – and have us confront them – I wonder about how she balances motherliness in there.

The ten million dollar question: can an artist also be a mother?


Can someone tell me how to make a link in a post?

Is there an advantage other than a cv notch to being in a show when the video component is a single projector showing a string of about fifty videos, each one by a different artists?

Should I lie about my age in the art world?

How does an artist let go of her super ego?

Are you supposed to just go to openings and talk to random people?

When they say, “show your best work,” doesn’t it mean show them what “they” will like?

During a studio visit, should I have a menu with all my work, but show only two or three pieces and see where it goes?

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Child's Tale

Dick, Jane and Mary are three famous people, all in the arts. They love each other.

Dick decides it’s time to publish another book. Lo and behold, Jane and Mary write the forward and introduction. Because Jane and Mary are famous, Dick gets even more attention. And Jane and Mary get even more attention in return because Dick is famous.


My friends are Jerry and June, but no one has ever heard of them.