Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why?

 
 
So why do we keep on doing Thunder-Sky, Inc.?  We're 6 years in now, and sometimes it feels like a never-ending cycle of chores -- news releases and Facebook posts and nails into walls and spackle and paint and bathroom cleaner and paper-towels and buying beer and wine and pop and ice, all in the name of curating the best and weirdest and sweetest art shows we can pull together, 6 times a year.  What is it now?  33 shows so far, with maybe about the same number installed in other galleries and places across the region.  God knows we don't do it for the cash.  Thunder-Sky, Inc. is all non-profit, all volunteer, all kind of makeshift and holy and silly and serious and sarcastic simultaneously.  It's about Raymond Thunder-Sky sure, but I think what's evolved from the initial desire to keep Raymond in the mix is this:
 
 
Antonio Adams.  He met Raymond the same time Bill and I did, and he was with us through the whole V+V evolution, and when we had to find an escape and a life-raft from the whole complicated V+V thing he came with us.  The life-raft was that space next to N-Vision, next to the Comet, 4573 Hamilton Avenue, Northside.  And in those six years Antonio has found a voice deeper and more hilarious and smarter and assured than ever before.  He uses the space during the week as a studio.  He calls "Artist's Meetings" to order on Saturdays, whether other artists are there or not.  He creates his own sense of super-stylish chic through costume and custom, always looking forward to next year.  And look at those gloves.  Damn.
 
Last night we opened our 34th in-house gig called "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art," and as usual the opening was joyous, off-kilter, clumsy, sweet, perfect.  I screwed up the wall-text with using the wrong abbreviation for "Price on Request," and Bill had a cow.  But despite that (or perhaps because of it) it was still hilariously what always happens:  lots of people from all kinds of different backgrounds, creeds, classes, etc., hanging out, walking around, making conversation, laughing.  There was a rainbow outside above the joint for a little while too, kind of like the 5:4 decision given its own God-blessed neon light.  Antonio invited his mom and sister and they all showed, and he got costumed and held court awaiting their presence.  Some artists from a studio in Hamilton called InsideOut, a place, like V+V, for artists with developmental disabilities, were there, totally enjoying their little bit of spotlight, and their excitement kind of got to me in the same way seeing Antonio holding court gets me.  They were all excited to see their art-history-inspired art on our humble white walls.  I truly loved the work.  Loved Cassie Sullivan's quilted Warhol "Marilyns" and Alicia Jones' "Frida Kahlo" painting, an astute rendering of the artist as both goddess and cartoon and David Campbell's beautiful and fragile and kind of satiric take on Grant Woods' "American Gothic" sour-pusses...    Hanging with the InsideOut-ers was a flashback to the days when Bill and I were pulling together gigs for the artists with disabilities we'd stumble upon doing out regular work, that sense of discovery and bliss, like art can truly matter when you let everything else go. 
 
The other artists we've gotten to know through Thunder-Sky, Inc., some labeled, some not, were there last night too, hanging out.  Marc Lambert, super-genius painter of sci-fi visions on ceiling tiles, contributed an archive of Styrofoam pharaohs and a couple ceiling-tile Sistine-Chapel fist-bumps to "History Channel," and he came to the opening with his whole extended family all dolled up and pleasant and affable.  Robert McFate did a great Cincy riff on Hopper's "Nighthawks," and Emily Brandehoff came up with some great historical zingers, the best of which combines Goya and the snack-meat product Slim Jim's.  It's to die for.  Scott Carney merged Japanese nautical art with Peter Max.  Alex Bartenberger Rothko'ed it up.  Avril Thurman took on Jenny Holzer in the best teletype kind of way.  Dale Jackson turned Yoko Ono's instructions from Grapefruit into gorgeous recipe cards.  And Antonio took on Da Vinci,  Michelangelo, Thomas Hart Benton, all in a deluxe super-Antonio manner.
 
It's all like that:  arbitrary, heart-felt, odd, but exactly what it should be. 
 
We're not creating anything institutional or pretentious or even practical at Thunder-Sky, Inc.  We are not building it to last, because nothing really does.  Just take a look at Raymond's drawings and you'll get that doom validated and made fun of.  What we do at Thunder-Sky, Inc. is very momentary and slap-happy because it has to be:  we only want what is authentically here, weird enough to tickle us, solidly made, simply presented, but also nutty enough to not be like anything else.  
 
And then everybody gets together and eats potato chips.  And drinks some beer and wine and pop.
 
Last night was such a great example of why we do it.  So thanks to everybody who does it with us. 
 
And then when we got home on CNN President Obama was singing "Amazing Grace." 
 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Grace

 
 
I'm not going to mention his name.  Not going to call him a name either.  Just what he was:  young white male.  What he did:  walked into a church, sat among 13 or so prayer service attendees for an hour, accepting their kindness, and then shooting 9 of them dead. 
 
One of the dead was named Sharonda Singleton, and these are her children Chris and Camryn pictured above.  The picture is from a memorial service for their mother at the school where she was a coach.  What Sharonda's children said at that memorial was this:  "We're full of love.  We already forgive him."  
 
They were able to communicate a grace that's impossible to explain just by simply saying those eight words unflinchingly, with humility, with a detachment from the world and its furies and anguish.  They weren't hiding or lying by saying those words.  You could tell it was a part of who they were, who their mother willed and helped them to be.  It is a moment I don't think I'll ever forget, just that snippet of news footage shining out of all of the nastiness and horror of what happened.  The simplicity of their grace and mercy.
 
I'm not religious.  But I really want to be sometimes.  And I felt like this is one of those times when I can be, when I feel God for real. 
 
The young white male has been quoted as saying the church members that night were so kind to him that he almost  could not go through with his plan.  But he did.
 
Here's a Mahatma Gandhi quote:  "I know, to banish anger altogether from one's breast is a difficult task.  It cannot be achieved through pure personal effort.  It can be done only by God's grace."
 
There you go.  A perfect flesh-and-blood example of God's grace.  Those two beautiful kids, letting us know how foolish and horrible the world is by not being a part of it, and looking out with love and forgiveness to allow all of us a chance to witness how God is beyond understanding and yet possibly the only way to stay completely sane.
 
 

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Little Drag

Emily Brandehoff's take on Goya.

Marc Lambert's take on van Gogh.

Antonio Adams' take on da Vinci.
Why not go for the gusto?

"Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act… The laws, prohibitions, and restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary, that is non-carnival, life are suspended during carnival: what is suspended first is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it… or any other form of inequality among people."  From Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics.

Since starting this whole thing with Visionaries + Voices (V+V) back in the day, I always wanted to focus on the way art made by artists who are disconnected from the "restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary [...] life" is packaged and seen and thought about, and one of the best ways, at least from my POV, is to locate it right smack-dab in the middle of the restrictions.  One manner of defining "outsider artists" is to assume they have no connection to art history, that narrative and thoroughfare and etiquette through which credentialed "insider artists" often enter into careers, or at least shows.  In fact that definition is often celebrated by both ends of the spectrum:  by outsider art enthusiasts gloating over an artist's disenfranchisement and therefore his/her "power" in that realm, and by insider art critics who dabble a little bit in outsider-art criticism when there's a big museum show featuring some of it, wherein outsiders artists are cast as heroic self-taught "geniuses," beyond the "need" for education or edification or inspiration outside of their own little screwy worlds. 

In 2007, one of the first big gigs we did as V+V was "Pop Life:  Outsider Artists and the Pop Idea" at the University of Cincinnati Galleries.  Basically we took Andy Warhol's oeuvre and used it as a resource and confidence-builder for artists at the studio to kind of relocate themselves beyond "Outsiderland." This intervention was pretty conventional and yet kind of messed-up too, allowing participating artists a place where they were able to find a little piece of the world free of the "terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with hierarchical structures."  It was a joyous thing to me to witness:  all that art being birthed from the heard of Zeus/Warhol, positing Andy as an outsider in multiple incarnations (gay and working class, just to start).  A review in one of the local papers stated:  "Outsider art is controversial. Some theorists claim that 'pure' outsider art can only be made when the artist hasn't been exposed to art history or contemporary culture. But that belief assumes that somewhere there exists some Eden-like state, chaste and unmolested, and forgets that even things like art history and contemporary culture are arbitrary. Some might call Aboriginal art outsider art without considering the fact that Aboriginal artists have history and culture; it just doesn't look like ours."  The writer tries really hard and with a lot of genuine sweetness there, but she still doesn't get it.  Kudos for trying anyway.  It's not about "their" history and culture "looking like ours."  It's our culture and history.  Period. 

Oh well.

In 2009, we did it again at the Cincinnati Art Museum, with a show called "Matisse & Picasso:  a Visionary Exploration."  This one had the same strategy as "Pop Life," but we emphasized the inspirations taken on by Matisse and Picasso back when they were formulating their versions of Modernism -- as in lifting ever so lovingly from African sculptors and residents of insane asylums, etc.  In flipping that script a little, we tried to figure out how artists we were supporting had a powerful place to work from, outside of being "educated" about art history.  They have a claim to make.  We did a little slightly saccharine but well intended video for this gig.  You can check it out here:  "Matisse & Picasso: A Visionary Exploration."

In our guise as Thunder-Sky, Inc. we do a lot of this kind of stuff without even trying, trying to pull together artists from all kinds of backgrounds, contexts, and hierarchies into one small but truly articulated zone -- what Bakhtin posits as the "carnival [...] a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act…"  This act is making art, showing it, and celebrating it without a lot of b-s (outside of the b-s I'm generating right now of course, which is the kind of b-s I'm drawn to so there you go).  But also finding meaning inside that smallness, and each show we do does what it does, hopefully accumulating some sense and significance through the process.  Since starting Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009, we've taken on William Blake, Flannery O'Connor, Abstract Expressionism, and a few other modes of American Art and Not-Art History; we don't do this just to be smarty-pants, because we're not that inclined to impress people, just to find a way to relocate and redefine and redeploy some of the ways we treat artists (and people) based on who they happen to be. 

So here comes another iteration:  "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art."  This one opens Friday June 26, 2015, reception 6 to 10 pm, at Thunder-Sky, Inc in Northide next to NVision next to the Comet.  Take a look up top to see some great carnivalizations of high-end art, tongue-in-cheek, but also lovingly made, with a strict eye toward creating something beautiful and funny to look at.  The artists we asked to be a part are maybe "outsider artists," maybe not.  Who cares?  That distinction kind of melts away once you get over a lot of things, including the need to care too much how you're seen and how you see.    

At the end of the day, as Rupaul says, "We're born naked, and the rest is drag."  The quote up top by Mr. Bahktin is probably the urtext that defines Ru's whole career, and what we're trying to do most of the time too. 

Raymond loved carnivals.  He also loved a little drag.    

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Technical Difficulties

 
We went to the Bjork show at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC a few days ago, and it was so disappointing it kind of was like a dream, like one of those abysmal, banal dreams you don't write down and only half-remember, blurry and a little worthless but also full of strange feelings that aren't really attached to anything specific, just in a stupid dream and then not.  I read all the reviews before we went, and just about every visual art critic in the city panned the show with such brio and sinister joy I truly wanted to prove them wrong.  I'd read a bunch of crap about the David Bowie museum show from a couple years back, and when I saw it in Toronto it was brilliantly what it was:  an exhaustive fan-letter, a scrapbook of ephemera, clothes, video, everything Bowie presented in such a blatantly superfluous manner you could only get caught up in the gloriously stupid and heartfelt celebration.  So the critics were wrong.
 
But damn are they right on this one.
 
This Bjork gig is not heartfelt or stupid or joyous.  It's just a sleepwalk of a thing, with some mannequins wearing Bjork-face standing around in her costumes in front of oddly un-meaningful backdrops ("un-meaningful" almost to the point of being bad jokes:  see above), with an accompanying headphone Euro-trash narration written by some Icelandic poet and spoken by some Icelandic speaker that tries to make Bjork into a bland feminist galactic/volcanic myth, but all of it kind of fades away as you walk through feeling sunk and tired and just well disappointed. 
 
Bjork definitely needs to record a cover version of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?," and that sucker needs to playing on a loop for the duration of this sad little adventure.
 
The scale is wrong.  It's small without being intimate, which makes everything feel cheap.  And even in the dinky "auditorium" showing the MoMA-commissioned Bjork video for one of her newest songs, a romp through a volcano that ends with our girl slapping herself really hard on the chest (the one great image in the whole she-bang), you feel claustrophobic, as if Bjork is a genie that the curators somehow managed to shrink back into a bottle.  What a depressing feat.
 
Maybe a museum show for Bjork was just a bad idea in the first place?  One of the great things about her is her insanely beautiful opacity, her ability not to be a human while being one, that little-girl-getting-a-spanking face, those kitty-cat eyes that seem forever to be boiling over into laser-beams, that squeaky voice collapsing earthquakes and spider-webs and satellites and murderous-screamings into tones and melodies from an outer-space too dreamy and fucked-up to be sounds...  She's poetic without poetry, mysterious without mystery:  she just is.  A museum show tries to nail things down usually, but a really bad one like this uses thumbtacks and Scotch-tape.  What needs to happen with Bjork perhaps is a show that helps to obscure her, release her from costumes and cheap vignettes into a realm beyond institution and showing.  She needs real grandeur I think that isn't about "knowing" her, or "understanding" her, but somehow being attached briefly to her (for lack of a better term) "star." 
 
You don't get that kind of thing when the video-screens don't work.  And that was the last impression we had at the Bjork MoMA thing.  Waiting in line to go into some dinky makeshift theater to watch a survey of her videos and ka-blam:  "Sorry ladies and gentleman, we're experiencing technical difficulties.  Check back in a little while."
 
And there you go.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

At Home





 
 
We walked downtown for a while last night, hitting some of our favorite places.  Cincinnati is a great joint on Fridays like yesterday, blue sky with effervescent clouds, too many great restaurants to choose from, and the promise of a big festival being setup near Fountain on the Square (Taste of Cincinnati starts today), day-laborers and cops and managers getting ready to set up tent poles and shut down streets and transform the whole cityscape into festival-scape. 
 
And then, down near the river, this carousel (pictured above in all its glory).  It's just glorious.  No other word for it.  It could feel cheesy if you wanted it to, but somehow tucked into its tidy little concrete and glass parlor, surrounded by fountains and sunshine, cattycorner to the baseball stadium, with a sweeping view of the Roebling bridge in its big picture windows, the thing has a personality and tiny grandeur that feels storybook without too much effort or kitsch.  Thanks to the painstakingly executed frontispiece paintings by Jonathan Queen, and the whole get-in-the-spirit camp of the actual carousel ponies and insects and birds, the thing is artful in ways a lot of contemporary art can't be because contemporary art often wants to comment on itself so much it loses the spontaneous silliness/insouciance needed to make it transcend itself.  Looking at the carousel yesterday I just felt at home, and also a little giddy, because here's this thing that nobody really needs given such tender loving care that I almost wanted to ride on it, to put up with the humiliation a bald fifty-year-old overweight guy riding a carousel might have to endure. 
 
I didn't get on.  But I stood there and soaked in the whole Cincinnati-loving iconography and glossy commemoration of it:  each Queen-produced panel depicts a zoo animal enjoying different Cincinnati landmarks, each carousel-creature  (sponsored by some rich family or foundation or organization) is a homage to a Cincinnati icon of some kind or another.  All of that is kind of like the too-sweet maraschino cherry you take off your sundae before eating it of course.  Basically it's an amusement park ride given a serious, joyous revamp, shiny and vivid and maybe close to perfect in its nostalgia and open-endedness.  Anybody can ride.
 
So I thought about Raymond Thunder-Sky, as I usually do, and how much he would have loved this thing.  Lord would he have ridden this carousel for sure, drawn it as it got constructed, basking in its glorious nighttime glow on his way back from drawing demolition sites.  I bet you anything it would have been a sort of command-center for him, a fortress and hub he would return to again and again.  He loved carnivals, circuses, anything like that.  Back in 2001, when we went to Hollywood CA with him for a conference where we sat up a booth to exhibit his drawings, he didn't really participate; he spent almost all of his time at Disneyland.  So that's informing my love of the carousel too, that sense of Raymond-ness, that hope of magic (even in its most sentimental, candy-colored form) restoring a kind of sanity to the world.  This carousel would have been a spiritual place for Raymond I think.  The way it revolves slowly on its own accord, ending each set of revolutions in intervals to let people on and off. 
 
The way it's just there, shiny and unreal, birthed for no other reason than it would be neat to have in the world.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Let's Talk about Disobeying"




 
 
 
Let's start with Jean Dubuffet, the guy who kind of started it all (at least in my head):  "Art does not lie down on the bed that is made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to go incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called."
 
Amnesia is a good thing in a universe always starved for commemoration, status, brand.  The "universe" I'm getting ready to jabber about is "art" in all of its manifestations:  small-town, big-town, art-school, self-taught, blah and blah and blah. 
 
Everything has to have a name on it, not just a title or the media or the dimensions, but a name:  who did it usurps the purpose of its construction and eventual adoration.  When you take away all of that demarcation and you just look at something for what it is, what the hell happens?  I don't know.  Maybe you just see it.  And that's the most complicated process known to man or woman or whatever.  "Seeing something" without extrapolation, untethered by biography, connections, credentialization, format, institution, organization...  Just looking at the thing and going off on it, "finding" it inside yourself, unspooling from its atmosphere into yours.  All of that is what I want to happen when I go to art-shows.  That's why I hate opening receptions for the most part, because the social aspect disrupts the poetic.  I know that sounds grumpy, but that's the deal, and nobody really cares anyway, but still -- looking is an art too.  "Purity" means something in that moment, and that's why the white clean box of a gallery exists (outside of commodities, sales, branding, etc. of course).  That blankness and clarity outlines the thing(s) being exhibited, and gives you that simple moment of serendipity you live for, that connection beyond connections, when you and it have a little party, all those associations you've bottled up pouring out, landing, pooling, and then it's over.  Sounds like sex, I know, but it's not.  It's not even a version of sex.  Sex is all the other stuff.  This is prayer, and I know segregating prayer from sex is probably old-fashioned, maybe even stilted and officious, but they are completely different, just like seeing and pretending to see are.
 
So here's the deal:  breaking art away from art, looking at something and understanding it's only yours, not even the property of the one who made it.  That's love.  That's what I want to feel when I go to a gallery or museum, like I've stumbled outside of myself and all other selves, and it's the time between memory and ego, the space between love and saying "I love you." 
 
Up top are photos of anonymous art made by people we don't know and given away to Goodwill as donations. 
 
Dumpster diving for tossed-aside artworks is not a new procedure by any means.  There are whole galleries and even a museum or two that specialize in this activity, and more power to them.  Love the idea obviously.  I wanted to do a Goodwill show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. under the umbrella of not giving a shit about identity, about separating art from the ever encroaching and totally minuscule idea that "art is a career."  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  But gazing at stuff that has been dislocated from any conscious effort to be claimed as "art" is truly about finding value and worth in life and lives outside of the ongoing diorama of careers and namedropping and scholarly endeavors and art-fairs and so on.  Without that apparatus what does art mean? 
 
I'm totally interested in this because the way I entered the art-world (and continue to stumble through it) is through non-profit little "alternative" spaces where artists often got together to show work without a connection to prestige or fortune:  white-boxes as experimental spaceships, filled with oddness and fever, not built to please, just built to take off and go three or four inches forward.  And when I decided to make art a parallel activity to supporting people with developmental disabilities, "outsider art" became that spaceship, but then again it also became a big black hole. 
 
Identity for "outsider artists" is pretty random and ransacked, based on the market controlled by buyers with good intentions, but also on a concept that artists who are labeled "outsiders" don't have careers, don't have ambition, and that makes them "precious" and "pure."  Still, however, there's those market forces, and in that market the more "precious" and "pure" the artist is (or the artist is seen to be), the more value accrues.  "Outsider artists" shouldn't talk; they should just make cool weird stuff in little romantic hovels, preferably in a sepia-toned, cobwebby Europe in the 1930s or 40s.  That gloss, that sense of majestic "outsiderness," wipes out any sense of equality and inclusion involved.  There are the actual artists with careers and the "outsider" ones who do stuff without thinking about any of that stuff. 
 
And within the context of that pretty reliable binary in steps the sensibility that no one's biography and credentials fucking matter.  How about that?
 
Walls and pedestals displaying art donated to the Goodwill seem like the best next step in trying to unravel all that distinction, all that pomp.
 
While we curate the show (titled "The Goodwill Biennial" debuting in late August), I'll be thinking about all of this, and examining all the exposed ambition and thought and dream involved in the production of art that does not make it, an art disassociated and almost formless, paintings and sculptures and drawings and whatever else populating that universe of amnesia, set aside and bleak, but also waiting to be discovered for exactly what it is.          
 
One of my best experiences in dealing with all of these thoughts in an art-world context came early last year, when we went to New York City to see the retrospective at PS 1 of Mike Kelley's life and work.  Kelley killed himself in 2012, so he made himself kind of gone from the equation from the get-go, and yet suicide probably has made his prices go up, right?  He was famous for being reticent and DIY-difficult, but also for being a totally prolific genius.  His works, resplendent with a Goodwill-harbored sense of the tossed-aside (dirty stuffed animals are one of his main contributions to artistic culture), spoke volumes to me about the desire to escape authorship and bull-shit.  PS 1 was overwrought with Kelley work, sculptures, performances on video, films, drawings, ephemeral collections, a whole suite dedicated to building miniature versions of comic-book kingdoms, all of that stuff and thought presented not as biography exactly, but as production, as manifestations of the obsession to make something, anything, that allows you to escape what you think is going to happen, even if it does (did).
 
Mike Kelley:  "I chose art, not to become successful, because you couldn’t make a living from being an artist at that time. It was a profession I chose specifically in order to be a failure."
 
That "failure" I guess is what I'm talking about.  I think Kelley used "failure" as a synonym for "disappearance," that beautiful state of elevated nothingness that allows everyone to actually see the universe without being in it.  "Failure" as a synonym for "art."
 
"The Goodwill Biennial" opens August 28, 2015, reception 6 to 10 pm at Thunder-Sky, Inc. 
 
Mike Kelley banner in the PS 1 2014 show in NYC.
 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

"The Machinery Disposes of the Words Like They Weren't Even Spoken"

   

I'm rereading One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  I do this every few years just because I love the velocity, complexity and artfulness of the prose and hope it rubs off on me.  But also I revisit the book because its meaning seems to expand more and more every time I go through it.  Upon first reading it way back in the day I loved the brash radical bravado of McMurphy, the way he swoops in and tries to save the day, only to be  vanquished by evil Nurse Ratched.  In that reading, it's almost a classic fairytale in its use of simple, willful tropes:  big bad lady nurse/administrator/jailer vs. big brash redheaded lumberjack/gambler/anti-hero.  Other readings though revealed for me the slightly silly counter-culture swagger, the moments built to humiliate just for the hell of it, the self-congratulatory feeling sometimes involved in pitting such elemental examples of "good" and "bad" against one another (not to mention the overarching racism involved in the "black boy" orderlies, and so on). 

Still, every time I read it I come away with an odd respect for its sense of urgency, the burning need to get at something profound and devastating in the simplest and yet most harrowing language and style.

And much of that style is manufactured because Kesey uses Chief Bromden as his narrator.  You could argue that placing Bromden on the periphery and giving him the chore of narration is a form of racism, of framing McMurphy's story through the eyes of the oppressed so McMurphy's oppression can be heightened to the point of Beatnik glamor, but this time reading Bromden's voice really truly got to me, in a way it hasn't before.  That exact moment of total connection for me came on page 182, when Bromden is at the end of a flashback concerning a time when he was a little kid living on the reservation, and he's outside the house he lives in sprinkling salt on salmon he and his dad caught.  A group of speculators and government workers pull in.  They are visiting the reservation in order to talk to his father about buying the land the reservation is on for cheap, so they can build a dam.  These characters, like many in the Cuckoo's Nest, are grotesque versions of people Kesey obviously found disgusting -- bureaucrats and landowners and other bourgeoisie types stomping around the world looking for every opportunity to screw it up.  But somehow in this moment the grotesque enlightens and does not obscure, and the oppressors glide through the reservation, ignoring Bromden, who wants to tell them he can understand the horrible things they are saying to each other, that he is not invisible.  But when he does speak to them, all they do is ignore him. 

This is the passage that truly got to me:

I can see the seams where they are put together.  And, almost, see the apparatus inside them take the words I just said and try to fit the words in here and there, this place and that, and when they find the words don't have any place ready-made where they'll fit, the machinery disposes of the words like they weren't even spoken.

How amazing is that?   A simple, calm and very accurate summation of what it means to be someone totally on the outskirts of meaning, totally trying to rectify a situation that can't be rectified.  This flashback lets us know the origin of Bromden's philosophy, his use of the "combine" as metaphor for way the world works:  the "machine" must be fed and constantly repaired, and if you can't cut it as part of the machine, then you to have to be "fixed," have to be institutionalized, tinkered with, eventually de-brained. 

Maybe my sensitivity to this moment in the book comes from what's going on in my work-life and -world.  I keep going to conferences and  meetings about how to help people with developmental disabilities get jobs in the real world, in effect often revamping the way they and the people who love and support them often see what they are capable of.  Sometimes in those meetings and conferences I can almost feel that sense that Bromden felt that day outside his house when the government workers come to pay a call:  everyone is talking and talking, and filling in the blanks, but no one is listening, and no one is trying to understand how all of this talking contributes even more to the sense of victimhood and powerlessness and futility.  Helping people who have developmental and physical and other disabilities be a part of the world, to get employed and be able to contribute in vital ways, is one of the most complicated and scary enterprises you can attempt not only because of the skills the people you're trying to support may need to acquire/work on to get a gig, but mostly because of the way they are perceived, the way they are ignored, and mainly the way they are institutionalized almost as soon as they get a diagnosis.  Even the systems meant to "help" them group them into categories and statistics in order to manage their care, and once the systems take over the words just "don't fit."  Like Bromden I'm seeing the "seams" all the time, and that sense that when the words are found not to fit the "machine disposes of the words like they weren't even spoken."

How do you disrupt the machine?

I don't think by screaming or pleading to it.  The machine does not give a shit.  It's simply by sticking to your guns, I guess, never allowing yourself to be mechanized or put into place inside that ongoing machine.  You don't talk.  You don't show off.  You don't make speeches.  You listen and you move forward and you make things happen outside of the machine, in spite of it.  

At the end of the book, even though McMurphy is the symbol of what it means to be alive in a cookie-cutter culture (or maybe it's because of it), he is lobotomized and brought back into the institution on display for everyone to see.  Nurse Ratched wins.  And yet Chief Bromden escapes the institution that same day, bursting through a window and running into the wild.  His voice in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, beautifully desultory, matter-of-fact, brutally poetic, drives the story home to the point he can no longer live in the place he once called "home."