Saturday, March 30, 2013

Now Hiring

Raymond wanted a job more than anything else in the world.  Bill and I talk about that sometimes.  What does "having a job" mean anyway?  What did it mean to him?  Here was a guy who couldn't really speak that well, who seemed a little bit, well, weird, to people, and who had a passion for life that seems freakishly beautiful now.  Here was a guy who created a persona and lifestyle out of what he wanted and expected from life, and that persona and lifestyle became an iconic spirit that haunted this little city we live in.  At the core of that self-made identity is "construction worker."  (The clown stuff is decoration; the foundation for his identity, the outfit Raymond festooned with a clown collar, was overalls.) 
When you go through the stuff he left behind, you find the accoutrements of the working class.  Tool boxes, fluorescent mesh vests, hard hats, gloves, overalls.  You find the wardrobe and tool-chest of someone who spent his life working.  But because of his disability, and the obstacles that caused, he was often shut out of opportunities.  Raymond had a dishwashing job at a hotel downtown when he was young.  He had a job for a time at M. E. Heuck, a manufacturer here in town of household products.  Toward the end of his life he worked in the sheltered workshop at Goodwill in Woodlawn.  But Raymond's true calling was construction work -- probably influenced by his father.  Raymond craved, to the day before he died, getting a job at a construction joint.  Bill can tell you the story about Raymond calling him that day before he passed away, wanting to fill out an application.  The killer for Raymond's dream was that no construction company or utility company would hire him because he didn't have a driver's license.  Plus maybe because of his disability.
I wonder if Raymond were around today if we might be able to help him get that job he wanted.
God knows we helped him have art shows.  He loved that.  But I always had the suspicion, so does Bill, that he resorted to the drawing because he couldn't be a part of the action he was inspired by.  He invented a position for himself:  documentarian, recorder of demolition sites, utility digs, street work.  He set up his equipment along side those sites not only to draw, but to be a part of what he was drawing.  And a lot of the construction and utility workers we've spoken to concerning Raymond remark on this.  Raymond became a part of their team, but not on payroll.  A lot of the items in his archive (the tool boxes, the hard hats) were gifts to him from "co-workers," people who wanted him to be a part of the action, even though they didn't know any other way how besides giving him assorted props.
What if Raymond would have had a job he loved?
I think he would have still made art.  I think his work would have informed what he did artistically.  He would have been happier maybe.  Maybe he would have lived longer?  Who knows?
So as I look toward the future I'm thinking one thing we might be doing is looking into creating an organization that somehow helps people like Raymond -- creative, energetic, focused people -- get real jobs.
Maybe this is the next move to make?  We have created a day program with a mural commemorating him on it.  We have created a gallery in his name.  What about an organization that is focused on the most important issue of his life:  getting hired.  Making a living.  Actually being a part of something, and getting a paycheck for it.
Stay tuned.
Below are items from Raymond's archive that touch on his love of work.  The notes are notes to himself to inquire about employment, probably jotted down while he was on his way to a demolition site to draw. 


"I'm Gonna Have You Naked by the End of This Song"

February 1, 2004 is a very sad day in music history for me.  That marks the date (Jesus, almost 10 years ago) of the Superbowl half-time Nipplegate fiasco featuring two of my favorite pop stars of all time, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.  While dueting on "Rock Your Body," Justin pulled off Janet's top and there it was:  a pierced Janet nipple, for all the world to see.  Oddly enough, Janet had to withstand all the moral burden for the silliness that ensued.  FCC fines and of course an obliteration of sanctimonious, over-the-top bull-shit about how children watching the Superbowl were scarred forever.  Janet I don't think ever recovered public-relations-wise.  She had to apologize for her sins. 

Justin did just fine.

Now here comes Justin with a new hyped-up album called The 20/20 Experience.  And it is a blissful, gorgeous assault, a tour-de-force of electronic-soul artistry that makes you want to get up and dance and also just sit on the floor in your room and swoon.  It has an elastic sense of play, and a gravitas in some areas that allows you to feel beyond the confines of plain old pop-music, or at least you get to run around Justin's mansion for a while feeling completely at home. 

Favorite tunes: 
  • "Tunnel Vision" has a growl and interstellar flow to it, as if Justin is pulling in the innocent/sophisticated rush of the Micheal-Jackson-on-Off-the-Wall.  The song zooms through your skull like a comet doing disco somersaults.
  • "Don't Hold the Wall" is a dance song that somehow blossoms into a kinky, soaring world-music ballad, without slowing itself down to pay tribute to the little people.  It's all synthetic and sinful, the way true pop music should be. 
  • "Suit and Tie," at first seemed to me to be the wrong choice for the first single, but once you get hold of the album you totally understand.  Justin is introducing his new Thin-White-Duke phase, replacing cocaine and white-fedora'ed androgyny with bourbon and Tom Ford.  The whole album's aesthetic power seems to fall out of that tune, brisk and staged at points, slow and improvised at others.
  • "Blue Ocean Floor" comes off like a Radiohead song written by Stevie Wonder.  You want to climb inside it and have a little cry, like a baby-alien missing its astronaut mother. 
Ironically enough, all that I just wrote about 20/20 I could revamp and revise and write about Janet's 1997 masterpiece The Velvet Rope.  Listening to 20/20, in fact, made me totally nostalgic for that album, a brilliant pastiche of soul/electronica/trip-hop flourishes that transcends "pastiche" and opens up into pure originality every time you listen to it.  Janet's open-hearted lyrics and playfulness solidify into stream-of-consciousness anthems like "Free Xone" and "Together Again," but there's also a burdenless, almost hilariously mean-spirited sense of funk in "Go Deep."  Q-Tip on "Got til It's Gone" does the same work for Janet that Jay Z does for Justin on "Suit and Tie," entering the song politely and then somehow making the tune seem even more itself by rapping around and into the interlude until there's a perfect connection between melody and beat.  Velvet's penultimate ballad, "I Get So Lonely," is one of those songs, like "Tunnel Vision," that you can listen to over and over and find new pleasures inside it every time. 

Pop music doesn't have to be stupid, or even people-pleasing.  It just needs to be pleasurable in ways that reinvigorate what you've thought you've always wanted to hear.  Janet proved this in 1997, and Justin is proving it again in 2013.  I just wish more people understood that Janet is the master, and Justin the apprentice, and that what happened in 2004 still needs to be apologized for.  And the apology needs to come from someone other than Janet.      

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pop Art Snark

Saturday Night Live is going through one of its sucky periods (even when Justin Timberlake is on board), but don't fret.  There is now a delirious alternative.  Sketch comedy has never been done so stylishly and meticulously as Kroll Show, Nick Kroll's funky, Pop-Art/Snark extravaganza on Comedy Central.  (They are working on Season Two right now.) 

Watching all eight episodes on-demand is like witnessing a James-Rosenquist painting diorama, with a jolt of good old-fashioned infomercial kitsch and hootspa.  The graphics on Kroll Show are 50% of the kick.  Created by Nick Kroll, Jonathan Krisel, and John Levenstein, Kroll Show has a peacock flourish that gets worked out through the way every skit looks, moves and jitters.  Krisel seems to be the main creative force behind the show's visuals.  He is one of the geniuses behind the preeminent high-style nonsense of Time and Eric's Awesome Show, Good Job and Portlandia, both TV sketch comedies that riff on, and rip off, reality-show/infomercial Day-Glo iconography and visual languages.  Krisel uses trashy graphics and jump-cuts to produce universes of junk that have both a sinister sheen and a mind-boggling verisimilitude.  Paying such close attention to pop-culture bull-shit makes the humor somehow deepen into the best kind of meaninglessness. 

Krisel is at the peak of his powers in Kroll Show, collaging bits and pieces of Bravo-TV-reality gorgeousness and cheap local TV ad desperation to frame in the equally at the-peak-of-his-powers Kroll.   Kroll's menagerie of fools includes Bobby Bottleservice, a macho-freak stand-in for all those macho-freak street-magicians and pranksters that populate almost every direct-cable network, Gil Faizon, co-host of the cable-access prank show Oh Hello, and number two of a pretentious uptown NYC senior-citizen duo that also includes Georg St. Geegland, and most incredibly the Workaholic Liz, who is the main foil to the I-Wanna-Have-a -Great Life Liz in the reality show PubLIZity. 

PubLIZity features two extremely annoying ladies running a PR firm in Los Angeles.  The un-workaholic Liz is played by the incredible Jenny Slate.  Kroll's Liz is the penultimate 21st Century Bravo-TV/E-TV reality maven, all vocal-fry, sparkly, sparkly lips sucking on big-strawed ice-coffees, constantly self-congratulating while running her fingers through her perfectly streaked blond coif.  The mannerisms and plot points of PubLIZity are so succinct and perfect they become a virus in your head.  Try watching Millionaire Matchmaker or Kim and Kourtney Take Miami after watching PubLIZity, and you'll find yourself richer for the experience.  Kroll Show mockery makes you feel more connected to what is being mocked somehow, a good-spirited meanness that allows the joke to encompass almost every aspect of media.  And the Lizes' penchant for amazeeeing cupcakes and "events" really gets at the way almost everybody lives now in this egotistical, media-soaked age.  It's excitement fetishized into a prepackaged sense of entitlement, glossy and sad and extravagant, but never satisfying.  The Lizes  are the poster-ladies for 2013 "Entrepreneurship," making sure their business-sense savvy and "brand" are always the topic of the conversations they have with possible "clients" who always end up completely underwhelmed. 

There's nothing underwhelming about Kroll Show.  It's on a shiny, ridiculous path to greatness.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Where I Live

So this is what you see where I live.

Not much to shake a stick at.

But I feel this weird connection to it, a landscape made from overgrown weeds and litter and asphalt, with a backdrop of worn-out apartment complexes where overworked people try to find a way not to feel overworked.  This is Forest Park, Ohio.  I drive from and to it everyday.  It seeps into my head like White Castles coffee into carpeting. 

There's a mystery here that really does not need to be solved, just lived.  I know it's every body's story, but I have this landscape stripped of itself, X-rayed and mordant and broken and raw.  It's the way I like things.  Everything I do -- writing, making art, living, thinking -- all comes from that ugly bark and those odd arthritic half-asleep branches. 

When I was in high school I hid from pep rallies.  Didn't go to dances.  I barely made it to and through school.  I spent most of my time trying to write things down or make art.  Trying to escape by realizing what I was escaping from.  I lived in a crappy little brick house in a family that was always falling apart, in a house that was too. 

And I wound up here.  I'm not sad at all.  Not regretful.  Because this is where you end up anyway, no matter how hard you try not to.  This place without a sense of place, and yet it's the only place you'll ever know.  A little under a mile away is the cavernous dead mall.  And down the street the shut-down Hollywood video, and in front of that the Mexican restaurant no longer open either.  We'll go for walks in the neighborhood and all the houses and apartments feel closed up too, but you know people live there because there are cars and porch-lights and dogs barking. 

This sense of place is what you try to understand when you write stories and poems.  You don't glamorize the atmosphere and you don't make it worse.  You just stare it down and know it for what it is.  You make meaning out of it because you have to.

Scientific Pursuit

Friday April 26 through Saturday June 8, 2013
Opening reception Friday April 26, 2013, 6 to 10 pm
“She Blinded Me with Science:  Antonio Adams and Pam Kravetz”

Antonio Adams, whose 2012 one-man show “Unrealized an Unforeseen” was a tour-de-force, joins forces with Pam Kravetz, radical and resourceful genius, to create not just an art exhibit, but a supercharged spectacle (with technical assistance by Mad Genius Matthew Waldeck, Sr.).   In the gallery’s “basement laboratory,” you’ll be invited to help us envision Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s future on a whiteboard fit for a NASA scientist.

She Blinded Me with Science: An Explanation
by Bill Ross, Thunder-Sky, Inc.

About a year ago, I was driving back to my office from lunch in my new Kia Soul. I was listening to “First Wave” on Sirius XM. I was thrilled to hear “She Blinded Me with Science” come on. Even though I had reached my office I stayed in the car to hear the song. I thought to myself:  Wow! This song would be a great jumping off point for an art show.  

I didn’t think much about it after that. However a few nights later I had this crazy dream. I dreamt Pam Kravetz dressed in a white lab coat with microphones in her face was explaining to the world her latest show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. It was called you guessed it, “She Blinded Me with Science!” In this show Pam had created a laboratory equipped with knitted/crocheted beakers, test tubes with clear yarn filled with chemicals of colored yarn. A knitted/crocheted skeleton revealing knitted organs etc. The dream was so vivid and over the top, I had to tell Pam about it.  

After a facebook explanation we met for drinks and talked about figuring it out as an actual show. After brainstorming a few more ideas, Pam and I thought her one time mentee and longtime friend Antonio Adams would be the perfect partner for the show.  

At the time Antonio was cranking out work for his big one artist show set to open in late August called, “Unrealized & Unforeseen”. We waited a while to share this idea with him so as not to throw him off track. When I finally talked to him about it, I remember the first thing he said was, “and I have some ideas for that!” It was like he was already working it out in his head. He went over to the laundry basket full of albums and pulled out the soundtrack of “Young Frankenstein” and Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon. He opened them up to reveal black and white images and said. I want to do a series of black and white paintings for the show.  

Fall of 2012 was a busy season for Antonio. Besides his epic “Unrealized & Unforeseen," Antonio was also hard at work on a Foto Focus project with Daylight photographer and friend Bob Scheadler and Mike Weber as well as a posthumous collaboration with Brian Joiner for the show ”Chocolate," both featured at Prairie Gallery and with Emily Brandehoff for the show, “Apocalypse Now!” at Semantics Gallery. Once these projects were behind him, he and Pam and I met to watch Young Frankenstein and work out the details.

 The vision at this point had evolved from the dream I had to a sort of “Young Frankenstein” steam-punk Hee-Haw-like game show. At this point I pulled in Matt Waldeck Sr., the father of Matt Waldeck of “Glory Be!” fame. Matt Sr. is a gadget/garbage picker genius.  His expertise seemed to be what was needed to help marry the genius of Pam and Antonio.

Around this time Jen Waldeck relayed when dropping her son Matt off for a Saturday afternoon of art making that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and all that she was about to go through. It was the last thing any of us wanted to hear. Jen had just been a featured in a number of pieces in Antonio’s “Unrealized & Unforeseen” world of celebrity transformations. She is known as “Sugar Girl,” as she had spoiled us all rotten all summer with the best brownies ever!

With Jen’s news, the notion of “She Blinded Me with Science” took on a whole new level of meaning for us. It caused me to think, what is this laboratory for? What is the “science” in this show leading us to? I thought of drawings Antonio showed me shortly after first meeting him back in 2000. Back then he was a quiet and shy kid just out of high school who barely spoke. His mom said to me at one point, “you need to talk to him about how he is spelling homosapien as he doesn’t believe me”. In the comic strip style drawing Antonio depicted himself being bullied in one frame and in another he is taking a swig of “homosapien Juice” from a bottle and in the next, POW!!! He is dispatching the bullies from his neighborhood. Only, as him mom pointed out the spelling was a little off. Instead of homosapien he had written homosexual. Antonio insisted, “No, no! It is homosapien juice!” It was hilarious!

With spelling corrected Antonio continued to feature homonsapien juice in many of his drawings. It was like Pop Eye’s spinach.  Over the years this motif disappeared from his work.  

I asked Antonio at one point, what if this is what he and Pam and Matt Sr. are working on in the lab? The light bulb over his head clicked on and it burned brighter than I had ever seen. He quickly got to work creating 3 different bottle formulas for “Homosapien Juice” as well as a series of paintings and drawings depicting the long and sorted history of how he Pam Kravetz and Matt Sr. became mad scientists driven to create a cure for cancer!

I guess the formula for this show would read as follows:
  • One pop song from the ‘80’s played loudly in a car in an office parking lot
  • Add one dream of Pam Kravetz in a lab coat
  • Include Art Thing and stir
  • One dose of bad news from a good friend
  • Add the talent of three mad scientists
  • Equals: Homosapien Juice!

The Loneliness of the Long Distance CIA Agent

Zero Dark Thirty is a grim poetic character study framed in the mechanics and jingoism of a 21st Century war-on-terror movie.  The "war-on-terror movie" aspect is pretty much dead-on conventional and extremely well-done:  lots of suits walking down CIA hallways, lots of bombs going off, lots of intrique and dust and green-lit night footage.  We need the conventional aspects of the movie because what Kathryn Bigelow, the director, and Mark Boal, the writer, are truly after is the heroic romance of an outsider, a woman, through sheer force of will, changing the main structures of how to reach an outlandishly far-fetched bureaucratic goal.  In this case:  tracking down and assassinating Osama Bin Laden.  
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA agent so focused and so inspired that she can't move past what she is hellbent on accomplishing.  In fact, that need to kill Bin Laden obsesses her to the point no one wants to listen to her within CIA confines, but still her persistence can't be ignored or erased because everyone around her is so spooked they need Maya's hunches and instincts to be real.  A vigilant outsider who has somehow wound up in the ultimate insider's role, Maya is the Norma Rae of intel, and the movie's main concern.  And while this aspect of Zero Dark Thirty may seem just as conventional as the "war-movie" pastiche, somehow Chastain's performance, and the way Bigelow captures that performance, allows the cliches of the "rogue agent" to transform into a meditation on loneliness and resilience.  Chastain's face and body are rigid and vulnerable simultaneously, as if she is a statue slowly turning into a little girl, and her eyes are always bullet-pointed toward a single destination.  You feel awed by her dedication and yet also unnerved by it..  This strangeness gives the movie a chill that allows it to be both propaganda for torture during wartime, and an expose of its evil dehumanization.  In that middle territory, where war is represented as both glamorously cathartic and existentially futile, Maya becomes a bureaucratic icon of breaking down the status-quo by being its most staunch advocate.
In the end, Zero Dark Thirty plummets into the biggest of war-movie cliches:  the night-time raid.  Bigelow shoots the whole Bin Laden assassination with gusto and aplomb.  You fall in love with her green-lit suspenseful chic.  It's all fun and games merged with the feral politics of revenge.  But what really matters at the end of this movie, I think, is its very last image.  Chastain's Maya is escorted from Pakistan in a huge war-plane.  She is the only one aboard.  It's right after Bin Laden's assassination.  She has just identified his body in the body bag.  She climbs into the vast carrier, sits down, and has a good cry.  Chastain is so wonderful in that moment.  She's both emotional and sort of blithe:  the tears are tears of exhaustion, not regret and not happiness either.  You can tell as her image fades to black that she is also trying to find a place in her own mind to locate where to store her victory, while also understanding it really isn't a victory at all.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Don't Ask Me Why

The World According to Dick Cheney, a documentary by R. J. Cutler, debuted last night on Showtime, and its one of those movies that shocks without surprising you.  It's focus is solely on Dick Cheney, and he sits in front of the camera saying all the same bullshit he has ever said about torture, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, etcetera, except this time he truly does seem alone, even ostracized.  The narrative is one of decline and disconnection, even though Dick Cheney does not seem to care.  In fact he has ossified into his own statue, and that statue seems to relish the seclusion, reaping what he has sewn. 
The relationship between George Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney is the main narrative line.  After some backstory about drunk-driving in Wyoming, flunking out at Yale, and then getting his shit together, the story truly gets going in 2000, when things are great.  Even though they don't win the popular vote, Dick Cheney and George Bush Jr. win the electoral college, and therefore the Whitehouse.  And then 911 happens and suddenly Dick Cheney is commanding rooms of people with his stealthy, stoic manner, his decision-making capabilities.  He and Don Rumsfeld have a good time selling the Iraq War to congress, and Dick Cheney even tricks Dick Armey into giving his very emotional blessing to the invasion.  But then of course comes those pesky insurgents, and the fact that there's no WMDs, and then some torture photos, and then Dick Cheney, while Attorney General Ashcroft is sick in the hospital, tries to sneak past George Bush Jr. a very complicated and probably evil legislative maneuver involving wiretapping anyone the government sees fit to wiretapping.  George Bush Jr. has an awakening after someone from the Justice Department lets him in on the fact that Dick Cheney is gaslighting him.  From then (2006) on, Cheney is shut out.  There's a scene narrated by a journalist in which Dick Cheney tries to convince Bush and his cabinet to invade North Korea, and Dick Cheney is ignored.  The room turns on him.  It's all over.
But here he sits in front of us in Cutler's documentary, saying he's not really worried about anything except flyfishing.  He just got through his heart transplant surgery.  I felt sorry for him, for Christ's sake.  Don't ask me why.  Something about his overt stubbornness, and the look on his face of total command of his own emotions and yet no one gives a shit any more.  He reminded me of Stevens, the stoic, stealthy, hyper-controlled butler in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day.  Stevens is a servant who has delusions of grandeur that his service to his master is what will save him from himself, that his life of martyrdom will bring meaning to his last days.  In the novel it doesn't work out like that, and in The World According to Dick Cheney it doesn't work out like Dick Cheney wants, even though he is trying his damnedest not to care.  He's all alone, making excuses, fingerpointing in a way that I think he thinks is not fingerpointing, even though it is.  He's blaming everyone else in a weird, whispered tone, because in his mind his martyrdom was beyond heroic and beyond necessary.  He made the Big Decisions George Bush Jr. didn't have the balls to make.  In his political cosmos, he is the hero in a world that does not recognize heroes. 
And that's probably one of the saddest things you can be.

Lovesick Dishwashers

I have a stockpile of collages I've made over the years.  Thousands of them, dating back to 1997.  Jesus.  Most of them are in black three-ring binders.  The process I went through to make them in every phase is pretty easy to explain.  For the ones featured on this post:  February 2009, I took lots of photos with a disposable camera of absolute nothingness as I drove around doing my job.  Got the photos developed at a Wal-Greens in Hamilton, Ohio.  Took the photos home and had a big box of Xeroxes and old books and other pieces of litter and would piece each collage together from whatever was there.  I wanted the photos to be the magnet, and all the detritus the steel fragments.  I glue-sticked and Scotch-taped each collage together, usually atop the glossy disposable-camera photo, so they are all uniform, 5" X 8".  For this suite, I didn't use a black three-ring binder.  I bought see-through envelopes and each one is stored in one of those. 

No titles.  Just images.  I was writing a novel as I did these, so I think I was trying to escape the monogamy and monotony of novel-writing with these little short bursts of nothingness and beauty.  I was trying to find an aesthetic I can live with.  Still am.  I'm 48 almost, and every time I try to find beauty in the world I crack up laughing:  strangeness and meanness are always what I'm after really because I think beauty and joy are always accompanied by those nasty little henchmen, and if you want beauty and joy without meanness and strangeness I think you're probably not really looking for anything but the arrogance of thinking you know something.  In these dumb little collages I find vast amounts of gorgeousness and also a sense of stupidity so deep and wide I can crawl inside it and pretend I'm on a cruise.

In the end I keep making these things because words don't mean enough, and aren't mean enough.  Images that just link together because you want them to become symbols of anarchy and insouciance and desperation, all words I love, all meanings I love.  I'm returning to these things I made (and still make) because I need to right now.  I'm writing more, trying to figure out how to write more.  These images allow me to creep out of my hole long enough to be absolute and absolutely dumb.  And dumbfounded.  I find all the people I want to write about in these images/interregnums.  They are all usually lovesick and lonely, exhausted and trying too hard, washing dishes, pumping gas, buying beer...  In the end I'm just trying to find who I am too. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mashed Potatoes

Watched Close Encounter of the Third Kind last night, and was shocked by its elegance and adroitness.  It's one of those movies that was built to last, and the pleasure of watching it starts from scene one and never lets up until the final flotilla of UFOs graces the skies above Devil's Tower.  What really is inspiring, though, outside of the whole sci-fi Utopian bliss, is the outsider art narrative involved.  A crew of souls who have witnessed UFOs in the flesh become overnight aesthetes, and their unending drive to create is what churns the movie's narrative forward.  Richard Dreyfuss' Roy Neary is the major case in point here.  An electrical lineman from Muncie, Indiana, he becomes so obsessed after his initial close encounter that he uses whatever material is at hand (from mashed potatoes to dirt from his backyard) to produce a monumental sculpture in his suburban living room in tribute to where he has to go.  He is a visionary by accident, and yet his burning need to make something out of whatever he has in his vicinity is inspiring in a way most documentary and fictional depictions of outsider (or insider for that matter) artists aren't.  His thoughts in being creative are not connected to museums, fame, or even self improvement.  His need to make something comes from his need to figure shit out, and even then the "figuring shit out" part takes a backseat to that simple, guttural urge to turn his home and his life into an art project his family, neighors, and even he himself just can't understand. 
That dedication reminds me of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, Henry Darger's Realms of the Unreal, and Raymond Thunder-Sky's Destruction/Construction vortex.  Roy does not have his eye on the prize, other than trying to figure out how to get what it inside his head outside of it.  There's no relinquishing that need outside of searching for chicken wire and shrubbery in his backyard to complete his masterpiece.
When he stumbles on the connection between what he could not not himself from doing, and the origin of his quest, in a TV news report, there's not a lot of fanfare or messing around.  He pursues the next phase.  The function of his art was to get somewhere outside of what art can do.  I think that's truly one of the best descriptions of "outsider art" and just plain old "art."  You have to make something so you can escape it, and then find what you are truly after.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Artist Is Annoying

So Bill and I were bored last night, channel-surfing, and finally decided on this documentary on HBO called Marina Abramovic:  The Artist Is Present, about "the grandmother of performance art" and her recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  What an experience 14 minutes of this thing was.  We could only take 14 minutes though.  It was like a parody from the get-go, and as I watched I kept laughing at every move this thing made:  the pretentious, pseudo-Phillip-Glass music, the long close-ups of the artist herself with her side-swept braid hanging over her left shoulder like a beautiful snake waiting to whisper to you, and of course the always fun back-story of how performance art was in response to painting blah blah and blah. 
The interviews, especially with Abramovic herself and the curators and critics chosen to speak because they love her, had the starchy self-important self-indulgence of a really good Christopher Guest blow-out, except of course nobody was joking around.  14 minutes in, when the doc follows the artist to her backwoods compound and she is making vegetable soup for some of her followers, I kept thinking this just has to be a joke.  But then no:  the followers get off the Greyhound outside her country estate, walk onto the grounds, take off their clothes and have a fun little group-baptism, in the artist's pond.  One follower says into the camera:  "I've never thought about life in this way before."  Or something like that. 
The language used is about how performance makes us question civilization, but I didn't question anything about art or civilization watching the 14 minutes I watched.  I just kept laughing.  Not from the outrageousness of Abramovic's stunts (like the artist driving a van around in circles for hours screaming outside a museum, or the artist standing inside the museum naked and brushing her hair saying how she must look beautiful).  I was laughing at how archaic and dumb performance art looks now that it's been codified and registered as art.  And I kept thinking too, about "outsider art" (of course) and how it is right now going through that same codification, that same institutionalization.  Doing shocking things is no longer funny or epiphanous or even silly; it's just an exercise in self expression, which kind of deflates all the bull-shit critics and curators say about Abramovic.  I kept thinking:  who cares?  Watch any stupid reality TV show and you'll get the same fix:  outrageous people doing stupid things, in clothes or not, is what it is.  It doesn't elicit questions, or even interest.  It is now officially background noise.  

We ended up watching Guest's For Your Consideration on DVD, because somehow actual parody is funnier and more relaxing than unintentional parody I guess.  Plus Catherine O'Hara's slam-bang even empathetic skewering of an actress thinking she's on the verge of super stardom somehow reminded me of Abramovic's performance in The Artist Is Present:  flaky, sweet, creepy, and in the end so self-indulgent the fact that the empress has no clothes is not even jarring or upsetting.  It's just the way things are.  No big whoop. 
Knock yourself out Marina, right there in middle of the MOMA.  I guess some people might be impressed or nostalgic.  Who knows?

No Trespassing

I almost forget how to do it but then it comes back because I have everything I need with me.  It's not about what I do.  It's about what they do.  Figuring out what they do without knowing who they are.  The end result is the same every time.  It has to be or I will not do it ever again.  You can watch it all waking up, day after day.  My hand and my eye get into the same moment.  The blankness gets outlined in pencil, there's a sky, and what's underneath it.  I erase people.  They are ghosts begging to be erased.  What they do is what is important especially when they are not there.  Each nail, each brick, each detail.  Machines start to break out of themselves.  They start to dream and then buildings get built.  I don't know what else I can do but make sure I see it and draw it.  I can move forward without moving into that rectangular universe, more like a prayer.  When I stop, it stops.  I'll look down at what I've done.  I've made everything else disappear.  I'm not trying to take a photograph.  I'm trying to understand what is happening even though I'll never be able to know.  I can own it that way. 

I know how to make everything turn into what I want it to.  I know.  And everyday when I wake up I can see lines coming out of the sky and ground.  Thin wires that can cut through your brain, but once you know that you can use them.  Once you know what everything is for you know what you need to do.  Every building is being built so I can know.  I'm only documenting the end result of that knowing.  I'm moving to the next site.  I'll disappear into the rocks behind the buildings.  Or the clouds that get too close and swallow everything whole.