Thursday, March 31, 2011

Becky Iker + Bill Ross + Ten Years in the Making

This is a fraction of the pieces Becky Iker and Bill Ross have completed in the last ten years.  A couple will be featured in "2 + 2 = 5:  Collaborations" opening April 29, 2011 at Thunder-Sky, Inc.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hog Heaven

CBS's Mike and Molly is neo-Roseanne:  a working-class sitcom that finds its metaphors and purpose in the beautifully ironic predicament of obesity and activity, being fat and being overworked and being in love.  I just saw a repeat of the Thanksgiving episode -- it was my first Mike and Molly experience -- and I was in hog heaven.  The two leads, Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy, have a banter and chemistry hardly ever seen on TV.  They don't preen or pose ala Friends or all the imitators of Friends.  They actually have a strange familiarity, a language first created for Dan and Roseanne in that preeminent 80s/90s working-class sitcom, one of the first representations of working-class fatties that didn't make dumb jokes at their expense, but allowed the jokes to come from the mouths of the fatties:  tired, mean spirited but ultimately gorgeously moral put downs and asides that allowed the tired and depressed and over-weight a voice and a flare. 

Mike and Molly's style evolves from that Roseanne-fat-ass-venom.  But this is also a love story at its core:  Mike and Molly are courting, and their love is both innocent and worn out.  And when push comes to shove, Molly, a school teacher with papers to grade, makes jokes about Mike's sleep-apnea machine, and Mike, a cop with boyish charm to spare, finds solace in someone who understands him enough to make jokes about his sleep-apnea machine.

Mike and Molly are trying to escape a universe of skinny people, it seems:  trying to find a way out of being gazed-upon as freaks.

Which is a great segue into the whole Marie Clare controversy from back in the fall.  A bitchy Marie Clare editor wrote a blog about Mike and Molly in which she penned crap like: "I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything." 

This show is a direct assault on skinny bitches.  And also on the way we tend to try to overlook what makes us human.  We want perfection given to us often so we can validate hating ourselves.  Mike and Molly allows us a respite from that. "Skinny bitches" are often the punchlines on this show.  The gaze is not on their side.  And really what the hell is wrong with that?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Humorless Camp

What is it about guys? I guess I should put "guys" in quotes, because that's what this is about: masculinity threaded through the needle of accoutrements, props, tokens and signifiers. "Guy" movies versus "Chick" flicks. "Guys" just being "guys." So the other day I stumbled upon John Luessenhop's Takers, a "guy" movie starring TI, Chris Brown, Hayden Christianson, and Matt Dillon, among many other "guy" actors. It was generally hilarious without meaning to be, and had the pseudo-intensity of a GQ fashion shoot merged with the superficial and bleak philosophy of film-noir: all style, no substance, but even the style seemed borrowed and blue. Too blue. All the actors seem to be directed to hide everything they are supposed to feel and yet they don't seem to be feeling anything anyway, other than the need to be in a really intense heist movie with guns and cigars and scotch. Exposition is handled by the ladies: a junkie sister here, a sweet little daughter there, are touchstones of sweetness for these "guys" who spend their days plotting bank robberies and their nights partying in dark, glamorous, mahogany lounges, no girls allowed unless she's getting you something to drink. And it better be scotch.

Takers is a direct descendant to Michael Mann's Heat, the ur-text to "guy" movies. Made in the 1990s, this slick, smooth, blue-steel, moon-lit crime epic has all the brooding silence and synthesizer elegance of other Mann movies, but it also seems so self-important as to wipe away any respect you might have had left for Al Pacino and Robert Deniro. It's all hyperbolic and humorless: scenes go on for too long because basically the only thing at stake is the next violent outburst.

Susan Sontag nailed down camp in her seminal essay, "Notes on Camp." In it she writes: "Taste has no system and no proofs. But there is something like a logic of taste: the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste. A sensibility is almost, but not quite, ineffable. Any sensibility which can be crammed into the mold of a system, or handled with the rough tools of proof, is no longer a sensibility at all. It has hardened into an idea ."

These movies both signify things way beyond their reach: masculinity as a desire to escape actually being a man, guns and posing as a structure for identity, stylish clothes and cars and promises of ass-kicking masquerading as "strength." It is a sensibility hardening into an idea, bad art ossifying into cliche and yet the very high-toned seriousness of the product gives you the feeling no one has any idea, and in fact may have the notion that this is the way things actually are "on the streets." There's no tongue-in-cheek, no signifiers that this crap is really crap. No fun. Fun is not what "guys" in this context want: they want pork-pie hats, tailored suits, and a gun to go with it.

This is "guy camp," humorless and dull, and yet if you look at it through the lens of Sontag's Camp you see the sadsack guy behind the curtain. This is wish fulfillment, just like in a "chick" flick when Matthew McConaughey chases after Kate Hudson with a bouquet of flowers on a New York City street. "Chicks" just want to get married; "guys" just want you to shut your mouth so they can get down to business. Either way it's an alignment of stereotypes, a way to "cram sensibility into a mold," creating more of the same.

Friday, March 25, 2011

One of Those Things

There's one startlingly poetic piece in the "The Way We Are Now" exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum:  Shih Chieh Huang's "EX-C-FW."   It outshines all the other art in the show because it creates its own element and does not seem interested in announcing itself or even desiring attention.  Positioned in a portico upstairs, all alone, this flimsy bag-and-battery jellyfish haunts space.  It might be giving birth to itself.  Innocent junk and cynical science intermingle:  plastic bags breath in and out, as if they are being sucked through broken car windows.  A little video screen located inside the "body" of the piece reveals odd-shaped eyes staring out at you like the dream sequence Dali did for Hitchcock's Spellbound.  Electrical cords spill in and out, vines twisting into the carousel that slowly oscillates the whole contraption.  Technology has blurred into daydream, and daydream has concretized into living and breathing nothingness.  When you approach Huang's "EX-C-FW," you are in the presence of some sci-fi-funky Medusa, and yet also you feel the vibration of a hummingbird wings.  It's a beautifully tender trap.

Above are photos of some other Huang pieces I found online...  He's definitely one to watch.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"2 + 2 = 5" News Release

For Immediate Release

“2 + 2 = 5” Features Collaboration as a Way to Transcend

Cincinnati, OH – March 23, 2011 – "2 + 2 = 5: Collaborations" opens April 29, 2011 with a reception 6 to 10 pm at Thunder-Sky, Inc. Gallery in Northside. The show features variations on the theme of "collaboration," and how getting rid of "one author" can open up new vistas and territories to investigate. “Those Who Want War Warring against Themselves,” a large-scale collaboration done by Antonio Adams and the late Brian Joiner in 2008, is the center-piece of the exhibit. (Photos below.)

Based on Picasso’s "Guernica,” the work is a triptych that re-imagines not only the work of a great Modern Art Master, but also reconfigures and re-conjures that visual feast into a sort of parody and homage simultaneously. Antonio was an “outsider artist” whom Brian met when Antonio was still in high school; Brian was more than a generous mentor to Antonio – he was a classy example of how to make art and to live the life of an artist.

The Antonio Adams/Brian Joiner collaobration as it first appeared at Country Club Gallery in Cincinnati in March 2009, in an exhibit along with Antonio's solo works...

When Brian passed away last year, he left behind not just a beautifully prolific suite of works, but a huge backlog of art supplies. Antonio has taken a small portion of those supplies and created Brian-inspired works.

Elsewhere in the exhibit are other examples of how collaboration in visual art can sometimes help artists transcend circumstance and pedigree.

Large prints were made of some of Raymond Thunder-Sky's unfinished works, and David Mack, Antonio Adams (one of his Thunder-Sky collaborations is pictured below), Cedric Michael Cox, and Aaron Olive Wood have reworked Raymond’s uncompleted drawings into finished collaborations that have lives all their own. Thunder-Sky, Inc. co-founder Bill Ross has several collaborations in the show, including pieces he did with the late Donald Henry. Katie Brenner, as well, has collaborated on works with the late DJ Maes. Thunder-Sky, Inc. is also publishing a catalog that chronicles the exhibit, with an essay by Pamela Rhodes Myricks concerning her collaborative relationship with Joiner. As well, a book of writings based on Dale Jackson’s text-based works will be published. Titled I Was Dreaming When I Wrote This, the book will feature color reproductions of Jackson's text-based works side by side with the writings done by local and national poets and writers.

Keith Banner, (513) 823-8914
Thunder-Sky, Inc.
4573 Hamilton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45223

Friday, March 18, 2011

4 + 29 = 2011

Raymond Thunder-Sky, Paul Rowland, Antonio Adams:  2000

Raymond Thunder-Sky, David Mack:  2003

“2 + 2 = 5: Collaborations”

Adams + Thunder-Sky
Adams + Joiner
Brenner + Maes
Cox + Thunder-Sky
Echo-Hawk + Dotson
Iker + Ross
Jackson + Henry + Ross
Mack + Thunder-Sky
Morris + Ruschman
Ross + Henry
Weber + Ross
Wood + Thunder-Sky
(+ more)

Also presenting the publication of I Was Dreaming When I Wrote This, a chapbook of writings based on the text-works of Dale Jackson

Opening reception: April 29, 2011 6 to 10 pm
Thunder-Sky, Inc.
4573 Hamilton Avenue
Cincinnati, Oho 45223
(513) 823-8914
Hours: Friday 6 to 9 pm, Saturday + Sunday 1 to 5 pm

Show closes 6/10/2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Alive + Well = Collaboration

Bill Ross and Becky Iker:  Over the years Bill and Becky have created close to 50 paintings together.  Becky does the drawings and Bill does the painting.  Above:  one of their pieces...

Collaboration Is alive and well via V&V’s “Double Vision II” and Thunder-Sky Inc’s “2 + 2 = 5”

It is great to see Visionaries & Voices (V&V) continues to embrace and celebrate ‘collaboration” as a way to make art with their one night exhibit and fundraiser called “Double Vision II”. For me, making art is probably the only real form of magic that exists in the world. Artwork that emerges from collaboration can be more powerful than a solo project. In fact, collaborating can change your life.

I know this because in my early art school days, my painting instructor, Sue Johnson, randomly assigned me to collaborate with another art student. That student was Keith Banner. We became great friends and continued to collaborate from that point forward. In fact this May will mark our 21st year together as a couple.

So when it came to developing V&V back in 2002/2003, one of the cornerstones of the enterprise had to be, you guessed it, “COLLABORATION”. Bringing artists together with and without disabilities was a way to move things forward. Shows like “We Come in Peace” and “Same Difference” at Artworks and even “Pop Life” at the former UC Gallery on Sycamore were all vehicles showcasing the power of collaboration. Our training as artists and our jobs as social workers helped us to synthesize into “Culture workers”. Collaborating became a way to see results more quickly.

In those days and still now, collaborating can do a lot of “culture” work. When two artists come together to create regardless of backgrounds or history or issues, perceptions can change. The community can be made richer, more colorful, more, alive. Artists who may otherwise go unnoticed can be more quickly woven into the fabric of a larger conversation, a larger art world. Artists who may feel they are accomplished or established can be challenged or inspired in a new way. New techniques, imagery or ideas can develop, barriers can be eliminated.

What I have grown to appreciate over the years is that collaborating can be extremely difficult, but when it works it is great. A truly brand new piece can emerge that would not be possible without the other artist’s involvement… a new vision, experience or clarity can be derived. It can be exciting stuff. It can be more than the sum of its parts.

At our new gallery "Thunder-Sky Inc” we have not forgotten about the power and importance of collaboration. Stop by any Saturday and you may find a collaborative piece being made. In fact at the end of April running through mid June, Thunder-Sky Inc’s ninth exhibit will feature “2+2=5”. This show includes a number of collaborations, both new and old by such artists as Brian Joiner, DJ Maes, Donald Henry, and even Raymond Thunder-Sky himself. Artists who are no longer with us but are very much alive in the works they left behind or inspired.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reconstruction: Four Antonio Adams/Raymond Thunder-Sky Drawings

Raymond Thunder-Sky left behind a number of unfinished drawings.  We made large-scale prints out of a few of them, and Antonio Adams took the prints and "finished" them.  Part of the "2 + 2 = 5:  Collaborations" show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. opening April 29, 2011.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Art and Everything After

"Those Who Want War Warring Against Those Who Don't," Antonio Adams and Brian Joiner, 2008

We're pulling together "2 + 2 = 5: Collaborations," the next Thunder-Sky show opening April 29, 2011.  This large triptych is a collab done by Antonio Adams and the late Brian Joiner back in 2008 (and was last exhibited at Country Club two years ago) in response to Picasso's "Guernica," and it's going to be the centerpiece of the show.  The show is shaping up to be not just about collaboration in "real time," but also about spiritual collaborations as well.  Antonio is working on a few homage pieces to Brian, using some of the materials Brian left behind.  Also, David Mack, Cedric Michael Cox, and Antonio are working on "finishing" a few of Raymond's unfinished drawings.  Raymond left behind hundreds of half-completed drawings; we had some of these printed on a large-scale, and the three are adding their touches to the prints.  Bill Ross has several collaborations in the show with the late Donald Henry, and there will also be a piece by Katie Brenner and the late DJ Maes.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"One day, maybe not so long from now, you'll get to know how it feels."

"Maybe from as early as when you're five or six, there's been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: 'One day, maybe not so long from now, you'll get to know how it feels.'  So you're waiting, even if you don't quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don't hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you–of how you were brought into this world and why–and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it's a cold moment. It's like walking past a mirror you've walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange."  (from Katzuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go).

Mark Romanek has made a beautiful film based on Katzuo Ishiguro's beautiful novel Never Let Me Go, and I finally got to see it last night.  It is crucial and fierce in its own secret, sad way, like a terse stern poem that blossoms into a life-changing philosophy inside your head.  The imagery is stark yet banal, intended to be forgettable and yet the amnesia of it all forces you to turn everything you see into nostalgia:  a brick boarding school, an old wire fence festooned with litter, a rusty abandoned boat on a beach, a cloudy sky, a wet gray road...  There's a tension in every moment among the three main characters, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy (played by two sets of actors, one as children, one as teens and adults), but the tension is somehow sidetracked by the dreaminess of it all.  From the start you know these kids stowed away in boarding-school in England aren't actual "kids," as much as strangely over-alert facsimiles, not robots as much as wannabes.

Romanek's eye provides both distance and subtlety to the happenings and surroundings, and as the movie progresses you begin to understand what is at stake, just like in the novel:  the secret that's not really a secret, just life itself.  Ruth, Kathy and Tommy were created for their organs, and their organs only.  What's inside them will eventually have to be harvested so that "actual people" can live.  The brutal honesty of their existence is mollified by the manners and routines of Hailsham, their school, but it's always in the air, a feeling that they aren't real enough to be human but everything human about them is all that matters -- everything human, that is, except their souls, which are defined as throw-away commodities in order to make killing them for their kidneys, etc. palatable, even ethical.

This situation of course sounds sci-fi-morose.  The way it is delivered, however, is pure finesse, and the sadness creeps through the circumspect words, the beige and gray uniforms of the school, and the tenderness the three main characters share as they grow into adulthood, an adulthood that will be cut short through a series of donations that quickly deprives them of the organs they need to stay alive.

In the teen/adult phase, Carey Mulligan plays Ruth, a quick-witted girl who falls in love with Andrew Garfield's Tommy; the triangle is completed by Keira Knightly as Kathy, a twitchy, energetic girl who steals Tommy from Ruth in their childhood and lives to regret it.  The triangulation gives Never Let Me Go its drama, but that drama is given meaning through what the three have to go through in order to find reasons to be who they are.  The three all have to figure out how not to be heroes, in other words; institutionalization has made them docile and compliant, and yet the need to love makes them want to break apart from who they have been told they are.  Never Let Me Go's story is kind of an exercise in Stockholm Syndrome, capturing both the masochism and the tranquility of finding a way to exist in a world that wants to ignore you until you can be used properly.  That dark truth guides the way each of the actors perform their roles, and gives the movie a cohesion so compressed and grim you feel a part of their world in a way that most movies never accomplish.  The imagery gets layered into your own scrapbook, and you feel an essential connection to the people and the places, especially at the end of the film when Kathy and Tommy reach "completion," the euphemism used to define what happens after an organ-donor has donated so many organs they die.

Ruth is a "carer," an organ-donor who has the job of assisting other donors in the process -- a sort of on-site social-worker/nurse who reads to them and counsels them through the process.  Mulligan gives Ruth a depth and energy that allows her to become the movie's moral center as well as narrator.   She struggles not with her fate as much as with how to accept the fate without losing everything in the process.  Garfield's Tommy is a lost genial man-boy who is trying to return to a time when he could believe the lies he told himself.  Knightly's Kathy is an exercise in cynicism and vulnerability simultaneously, and at the end of her life she's crippled and manic, also wanting to return to the youth the three of them shared in order to give all of them another chance to be innocent and alive and without pain.

The core of the film is loss and yet the drama is not about trying to escape heroically (as in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest or Girl, Interrupted), but how to take it all in stride and to force yourself to feel authentic feelings, to be strong enough to know everything is worth it even when it's not.  That's the hardest discipline, and the most honest:  to know how worthless you are and yet still maintain a life.  In the quote above from Ishiguro's novel, Ruth says:   "Maybe from as early as when you're five or six, there's been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: 'One day, maybe not so long from now, you'll get to know how it feels.'"

Never Let Me Go allows you to know how it feels to be Ruth, Tommy and Kathy, and by the end of it all you feel a sort of rapture from the experience.  You are able to understand what it truly means to never let someone go, while actually watching them leave this earth one piece at a time.      

Outwitting Oppressors

"High and Wide (Carrying the Rats to the Man," Thornton Dial

Richard Lacayo has written a brilliant article about the "Thornton Dial:  Hard Truths" exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  Read it yesterday and was completely inspired.  You can't access it on Time's website (just a teaser that tells you to go out and buy the magazine to read the whole thing),  but there is a great photo gallery with information on the site:  Thornton Dial in Time.

Here are some quotes from Lacayo's smart, concise, and on-point piece about an artist whose work can't be pigeonholed, even though his bio (African American, non-credentialed, illiterate, etc.)  would seem to dictate that status from most arts writers. 

Thank you Richard Lacayo...

The introductory paragraph masterfully sets up the case, without using the word "outsider" once: 

"American artists don't have to be licensed -- a good thing, that -- but they do tend to be credentialed.  The art world is bristling with degrees from Yale and Cal Arts and hundreds of other academies.  In that world, Thornton Dial stands out.  He has no formal training and very little schooling of any kind.  To be blunt, he can't read or write.  But sometime during his long years as a metalworker in Alabama, he turned to making what he at first simply called "things," because it would be a long time before he, or anybody else, realized that those things are better described as art.  And not just that, but some of the most assured, delightful and powerful art around."

Lacayo also surveys the meaning, purpose and history of assemblage in modern art, mentioning high-art touchstones like Schwitters, Picasso, Braque, Nevelson, Twombley, and finally Rauschenberg, in order to not just contextualize Dial's personal history, but to give his work a place in the artworld outside of biography and "outsiderness."  He also finds a way to do exactly what I always want writers about unconventional artists to do:  he places Rauschenberg directly beside Dial, and finds a way to unite their works through what inspires them:

"Just like Dial, Rauschenberg, who grew up in the largely black town of Port Arthur, Texas, was influenced by the 'yardshow' assemblages he saw as a boy.  The memory banks of small-town African America, yardshows were pieced together from things discarded without losing their residue of personal history, the kind from which the larger varieties of history are built."

And toward the end of the essay, again using art history and world history to invert the way people locate and relegate artists and art, Lacayo finds a way to champion Dial as a contemporary artist worthy of art-historization, without losing the authenticity and grit of what Dial is trying to accomplish:

"When Dial is at his best, he even manages to inject new life into one of the most cliched images of postwar art.  Mickey Mouse, who usually gets dragged into service as a symbol of the trivial strain in American culture, does much more complicated double duty in High and Wide (Carrying the Rats to the Man).  A stuffed Mickey doll, the white portions of its face smeared in black, hangs in chains in the midst of a wire-and-rod construction meant to signify a slave ship with goat-hide sails.  With one compact gesture, Dial invokes the atrocity of the Atlantic slave trade and the minstrel-show culture the descendants of those slaves adopted to entertain and outwit oppressors.  It would all be funny if the laughs didn't come so hard....  In a piece like that, Dial claims a place within the line of history painters stretching back to the 18th and 19th centuries.  He doesn't try to call on their visual language -- who would anymore? -- but at the same time, there's very little in his work you could call folkloric."

Damn.  That's it.