Monday, December 23, 2013

Daffy Duck

In all the furor and bull-shit surrounding the Duck Dynasty head honcho's statements in GQ about homosexuals, etc., something gets lost in the translation as pundits, reporters, zealots, activtists and others come to the fore to debate/explain/categorize/condemn/praise:  the guy just plain does not understand gay folks.  He is mystified by them and their behavior.  The very logic, or lack thereof, of a gay guy's existence stimulates rhetoric in him:  “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

That's more like disbelief, than belief, if you ask me.  But then he's quoted as getting a little more rigid later in the article.  In trying to figure out why he is confronted with such illogical people and behavior, he posits:  "Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong.  Sin becomes fine.  Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.  'Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers'—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

From not understanding the anatomy involved to condemning people to hell, all in one fell swoop.  Talk about a slippery slope. 

The pundits and reporters, et. al. going on and on about this "controversy" all try to structure it as a logical argument about freedom of speech and religious beliefs versus political correctness and identity politics.  I don't think once I heard anyone say anything about manners.  Just good old plain grace and kindness?  I guess you don't expect it from the Duck People, but still they seem to flaunt their sweetness on their reality show, as in they all dress up in camouflage and kill things, but there they are all of a sudden saying grace at the dinner-table, or there one of them is kissing his sweet wife good night.  Etcetera.  Meaning:  they depend on people understanding them as good old boys.  It's their brand.

Phil Robertson is an ass-hole who likes to pretend he is mystified by ass-holes and their uses.  He is a finger-pointer, bully, and all around heterosexual offender.  I write short stories about the people Phil says won't be let into the Kingdom of God.  These characters I write occupy the same white-trash spaces and places good old Phil does in his reality world.  And usually in my stories there are folks like him, kindly gentlemen in camouflage and beards who act like your buddy but then can turn on you in a flash.  That's the power they like to have.  On his show Phil and the network only allow us glimpses into his best behavior.  We don't know him outside of the cartoon he allows us, and in the GQ article he is just another cartoon of course but also menacingly real, not daffy and downhome.  He's saying serious things but the cartoon configuration is allowing him to be let off the hook.

The initial fury over his remarks has dissipated.  All the Duck Dynasty merch is being reshelved after a few days of outrage and debate.  This isn't going to be a Paula Deen knock-down.  It's going to be Freedom of Religion Rides Again.

Which is very sad because the crap Phil said is just as bad, maybe even more toxic, than what came out of Paula's mouth when she thought no one was looking.  Phil said what he said to a reporter in a high-class magazine.  He wants us to know how disgusted he is; in fact I think he wants us to join in and identify with it.  That's the horror.  A little while back I saw a documentary called Valentine Road on HBO, about a foster-kid named Larry King who liked to dress up in girl clothes and go to school.  One day, dressed up like that, he asked another boy to be his Valentine, and that boy the next day brought a gun to school and shot Larry in the back of the head in broad daylight.  Many people were outraged in the community, but just as many, perhaps more, said things about how if Larry had not dressed up like a girl none of this bloodshed would have happened.     

People are people, I know, and reality shows are stupid and worthless and brainless.  And Phil Robertson is an idiot, but what's scary is the reaction he gets:  people I actually know and like are defending him and his right to be a monster. I don't get it.  I guess you have to live inside the fear-zone people like Phil instill to truly get it.  He's not Santa Claus.  He's not an evangelist.  He's a bully and a bastard, and the Kingdom of God can have him. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

anomaly, noun (pl -lies): Deviation or departure from the normal or common order, form, or rule.

Thunder-Sky, Inc.'s 2014 Exhibition Season: Anomaly Lessons
Thunder-Sky, Inc.'s 2014 exhibition season includes paeans to an idiosyncratic fiction-writing genius, a local hat-wearing folk hero, and other wonderful outcasts, including Mr. Thunder-Sky himself in a season-ending installation that incorporates his desire to build a Utopia while destroying whatever got in his way. We're using "Anomaly Lessons" as the organizing concept and title for a whole year's worth of shows that teach us all what it means to be gorgeously abnormal.
"Head Shots: Portraits by Bob Hoke and Stacey Vallerie" opens January 10, 2014 with a reception 6 to 10 pm. The show closes February 14, 2014. Hoke, from Hannibal Missouri, creates whimsically bizarre and bizarrely whimsical portraits of people with a Paul-Klee flourish; Cincinnati-based Vallerie finds inspiration and serenity in reality. Side by side, their works seem to whisper sweet nothings to one another.
"Deep in Thought: Paintings by Mark Betcher and Scott Carney" opens February 28, 2014 with a reception 6 to 10 pm. The show closes April 11, 2014. Northern Kentucky's Betcher layers his work with words, pictures, and word-picture hybrids; Carney looks for Utopia in his storybook paintings.   Both approaches feel thoughtful without belaboring the point, both visually appealing and a little off-kilter.  
"Rejoice!: A Retrospective of Avtar Gill, the Cincinnati Hat-Man" opens April 25, 2014 with a reception 6 to 10 pm. The show closes June 13, 2014. Avtar Gill (pictured above), known by many downtowners as The Hat Man, passed away early 2013, but he will always be remembered (like Raymond Thunder-Sky) as a Cincinnati folk hero for the sign-emblazoned hats he wore while walking all across the city, and for his dedication to maintaining a strong, cultural voice and presence throughout his life. This exhibit will feature photographs, video, testimonials, stories, and actual hats and signs The Hat-Man left behind.
"The Meanest of Them Sparkled: Visual Artists Respond to Flannery O'Connor's Fictional Universe" opens June 27, 2014 with a reception 6 to 10 pm. The show closes August 8, 2013.   "Meanest" commemorates the 50th anniversary of Flannery O'Connor's death. A skilled, humorous, dead-on writer of short stories and novels ("A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and Wiseblood chief among them), O'Connor's prose is steeped in beautifully unsettling images and set-pieces. O'Connor was a painter and cartoonist besides being a fiction-writer, and this sensibility informs a lot of what she wrote and depicted. We've asked several artists to create art inspired by O'Connor's genius, no limits on media or style. We'll also be sponsoring a reading of some of O'Connor's works to go along with the show.
"Outcasts from Hollywood (the Greatest Celebrity Art Show Event): Antonio Adams and Emily Brandehoff" opens August 22, 2014 with a reception 6 to 10 pm. The show closes October 10, 2014. Adams and Brandehoff often work side by side on Saturdays in the basement at Thunder-Sky, Inc. They will be creating separate suites of work that investigate/celebrate/satirize the poetry and absurdity of celebrity culture and its aftermath. "How Deep Is Your Love," a Thunder-Sky, Inc. fundraiser happening in the basement gallery, opens as well.
"New Clownville Amusement Park: Constructing Raymond's Perfect World by Matt Waldeck Jr. and Sr. and Marc Lambert" opens October 24, 2014 with a reception 6 to 10 pm. The show closes December 12, 2014. The Waldecks (a father and son team), along with Lambert (whose painting of Raymond is above), are taking over the gallery to create a Raymond-Thunder-Sky-inspired installation that pays homage both to his drawings and to his life. Sculpture, drawing and other media will be on display. As well, we'll be presenting a new show of some of Raymond's more obscure and eccentric drawings. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Good Chief

The Good Wife is a TV show on CBS I always heard about but never watched because it seemed too taken with itself in ads and in what little bit and pieces I heard and read about it.  It came off smug and self-satisfied, a complete one-note concept (a lady whose politician husband cheats on her so she goes all independent on him and gets a job at a great big law firm) that didn't even seem worth a Lifetime movie.  But it turns out I was wrong.  Totally wrong.  I started watching the fifth season of The Good Wife on a whim, out of boredom really, and every episode I've seen On Demand is so polished and revved-up and smart I couldn't stop from bingeing big-time.  The show has a Shakespearean pulse to it vibrating beneath the lawyer-mahogany veneers of office furniture and desperate, processional middle-aged faces.  At this juncture of the show, Juliana Margulies' Alicia Florrick, the good wife, has decided to jump ship from the big firm that allowed her to go all independent on her no-good politician husband's ass.  She is in cahoots with the "four years" at the firm, all hyper-ambition attorneys with a penchant for lattes and stealing clients.  The atmosphere of the whole she-bang is what is thrilling.  The music has a Philip-Glass pretentiousness that never lets up and every scene never swerves from its purpose until it lands right into your brain with a perfect little finish.  The writing is exquisite, and even though I truly fucking hate the word "exquisite," that's the only descriptor.  The acting, as well, is exquisite.  Margulies is cryptic, beautiful, conniving, bitchy, and nurturing all at the same time; a sphinx-like graveness emanates from her like a halo, but she's no angel and no sphinx.  She truly exists in a real world with real problems, but her ambition and desire for making her work great gives her a power and presence you just want to succumb to.  The same can be said for Christine Banaski's Diane, a co-founder of the firm Alicia leaves, whose spot-on professional-lady drag is both poignant and ferociously there.  Baranski gives Diane a strangely touching vulnerability.  You can see her second-guessing all the crap she has to do to stay in the game while also experiencing the overwrought joy of having something powerful and sketchy to do as well.  All of that empathy and snideness gets synergized in Baranski's gaze, a glass-doll permanence that melts when no one is looking.  Or when someone is looking and she wants to trick them into thinking she thinks no one is looking.  The third lady in The Good Wife's Holy Trinity of Ambitiousness, possibly the Holy Ghost, is Kalinda Sharma, played by Archie Panjabi, the law-firm's in-house private investigator, who silky/steely countenance and reserve somehow give her the grandeur of a Christopher Nolan superhero.  She carries with her at all time a little private notebook she uses as a sort of force-field and a symbol of her dedication to remembering everything people do to hide what they do.  The Good Wife is about truly about work, and how work can both give you a reason to live, as well as a reason to want to kill yourself, and in that odd mix of desire for greatness and the desperation of knowing you're not really that great the characters and plots in the show work themselves into a frenzy that is so glossed and preened you can almost miss how dangerous it all is.  That's a good thing.  The drama is a radioactive afterthought. 
Treme is a TV show on HBO I also always heard about but never watched because it also seemed too taken with itself in ads and in what little bit and pieces I heard and read about it.  Created and produced by David Simon, the guy who did The Wire (one of those other TV shows I have hear a lot about but never watched because...), Treme seemed a little to precious and earnest.  But since we had a magnificent stay in New Orleans last month, and since I stumbled across HBO on Demand and saw the word "Treme," I went ahead and partook.  Unlike The Good Wife, Treme's pace is slow and dedicated to its own slowness.  The Good Wife has a zippy, nervous elegance; Treme has a Dickensian stubbornness that somehow works itself out in the way the actors create tension and momentum among themselves.  Clarke Peters as Albert "Big Chief" Lambreaux is one of the main reasons Treme is magical.  He plays Big Chief with a sort of offhand yet tremendously magnetic gravity.  The whole thing is about is about New Orleans recovering after Katrina.  It starts three months after the devastation, and Season One, which I just finished, shows us folks like Big Chief returning to mud-covered front-porches, mold-covered walls, and a city without a basic infrastructure to live in.  And yet Big Chief gets right back to it:  creating the costumes that he and his tribe will be wearing in Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras "Indians," it turns out, are a true cultural configuration, groups of African Americans creating Native-American-esque costumes and then parading around in contests and sometimes combats concerning who is the "prettiest."  These costumes are supernaturally gorgeous, all Technicolor ostrich feathers, hand-sewn bead-work, etc.  Watching Big Chief and his friends and family creating those costumes in a half-destroyed tavern is like stumbling across a fever-dream fairy-tale that's never been told before, and yet unlike a fairy-tale there's a political urgency and rage being played out.  The music, as well, plays a huge role in the show, and one of the other main reasons to catch Treme is Wendell Pierce as  Antoine Batiste, a trombonist constantly on the search for gigs whose face and eyes carry so much inwardly acquired super-power from all the shit he has had to go through it's almost comical and yet not funny at all.  Pierce is brilliantly at home in the role.  He feels so right I almost burst into tears when I watch him play or just even speak.  The same goes for Khandi Alexander as Ladonna, Antoine's ex, who is now married to a dentist in Baton Rouge but who keeps her family's bar open in Treme because she has to in order to remain sane.  Alexander gives Ladonna a grace and fierceness almost akin to the queens in Paris Is Burning, a meanness and dedication that keeps herself and others alive.  There are so many other reasons to watch Treme that I really can't go into them without having to write a novel.  John Goodman's enraged, hurt, dumbfounded professor, Melissa Leo's brilliant, befuddled, joyful civil rights lawyer (and Goodman's professor's wife), Steve Zahn as an impassioned hipster, Kim Dickens as a chef trying to maintain whatever semblance of order is left to be had...  Everyone in the show is brilliant and yet what you get out of it is a spirit of a city trying to feel its way out of doom.
The Good Wife and Treme both celebrate without sentimentality or irony what it means to work.  "Working" in both contexts is a way people survive in all sort of ways, not just economic.  These two hour-long dramas locate reasons for existence in what we do everyday, trying to make a living without losing the reason we want to be alive.  Both The Good Wife and The Big Chief have piercing, enigmatic stares, as if they are scanning for traitors while also looking for their next redemption.      

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hive Minds

Valentine Road is a documentary about the death of Larry King, a fifteen-year-old boy who liked to dress up in make-up and high heel shoes and go to school.  He was shot in the back of the head by Brandon McInerny, a fourteen-year-old peer, because of that, and also because Larry told him he wanted Brandon to be his Valentine.  This happened in 2008 in Oxnard, California.  I didn't remember this incident at all, but in Marta Cunningham's film she shows us the media taking on the issue (Ellen DeGeneres gives a wonderful plea on her show, among others), but that isn't really the point for Cunningham.  She's interested in showing us how these events are a lot more complicated than speeches on talk-shows can allow, more complicated than most people can even accept inside their own minds.

Watching this documentary I felt mystified a number of times by the overarching meanness and judgment in people's faces as they spoke about Larry and how he somehow caused his own death by his "eccentric behaviors," and I was also taken aback by the sweetness and sorrow in the facial expressions of the murderer and his immediate family.  It's a dizzying feeling, this movie, because while her heart of course is with Larry and what was done to him, Cunningham does not shy away from looking into the heart of darkness that helped to create the situation.  That darkness is located in many places within the context of the film, including school hall-ways, white-trash front-yards, middle-class dining rooms, foster-care facilities, and eventually a courtroom.  The darkness, in fact, is the point here.  It is a darkness so dark that it creates a sort of confusion that's masked as compassion in many people's hearts. 

Larry's desire for Brandon is constituted as a malfunction of a grievous sort by many of the teachers who used to teach Larry (one of the bitchiest ones in the documentary cites the fact that Larry was on an IEP and "behavior program" as evidence for his need for "correction" and "conversion"), and many others, including an evil older teacher stirring her iced-tea with a knife in her plush crucifix-decorated split-level, state that if Larry had been told how to act, and punished for acting out in high-heels, the situation, the murder, would not have taken place.  It's scary to think that these women (all of Larry's teachers happened to be women) and others lack the imagination and the moral apparatus to understand how Larry's love for a boy, and his happiness in both dressing like a girl and expressing that love, should not damn him to being shot in the head.  It's pretty easy math, even when it's overtly sentimentalized.  But something about Larry brings out the beast in people, and not just Brandon, but a whole society.

This society includes the jurors in Brandon's trial, which eventually ended up with a hung jury.  In Valentine Road we are privy to the after-trial thoughts of three ladies who were part of that hung jury.  These woman are heavily made-up, talking about how astonished they are at the low price of Cabernet at Trader Joe's as they swill it at a suburban dining table laid out with pastries and cheese and crackers.  An off-kilter chumminess has enveloped these three in a sort of tribal bitchiness as they talk about how Brandon really had no choice because of Larry's sexual harassment, how no adult stepped in to ensure that Larry would stop breaking the rules...  Their collective sympathies for Brandon, the killer, are breathtakingly nonchalant, as if they are discussing someone playing hooky.  It is both creepy and awe-inspiring, their lack of any kindness toward Larry.  They only see him as a thorn in Brandon's side, an obstacle to his future now.

Larry was a foster-kid.  Larry had no connection to the world outside of a few friends at school, and the one teacher in the film who felt compassion for him and who was actually with him in the computer lab when he was killed.  (She was summarily fired from her job because she gave Larry her daughter's prom dress to wear.)  Larry was an anomaly beyond abnormal to the majority of the people who were charged with educating him  His mere presence, however, fucked with their need to correct, control, convert.

Mary Gaitskill is one of my favorite writers, and in September she wrote a nasty takedown review of Gone Girl, a popular novel that's gotten a lot of attention.  In the review, Gaitskill talks about some of the same issues Cunningham gets at in Valentine Road.

"So why is Gone Girl scary rather than kooky? Primarily the characters’ apparently everyday behavior—their motivations and how they view one another. Amy and Nick [Gone Girl's main characters) do not resemble actual people so much as grotesquely smiling masks driven by forces of extreme artifice, and it’s exactly that extreme artificial quality that’s frightening to the point of sickening.  What I mean by “artifice” is social language, styles, and manners, a public way of being that is by necessity coded, fixed, and hard, and which has become even more so through the emergence of the virtual world. In physical life, the hardness and (frequent) deceptiveness of such language is offset by the deep, doggishly honest presence of the body; in the virtual world, such animal presence is either absent or faked. Gone Girl doesn’t compare to other books so much as it evokes flipping through TV shows (including the news) and glimpsing face after chirping face, all with only slight variations on the same manner of speech and “smart,” high-speed delivery common to Facebook, texting, and tweeting; that is to say, the book evokes (impressively, one might argue) a hyperartificial, hive-minded way of relating, combined with what has become a cultural ideal of relentless feminine charm tied to power and control."

The teachers and jurors in Valentine Road who use Larry as a cautionary tale to any other freaks out there thinking they have a right to dress weird and tell people they love them are hive-minded and hard-faced, diligent in obeying some need to keep things static and coded and fixed and artificial.  That's what makes them "scary rather than kooky," and gives Valentine Road a moral imperative and its deep beauty.  In the middle of the movie, while they are chattering about "behaviors" and "sexual harassment," Cunningham cuts quietly to a picture from Larry's autopsy. 

She shows us the two bullet-holes in the back of his head. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gag Gift

The other night I stumbled across The Wrestler on TV.  I remember seeing it at a Cineplex in West Chester, Ohio back in 2009, and halfway through it I had to get up and go to the restroom because I was crying so hard.  That doesn't happen very often.  I mean I cry at sad movies, but it's the normal wipe-a-couple-of-tears-off-your-face way.  The Wrestler sent me into spasms.  It had everything to do with Mickey Rourke's performance, as well as the director Darren Aronofsky's ear and eye.  The scenes were so devastatingly specific they crushed me in a way that only real life does, almost as if I had lived through them with Randy "the Ram" Robinson. 
It's very hard to depict working class trash in literature and in movies because there are so many traps and tropes and tricks, you can kid yourself into creating a stereotype while also feeling your doing the world a favor.  Aronofsky's gift is taking a cliché -- a professional wrestled completely down on his luck searching for redemption -- and recalibrating the atmosphere and action so that it has a haunted, lived-in feel that makes you believe this shit is more than real:  it's alive.  The scenes when The Ram works at a deli-counter in a grocery-store are so vivid and dead-on you feel embarrassed and elated simultaneously, as The Ram doles out fried chicken and potato salad in plastic containers with a Vaudevillian shuffle and a showmanship that he just can't drop, even if he is working minimum wage and recovering from his latest heart-attack.  And the scenes with his daughter have that same bruised tenderness, that sense that The Ram understands his own joke and yet can't stop telling it over and over and over to an empty house.  The daughter, played with a glum effortlessness that fits each scene perfectly by Evan Rachel Wood, doesn't want to see The Ram in her front yard, but there he is, stepping out of his white-trash customized van, offering her gifts, haphazardly wrapped in old Christmas paper.  First off he gives her a "gag-gift" to warm things up:  a lime-green 80s bomber jacket.  You can see by the look on her face what she's thinking:  business as usual.  But then The Ram gives her the actual gift, the real thing:  a Navy blue pea-coat that seems just like her, sensible and working-class and a little glamorous too.  That's one of Aronofsky's great touches:  allowing The Ram enough self knowledge to understand the situation he's in, without losing the authenticity of being exactly what he is. 
There's a stubbornness on screen that is not acted out; it's lived and somehow embedded in every move the camera makes.  That desolate working-class neighborhood where The Ram's estranged daughter lives is in both my dreams and in my history, that feeling of being lost and wanting to be found but unable to tell anybody where you're hiding.  And The Ram's trailer home too:  nasty but not too nasty, a place you can see yourself living if you had to.  Nothing is too much, and yet Aronofsky and Rourke capture the extremes to the point you feel them as a part of your own world.  No judgment happens.  There's a crystal clear connection between who you think you are and what you are seeing.
It's empathy, but without any sense of uplift or heroism involved.
In my stories I try to construct characters that live in the same cosmically disjointed and kind of dirty universe The Ram populates.  It's truly hard because if you think about who might end up reading them it gets a little screwy.  The artistry comes from not shellacking over faults and perversions and creepiness, but finding a way to make "sins" universal, implicating people in these lives with an effortless sense of connection and nonchalance.  Or as Flannery O'Connor puts it (and by God I'm using this quote as an epigraph for the new book of stories):  "It is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Workaholics Anonymous

The other night I was driving to the Thunder-Sky Gallery because we were going to have a meeting about how to best help people with disabilities access real employment, with actual living wages and a chance to move forward.  I had pulled together this informal group of likeminded people who actually do that, so we could talk shop and figure out how to negotiate all the systems and other forms of bull-shit that can impede the simplest and yet most arduous of tasks:  finding meaningful work. 
On the way there I got a call from a woman named Beverly, out of the blue.  She said she'd heard about Thunder-Sky, Inc. via an article online, and she was floored.  She was Raymond's job coach when he worked at M. E. Heuck, a company that makes kitchen utensils.  Raymond worked there for quite a while.  Beverly said that he had the strongest work ethic of anyone she'd ever seen.  "He was a true gentleman," she said.  "He was so focused on his work it was amazing to watch."  One time he came in off the bus looking roughed-up with a bruise on his eye.  Although he didn't talk too much, Beverly said she could tell that he had been mistreated probably by some teenaged boys.  "That kind of stuff happened a lot to him," she said.  Raymond, that day, just went right to work.  It was as if he was trying to work all the hurt out by staying in the routine. 
Everyone who really knew Raymond knew he was a workaholic.  All he really ever wanted was a good job, which often means also having a good life. 
Beverly said, "He really didn't need a job coach.  He could do the job.  But it was my pleasure to be able to visit him on the job when I did, just so I could talk with him and be in his presence." 
I got kind of choked up talking to her because it was one of those moments when things seem to coalesce, and those kinds of moments catch you so off-guard you almost want to hide from them.  We're always trying to think of the best way to continue Raymond's legacy.  The art gallery, and archiving all his drawings, is one way, but another way might be to figure out the best ways to help people like him get real jobs, and to put those best ways into practice all across the area.
So that night the group (we're calling ourselves The Believers and we're keeping it kind of on the down-low) met at his namesake gallery, and it was great.  People totally focused on the same issue talking about struggles and successes and also stumbling onto a sort of collective point of view:  the best way to help people is to get them working through connecting them with businesses and employers who need really good workers.  That sounds really simple, but in the over-complicated world of "helpful" bureaucracies that surround the lives of people with disabilities like creepy force-fields, this simplicity is often drained out so that every good idea gets stretched into a process that eventually yields nothing.  I know that sounds cynical, but that's it in a nut-shell.
How then do you decrease the bull-shit and increase the possibilities of real stuff happening?
Do it without making a big deal out of it.  Concentrate on one person at a time.  Concentrate on one or two businesses at a time.  Get to know both.  Find out what the person needs and wants.  Find out what businesses need and want.  Make the connections matter without a lot of fuss or process.  Just do it.  And then keep doing it. 
At the end of the discussion, we figured one of the best ways to make things happen is to keep doing what we're doing, and to meet regularly to compare notes and get new ideas from one another.  We also decided that each of us should invite one other likeminded person to come to the next get-together in January.  Grow slowly, keep each other focused, celebrate and learn from each connection we make.  Keep moving forward.  Don't let the need for bureaucracy and funding overrule the need for sanity and real accomplishments.  We figured that we use the system the way the system is supposed to be used by actually helping to make things happen, without enslaving ourselves to process and procedures.
I'll be inviting Beverly to the next one.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

And Who Knows What to Do with It?

This is from Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire

“Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?” 

You-know-who trills that phrase and almost all of the other great, hyper-poetic, drowsy, gorgeous lines in Streetcar:  Blanche Dubois.  Sweet sad decadent ridiculous beautiful Blanche, on her way from the Tarantula Arms to the nearest insane asylum by the end of her trip.

We went to News Orleans this past week.  It was the third time I'd been there, and this time the charm came through, not in a touristy, gaudy way, but in a sort of febrile, smelly, yet still delicately poetic manner.  The smells on all the streets in the French Quarter (and even beyond)  had a definite rotten taint but they also held a beautiful dank perfume, a promise that death becomes something else once you get past the stink, past what it is.  It was Blanche's thoughts I was smelling somehow, as if everything she'd ever said or imagined had gone olfactory, a New Orleans poetry of pheromones. 

Time somehow went to sleep in New Orleans this visit for me. 

Tennessee references that in the little quote above as well.  It actually did feel like time was turning into something other than measurement as we ate and drank ourselves into a sort of miniature oblivion, walking all over the city.  One afternoon, when it was pouring rain, and everything was hazy and gloomy, we went to the movies to get out of the mess.  We saw Gravity in 3D, in which a lady astronaut played by Sandra Bullock is in peril, floating above the earth, trying to find passage home.  It was so serendipitous as to be hypnotic, and a symbol of the whole trip. Watching Gravity covered in New Orleans rain, I saw Vivien Leigh's Blanche in my head, a sort of split-screen:  Sandra Bullock trapped in outer-space in computer-generated grandeur and Vivien Leigh trapped inside a cramped, sad tenement in Elysian Fields in glamorous black and white...  I don't know.  The whole visit was like that, disjointed, meaningful, but I didn't really know what to do with the meaning other than simply live with it, enjoy it in a way that goes beyond "enjoying" something. 

New Orleans truly is a work of art.  It has a way of escaping what it is by being exactly what it is.

(Thanks to Terri for making it happen.  And to Bill for taking some pictures.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

You're So Thoughtful

A couple weeks back I got invited to give a talk to a group of social-work students at Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI).  A friend of mine is in the MSW program there, and she asked her professor to invite me to speak about what I've done in my line of work as a sort of social-worker (I'm not a licensed anything, but I guess what I do both as a vocation and a practice beyond vocation could be characterized as "social-work.").  I also got my undergrad degree there in English back in 1991.  It was totally weird to walk the space-age hallways at IUPUI again.  The whole campus has the feel of a 1970s futuristic movie like Logan's Run.   I took along a Powerpoint Bill and I put together that commemorates the 10th anniversary of Visionaries + Voices (we started V+V in 2003), as well as the beginning of Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009.  The pictures are self-evident:  the reason I do what I do arts-wise is because of the people I met back in the late 90s and early 2000s, mainly artists like Raymond Thunder-Sky, Antonio Adams, Paul Rowland, and several others that were in photos from little gigs we did back in 2000, 2001, 2002, art-shows in public libraries and in coffee-shops and anywhere else that would have us, finally ending up with a studio in Essex Studios in Walnut Hills.  The V+V journey Bill and I took that started in 2003 and kind of ended in 2009 was totally a joy but also filled with little pockets of terror, frustration and shock.  I know that sounds melodramatic, but it's embarrassingly true.  We really dedicated our lives to it there for a while, to the point we couldn't pull who we were away from what it was, and more importantly what it was becoming.  I bet that happens to a lot with "founders" of anything.  We just kept at it so hard and so fervently that somehow it became a nightmare toward the end:  lots of creepy meetings and off-kilter emails and finally the feeling that everything we tried to do was kind of lost in the non-profit-professional shuffle. 
You can't really say that stuff to a roomful of MSW students, so of course I kept the whole thing inspirational (and truly many aspects of the V+V Experience were), but I kind of let them know that the main thing I learned from helping to start and sustain a non-profit organization for "artists with disabilities" was that you have to figure out the limits of believing in something before, during and after you start doing something about it.  If you don't understand those limits you start confusing yourself and others with your own heart-felt bullshit.  You can lose yourself in the "vision and mission" as it concretizes into something people can be paid for. 
You almost have to have a secret, strict resolve to remove yourself from "growth" and "outcomes" and "friend-raising."  I never went into the whole thing thinking it was about helping people with disabilities, to be honest.  I never considered the endeavor "social-work" or even charity.  I always saw all the people we were working with as peers and partners not in need of a lot of help outside of art supplies and opportunities to show and be seen.  I never thought the whole endeavor would morph into HR or Executive Committees or Elevator Speeches, even while I worked very hard to make those things happen.    
Anyway, during the little talk I gave, as I clicked from slide to slide, and year to year, I got a feeling that it was worth it in the end.  Because it has to be.  And Bill and I did Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009 to kind of recover what we felt we lost:  a simplicity of message, a graceful allegiance to one small idea.  I guess the main idea we're after is that art has a reason to exist in everybody's lives, and that the whole point for organizing around that idea is to have total equality from the get go.  Unfortunately when you organize things conventionally, order and control kind of take over (it's a people business after all), and you lose things, including your purpose.  And after awhile I didn't want to lose things anymore. 
Thunder-Sky, Inc. has always been about not losing things:  keeping Raymond's drawings safe, all the other stuff he left behind too, but also that initial idea of art helping us all transcend what we do to each other not getting coopted and redefined as a new tagline or mission statement.  I couldn't explain to the social-work students that I've always wanted Thunder-Sky, Inc. to be a DISorganization, a place without a lot of structure or meetings or committees.  A place where things don't get lost, but they don't get found either.
Four years into Thunder-Sky, Inc., it feels kind of like we're floating into and out of what it means to be established.  And I think that's the way Raymond would work it too.  Constantly out of the periphery, wryly smiling, walking through the world kind of bemused and kind of pissed, making art without much fuss, and finding a way to live without losing what it means to be alive.
Last night we hosted a poetry and fiction reading.  It was a packed house, and the two writers, Lisa Ampleman and Tessa Mellas, were great, reading Courtney Love poems and a short story about an alien from Jupiter taking advantage of Affirmative Action.  The words combined with the art on the walls, and it was a trippy little session.  It made me feel like we know what we're doing sometimes, and it doesn't have anything to do with anything, except that it's a moment in time when people get together and stop the crap long enough to appreciate each other.  I love this photo from last night.  It sums up a lot of things:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Satan in Outerspace

Sometimes really bad movies take on lives of their own.  Dune is a 1984 sci-fi flick directed by David Lynch that was horribly overwrought and dead inside.  Based on the novel, it was meant to be operatic and regal, but it actually turned out to be a shiny creepy parade that did not make one bit of sense.  It truly is a dream of a movie.  Dreams usually don't have plots, and the pacing in Dune is plotlessly inert, the way it goes when people try to tell you their dream-narratives.   As in Last night I had this weird dream...  They start off really excited but as they tell you they start to realize how boring and unnecessary the dream actually is to anybody else outside of their heads.  Lynch made a movie that isn't a movie as much as a strange combination of textures and cornball voice-overs and costumes that seem terribly uncomfortable and senseless, with characters that aren't characters as much as totems on a totem-pole, and scenery that wobbles away from the camera like blinds on windows accidentally sliding up.  There's a nervousness to the whole shebang, a tentativeness to the way scenes work out.  Lots of talk among people who don't seem to be talking to one another, and not even to the camera.  Just talking. 
When I was 18, I moved to Tennessee with my mom and sister because my parents got a divorce and my mom was a nutcase right out of a Tennessee Williams play.  We lived in a lower-income apartment complex.  I was working at a steakhouse washing dishes.  My mom's sister was married to a pedophile who had molested his two sons.  So when we moved to Tennessee I had to be around this guy and the whole situation, but we couldn't say anything about it of course.  It was all secret.  I'd dropped out of art school in Indianapolis to move to Tennessee, and I was thinking about going to East Tennessee State, but at this time, December 1984, I was lost and filled with all kinds of poetry that couldn't find a way out.  Then Bill and Al, two of my friends who were still going to art school, came to visit me, and we went to see Dune.  My uncle, the pedophile, wanted to go with us.  So he came too.
In 1984 he was no longer doing what he had done to his two sons, but the aftereffects of it were still in the atmosphere.  One son had disowned him, the other forgiven him, and my uncle, who had a large beer-belly and thick blond hair combed back from a wide forehead with keys always jangling on his belt-loop, was living out the rest of his life in a quiet sort of shame, as if everyday he was trying to take back all that he had ever done or felt, but no one was going to help him.  So he just kind of floated through his days as an audio-visual guy at the local high school, working part-time at a local radio station.  He always looked like he was sorry, but also like he didn't know what he actually was sorry for.
Bill and Al were my friends, and I was jealous and hurt because they were still in art school, and I felt so connected to them but I didn't know how to say it or even express it on my face.  It was a secret kind of misery in Tennessee for me, and I kept wondering if this was the way I would live out my whole stinking life:  washing dishes, helping my mom and sister, ignoring my pervert uncle, finding a way to escape somehow eventually, but not really knowing what steps to take.  It worked itself out of course.  I eventually moved back to Indiana, went to college, Bill and I started a life together, etc.  I'm not complaining.  It's okay.
But that moment in December 1984 when Bill, Al, my uncle and I went to see Dune at the Johnson City Cineplex is kind of burned into my consciousness.  In the movie, Kenneth McMillan plays Vladimir Harkonnen, a total grotesque.  So evil that he floats around in an evil-king-astronaut outfit, constantly in search of handsome boys to kill by pulling their "heart-plugs" (little plugs installed presumably by his henchman into their chests that when pulled release all their blood), Vladimir Harkonnen was a ghost that came out of that movie and into my head, nesting there.  His relentless goofy evilness became a sort of poem when I looked over at my uncle, who was watching the same thing and probably feeling something close to recognition.   I think my uncle was evil.  I don't think you're supposed to say that about people, especially relatives, but I guess he was.  That doesn't mean he should have been shot in the head, but still he did things to people that scarred them beyond scarring, and also his actions created a gaping wound in the whole family that never healed.  His actions destroyed a whole house of people.   
Harkonnen cultivated sores on his face.  He had red hair and green eyes and he was morbidly obese.  Something was so wrong with him that no one could fix him.  They could only obey him.
My uncle died in 2000 from complications of diabetes.  At the end of his life he looked gray and bloated and sore.  He looked as if he had never known himself, only what he had wanted.  He looked like a king who had been dethroned and cast aside, placed somewhere he could never escape. 
Two worlds merged that night when we watched Dune, and there wasn't any kind of epiphany or even insight.  I just felt a message had been delivered to me that didn't change anything but somehow made my life stranger and I could identify with the fucked-up poetry because sometimes that's all you have.  Dune was a very bad movie, but David Lynch's fucked-up poetry gave it a radioactivity, a nightmarish relevance.  I watched it again a couple weeks back, and boy was it bad.  But still Vladimir Harkonnen is in it, floating around like a very particular kind of Satan in Outerspace, in search of what he wants, ready to do whatever it takes to be whatever he is.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

All Show, No Tell

We accidentally got to see "David Bowie Is" at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto on Friday.  We went there to see Rufus Wainwright sing with the Toronto Symphony, and that was amazing of course, but the David Bowie show has a magic shimmer to it in my head because of the serendipity and the utter beautiful chance of the whole thing.  Bowie has a huge place in my life; he's like a planet I've revolved around many, many times, me this white-trash moon.  In the seventies and early eighties, he was sometimes all I had connecting me to a place I wanted and needed to be, some glamorous kingdom in which pure feverish creativity is the very atmosphere you breath and pollute.  His three "Berlin" albums (made with Brian Eno. God bless him, self-exiled in a city that is perpetually in black-and-white), Low, Lodger and Heroes, all leave a majestic space in your head, as if they were recorded before records were even created.  Those three records are so out of time and so rich with eerie throbs and an aural meanness that goes beyond sentiment and toward delirium (and even a little ecstasy), you think you are in the presence of an alien god just arrived and ready to kill what he can't enslave.  At least that's what it felt like being 17 years old and experiencing them for the first time.  The songs on each range from moody set-pieces to ballads to honest-to-goodness rock anthems, but as a whole each of those three albums feel like they were hatched in meth-labs, home-made science that somehow creates a whole new subculture.  Lodger for me especially has a sort of love-sick brilliance to it; songs like "Fantastic Voyage," "Repetition," and "Boys Keep Swinging" speak to life outside of life, satirizing and elegizing at the same time the desperate need you feel when you can't feel what you are supposed to.  Lodger is the best novel I've ever read in many ways:  literary and fast-paced, and almost completely plotless, but pulled forward by that sinewy, reptilian, gorgeous voice and soul.

"David Bowie Is" captures a feeling of both worship and understanding, as if a bunch of freaky good-for-nothing teenagers with a penchant for goth-rock and posing wised up and became astute curators and assessors.  There's so much stuff in the show (lyrics to "Fame" on a cocktail napkin, beautiful costumes from Diamond Dogs to Labyrinth, videos (the one for "Life on Mars" is spectacularly glamorous), albums covers in a makeshift record-store corner, paperback books Bowie posed with and eventually read strung from the ceiling like birds flying into the horizon, a one-room concert-hall flashing scenes from "The Glass Spider" 1987 debacle/tour, and so on) that you'd think you'd be totally overwhelmed, but the way all the objects and ideas have been placed and contextualized you feel right at home.  I almost burst into tears a couple times, especially, of course, in the rooms associated with Berlin.  Someone even had the great insight to place the keys to Bowie's Berlin apartment inside a Lucite box on the wall, and the video performance of "Sense of Doubt," a really gloomy soundtrack flourish off of Heroes, is one of the most absurd and beautiful live performances you'll ever witness. 

I could go on. 

Museum shows often try to examine events and historical epochs through a constellation and collection of images, trying to form an abstraction based on concrete data.  It's like trying to swallow a whale usually:  too much "stuff," not enough meaning.  In choosing to focus on one person who has an amazingly prolific and effusive history of creativity and pop-culture resonance, the curators here almost effortlessly show us the times Bowie lived in without even talking about the times he lived in.  It's all show, no tell.  The way he worked his magic with what he had is all we need to witness.  It's not a retrospective as much as a dream of the past forty years or so.  And that dream, like Bowie's music and performances and life, tells you a lot more about the way world is than actually trying to survey and "capture" it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Written on the Wind

David Jarred's“Two Gaseous Entities Exchanging Atoms Forever” and
“Our Membranes Envelop Each Other Eternally to Protect Our Precious Gasses”
The (F)art Show Installed.

Watching the "(F)art Show" film, "Whisper," by Golden Brown.  Below: 
Philip Louis Valois’s “Recettes de Cul Puant” (both cover and a couple pages from the book);  The official "(F)art Show" brochure; and the official "(F)art Show" t-shirt. 

"Satire is a lesson; parody is a game."  Vladimir Nabokov

I love the paintings David Jarred did for "The (F)art Show," the exhibit at Thunder-Sky that's ending its run this Saturday with a bash starting at 7 pm.  I loved the whole stupid show actually.  And when I use the word "stupid," I mean business.  I pursue stupidity in the arts, especially the visual arts.  "Stupid," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means:  "dazed and unable to think clearly."  I want art to dazzle me and to allow me to think without clarity, to be pushed toward some other realm of thought that's outside of rationality, outside of convention, and outside of whatever is thought to be "wonderful."  "The (F)art Show's" stupidity is of course very intentional, and it gets to work by treating its subject matter with the utmost professionalism and meticulousness.  Both David and Kenton Brett (whose work in the show I blogged about in a post a couple days ago), partners in Golden Brown Enterprises, a dynamic-duo/art-collective that sponsors art-related activities across the city, have taken the idea of a show about farts and turned it into a tour de force, but always keeping their eye on the prize:  a good time.

But back to David's paintings, pictured above.  Such strange careful attention to detail, a Dreamsicle distortion of what biology is, with  a Philip Guston flair for cartoon simplicity.  The titles weight these little balloons back down to earth, but also are jokes on themselves, teetering toward a dismissal of meaning while trying to make meaning happen in a way that isn't meaningful.  Which is basically the whole thing with the show.  A joke that is a joke but not a joke unless you get past the fart thing, and see it as a celebration of what art can do once it gets past its own stodgy nature. 

Philip Louis Valois does the same thing with his booklet, pictured above as well.  In a sort of  Proustian flourish, Philip records what he eats and what the resultant gas smells like.  It offers us a homemade pastiche of church cookbooks merged with the mean-spirited wit of Mad Magazine.  Crafted with tender loving care, the joke here is about how delightful the little drawings are and how beautifully stupid the whole exercise is.  Emily Brandehoff''s simply sweet little painted ditties are comprised of cartoon animals letting it rip.  Jen Edward's stained-glass-over-x-rays gives us a Gothic blend of technology and religion, all in the service of the meaning of you know what.  Mark Betcher's series of paintings has an R. Crumb delirium mixed with a Pee-Wee Herman wanderlust.  Joey Versoza's video install looping fart-mockery with melting glaciers has a great and stupid density:  it's a joke but also a sermon on the mount.  Jared Dryer's pop art logo says it all with a heavy-handed brilliance:

I quote Nabokov (a genius who sometimes pursued scatological insights in his works) up-top because "(F)art" truly is a prime example of his thesis:  satire preaches; parody plays.  "(F)art" does not satirize; it is a game of hide and seek, a sort of joyous little romp where everybody is wondering who is "it"?  Satire contracts.  Parody expands, laughs, jeers, and yes most definitely farts.

So thanks to David and to Kenton, and to all the artists whose works made me feel dazed and confused.  Nothing better than that.

(All the other artists I haven't mentioned but whose works deserve seeing:  Philip LaVelle, Carolyn Watkins, Philip Spangler and Samantha Boch, Jonathan Hancock, Bekka Sage, Anh Tran, Emily Caito, Joel Armor, Robert McFate, Antonio Adams, and CT King.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sloe Gin Fizz

Last night channel-surfing I stumbled across Coal Miner's Daughter for the thousandth time, and for the thousandth time Bill and I watched it the whole way through, marveling at its genius.  The thing moves like an action movie.  The scenes don't have title-cards or markers, but Michael Apted the director is so in charge of time and space you can feel the movie moving ahead of you, each scene bumping into the other blissfully.  Drama somehow blinks itself alive in each moment, thanks to Sissy Spacek and Timmy Lee Jones, playing Loretta and Doolittle Lynn.  Spacek especially has a witchcraft-handle on morphing through teen-age to middle-age without really changing that much physically.  It's the way she looks at the camera that does it, super-charged but also shy, meek but furious.  Plus she sings the songs like Loretta, full-throated, slightly off-key, and completely real.  (Beverly D'Angelo plays Patsy Cline with the same intensity and truly captures her singing style; their scenes together as Loretta and Patsy have such a homey loveliness you want to fall asleep listening to their voices.)  Jones has that effortlessness too, giving Doolittle enough exasperation and kindness to allow you to figure him out without judgment or skepticism.  You want to be in the backseat of that big car they drive around in, visiting radio stations to plug the first record he and Loretta made, and then the morning they are parked in front of the Grand Old Opry is so matter-of-fact alive and wonderful it's a like a really good memory from your own life you want to hold onto. 

Apted, Spacek and Jones all blur that line between what is in your head and in the movie through a total concentration on specifics.  Apted especially finds pure poetry in rainy, muddy campgrounds, and old coal mining downtowns with old men sitting out in front of the hardware store, and the windows inside an old schoolhouse with that shiny black glamor of a holiday party at night...  By the end I was crying like I always do, not because I was sad, but because Coal Miner's Daughter gets everything right.   It truly is a joyous feeling to witness that.

And then this morning I remembered Van Lear Rose, Loretta's album that came out in 2004, the one Jack White produced.  I'm going to try to find the CD somewhere around the house here, but I looked up some of the songs on You Tube and caught a performance of "Portland Oregon" that was originally on David Letterman.  Both Loretta and White appear, with White starting out with his guitar solo and then Loretta sauntering on-stage waving hello with her microphone.  What an incredible performance from an incredible album...   That song still resonates in my head, one of those tunes that make life worth living, no matter how much it sucks.  I did a little digging and found out that Doolittle is credited as a co-writer with Loretta on "Portland Oregon."  He passed away in 1996, but lives on in that song, and in Coal Miner's Daughter, as a truly mythic figure.    

Here are the lyrics to "Portland Oregon" by Loretta and Oliver (Doolittle) Lynn:

Well Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz
If that ain't love then tell me what is
Well I lost my heart it didn't take no time
But that ain't all. I lost my mind in Oregon

In a booth in the corner with the lights down low
I was movin' in fast she was takin' it slow
Well I looked at him and caught him lookin' at me
I knew right then we were playin' free in Oregon

Next day we knew last night got drunk
But we loved enough for the both of us
In the morning when the night had sobered up
It was much too late for the both of us in Oregon

Well sloe gin fizz works mighty fast
When you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass
Hey bartender before you close
Pour us one more drink and a pitcher to go

And a pitcher to go [repeat]...


Global Anonymity

JR has a show at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, part of an overarching project called "Inside Out."  JR is a famous street artist from Paris, and simply typing in that bio feels kind of icky to me.  Not sure why, except that his whole gig seems to be about a sort of utopian populism in which getting your picture taken and plastered somewhere in the city constitutes -- well, I'm not sure what.  The whole endeavor is predicated on the fact that fame, no matter how it is instituted, is worth it.  The kind of fame JR deals in, sweet and esoteric and empowering, is actually the same kind of fame that is dealt out via the internet, TV, radio, and any other platform.  Your image becomes your identity.  So what is the difference between getting your photo taken by JR and his project-workers and getting it taken by paparazzi or even doing a little selfy on Instagram?  In the case of JR's project, it must be that his presence as a "famous street artist from Paris" is what makes it different.  Plus he's not making a shitload of money from the image.  Plus the image is not of someone who is already famous.  Plus it takes the concept of "selfy" and rarifies it, turns it into a status beyond self-promotion. 
In the case above, JR and his project workers pasted the portraits they took on the concrete around the fountain at Fountain Square.  So, I guess, people could walk on them while enjoying them.
Which brings me to Inside Out, the overarching project.  This is from the Inside Out website, from its "about" page:
"On March 2, 2011, JR won the TED prize at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California, and called for the creation of a global participatory art project with the potential to change the world. This project is called INSIDE OUT. Inspired by JR’s large‐format street "pastings," INSIDE OUT gives everyone the opportunity to share their portrait and make a statement for what they stand for. It is a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.  Each INSIDE OUT group action around the world is documented, archived and exhibited online. Over 120,000 people from more than 108 countries have participated.  The INSIDE OUT project has traveled from Ecuador to Nepal, from Mexico to Palestine, inspiring group actions on varied themes such as hope, diversity, gender-based violence, climate change..."

A project that is built around being "a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art" looks kind of odd when executed like the picture above.  The portraits become plastered litter on the ground, peeling away from the weather and from people actually walking on the faces.  No messages are delivered this way, I don't think.  When I was looking at all the faces I just thought about the faces of missing children on milk cartons or on bulletin boards in Wal-Mart:  an anonymity intervenes.  You can't help that.  When people's images are grouped and plastered on the ground there's a sort of unintended irony, a message about the uselessness of portraiture. How does having your picture taken and then pasted on the ground with other pictures of people inspire group actions around "hope, diversity, gender-based violence, climate change"?   

Or maybe the art happens when the project happens?  When people are having their photos taken, and everyone is having a good time?  Is that the art?  Maybe the end result is just a weak echo of what actually occurred? 

Still trying to figure it out. 

I saw the Ai Weiwei retrospective at the Indianapolis Museum of Art earlier this year, and I was a lot more impressed with the way he blended art and activism.  In one elegant, epic piece he and his project-workers pounded out miles of rebar to form ocean-waves of meaning.  The rebar came from the shoddily-constructed schoolhouses in Chinese villages where kids died during an earthquake in 2008.  And in the ether inside the museum was a recorded voice reading off the names of the dead.   There's an intended irony here of course, and a seriousness about how anonymity creates throw-away lives, but then also hearing those names and seeing that repurposed rebar becomes a celestial experience:  both aesthetic and political, without indulging in fame or even rhetoric.

I don't know.  I guess you shouldn't compare the two.  But I am. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sunday in the Park with Bosch

Kenton Brett, "Sunday Picnic," Ink, charcoal, digital print, and paper

Kenton Brett and David Jarred co-curated the show currently up at Thunder-Sky, Inc., titled "(F)art Show," which is up a couple more weeks.  It's a group gig filled with wonderful and hilarious moments.  The two of them (under the guise of Golden Brown) truly have done a magnificent job installing all of the works, so I wanted to spend some time with some of the pieces I admire. 
First off, it's one by Mr. Brett himself, titled "Sunday Picnic."  Essentially a diorama made from cut-out drawings, "Sunday Picnic" has a presence both on the wall and in your head of blanched Saturday morning cartoons slowly transforming into a Bosch bash that is both frightening and terribly funny.  The meticulous care it took to make this paper wonderland is breathtaking.  Each fragment has a skillfully accomplished edge, and the whole enterprise is just plain flawless.  The assembled, lacy atmosphere makes me think of both Henry Darger's warrior princesses and Kara Walker's supercharged silhouettes.  The simplicity of the landscape gets overcrowded with a sort of leisurely mania.  A coloring book has exploded and definitely does not want anyone to color in its lines.  Also Kenton seems to be referencing storybook illustrations from the 19th Century (like those Sir John Tenniel did for Alice in Wonderland) while undermining the whimsy with fart clouds and a deadpan depiction of Victoriana: a stiff upper-lip uncurls into a Monty Python snarl. 
That really is what the show centers on:  a joke that inverts itself and becomes so polished and pristine you have to take it seriously just because it makes no sense and is so skillfully executed.   The senselessness is the point, but also the counterpoint.  Kenton's constellation of drawings inhabiting a black box has a sort of puppet-show innocence to it, but also a Vaudevillian meanness, a propensity for anarchy.  You want to laugh even when you feel a little uncomfortable with its manners turning to shit. 
I'll be writing about some more of the pieces through the closing of the show.  Stay tuned...

Monday, September 30, 2013

Loud Enigma

It's always hard to come up with a postcard invite for a group-show.  You don't want to feature one artist, and you want to give a sort of global take on the concept, but a "global take" never is that interesting.  So often what gallery people do is collage together a bunch of images, which makes everything look a little puny, even while you're desperately trying not to.  So for our upcoming show, "Superunknown:  the Neo-Folk Impulse," curated by Leigh Cooney and featuring Andrea Heimer, The Cooney Brothers, Mike Egan, Ben Kehoe, Bill Ross, Marc Lambert, and Matthew Waldeck, I thought a little bit and decided:  go with Raymond.  But not a Raymond drawing, a Raymond costume.  "Superunknown" could totally describe Raymond during his heyday.  He was a secret, unnerving, but beautiful presence on Cincinnati streets, walking in one of those clown outfits with a big ominous toolbox in tow.  He created his own enigma, and boy was it loud.  A "loud enigma" is kind of a good way of explaining what Leigh is after in the show:  folk art that does not have a sense of preciousness, but a smart snappy attitude that deconstructs notions of what "folk/outsider/self-taught" art can mean and be.  He's selected these artists because they seem to be working on art that does not conform to notions that are already in the world.  They are mining what's inside their minds and souls without aligning themselves with a genre or school. 
So be on the lookout for the "Superunknown" postcard.  Coming soon...