Thursday, August 27, 2009
I've always had a strange fascination with natural disasters. I remember getting very excited just before a big storm hit Florida: the smell of the air, the crazy wind made visible with the furiously twisting oak tress. Maybe it had something to do with the chance of danger, the romanticism of adventure, or just that something different was happening to break the routine. What ever the reason, when the lights went out in the neighborhood and my family had to break out the candles and flashlights, I was enthusiastically glued to the window, watching the action unfold outside, and feeling...special (silly, I know). Luckily, these storms never did much damage to our lives directly, aside from a few tree limbs falling on my dad's car, or perhaps my interest in them might have changed.
Attending Michael Ruglio-Misurell's show, Project #12, at Gallery 400 Wednesday night, I was reminded of this childhood attraction. However, where I enjoyed being overwhelmed by the power of nature, Michael's obsession is composing an aftermath.It looked like Florida threw up 1985.
All the banal structural materials of back office theme parks, or bathroom stalls in Ft. Lauderdale's first gay club, were glamorously disheveled. Carefully arranged in total disorder, urinals, two-by-fours, sheets of metal, mock signage, palm fronds, socks, beer cans, and coffee cups framed peaks and valleys of environmental mess. I wondered how much garbage they made during install that they simply left around within the space. I wondered how aggressively satisfying it might have been to destroy all these things, to then build into something else. Upon entering the space in fact, it was immediately humorous imagining the making of this work, especially in its final stages---the final touches and clean-up before the opening. At what point in the destruction process do you stop and say, "Okay, now let's fix this up a little?"Formally, the installation is compelling---sensational in scale and with plenty of crannies and details to explore, which often result in an overall sense of amusement. Michael is surely challenging the space, completely altering the gallery, leaving only the front desk unharmed. It's materially complex; but thematically, a bit campy. The "Enter at your own risk" sign congers Disney's Blizzard Beach or Universal Studio's retired Earthquake ride. And as structurally intriguing as it may be, the sheer mass is indulgent and luxurious.
Gallery 400 gives the artist a small budget for the exhibition, which Michael undoubtedly spent on thrift store objects---chairs, tables, lighting, etc---to fill-out his piles of found stuff. Many of these things are manipulated, cut-up, reassembled, propped into place, thrown around with crumpled papers, wood paneling, and pieces of corporeal construction. Items with "use value" become art. The art, in this case, is a beautifully arranged pile of trash. At the close of the exhibit, this art will most likely be thrown into a "real" garbage heap somewhere (similar in form, only dislocated from the gallery context--rendered worthless). And this consequence seems ineffectual to most.
I have a feeling Michael is in part playing on the excess of human consumption, yet an ethical dilemma exists with making nothing out of something. But then, that is another elusive question of art + value I guess. The true disaster might be the waste of the aftermath of art. Ah!
Wishing you a safe hurricane season!
Images at top:
1. Still from the show (aftermath of surface)
2. REAL aftermath of hurricane in Florida (compositionally interesting, yes, but tragedy overrides the need for representation.)
3. Poster for Earthquake Ride at Universal Studios in Florida
(If Universal's Disaster blockbusters prove anything, we like destruction. Dramatic devastation is visually alluring, in fiction. Besides the formal qualities, though, what is the fascination?)
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
As you can tell, I have a bit more time these days. So...I'm catching up with Flickr, FB, and all the other online time-suckers. Just read a delightfully hopeful article (at the NYT web) about the new chairman of the NEA. Read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/arts/08rocco.html?_r=1&ref=arts.
I really like his arguements about artists being workers too, with families, mortgages, and medical bills, just like any other laborer in America. “Someone who works in the arts is every bit as gainfully employed as someone who works in an auto plant or a steel mill,” Mr. Landesman said. An artist's productivity is valuable, and good for the economy. After all, aren't we the ones that preceed gentrification patterns.
It's tough to shift such a longstanding generalized misconception about art and artists, though. In American politics generally, he added: “The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay.” But thinking positively, maybe, just maybe we're leaving the "art is superfluous" attitude to die with the armadillos in Texas. Yes!
p.s. My title for this post was jokingly appropriated from a very serious realty ad on the Blue Line, depicting swank modern condos for sale at remarkably slashed prices. Funny huh? B went on to add, "Wanna see my stimulus package?"
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I’m editing a documentary entitled “Cabrini Gone Green” for visual artist Michele Stutts’ upcoming exhibition of the same title. The documentary concerns one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, which was first built in 1942 with several additions built in the surrounding area over the years. Cabrini Green is notorious partly because it is located less than a mile from one of the city’s most affluent neighborhood, and because of its location, it became a hotbed of racial and economical tension. Since 2006, the building began to come down, forcing the residents to move out to other Section 8 housing.
The city was building new mixed-used developments on the demolished sites of Cabrini Green, the new development mandates 10% of the new building will be rented out to Section 8 residents. In the meantime, the Section 8 holders find it increasingly difficult to maintain their status, and if they cannot keep the status, they will have to pay full rent for new apartments. This is the premise of the documentary.
As for my personal feelings, since it is my first formal documentary work, I’m finding it harder and harder to narrow down their voices to just one. Would I even want to? It would seem like a dictatorship.
Growing up, I loved watching feature-length documentary. Steve James’s “Hoop Dreams” (which is partially set in Cabrini), Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me”, and Ross McElwee’s “Sherman’s March.” All of those films have one thing in common: a unified voice. In other words, the filmmakers know what they want, and they can manipulate the footage to get it across.
The problem is, I don’t know what I want to get across, or more accurately, the message I want to get across may not be the most flattering one. After reviewing 18 tapes that I didn’t shoot, I began to find that voice in two of the subjects. Mrs. Landry and Mrs. Wilson, both over 70 years old, talked about their memories of living in the projects. I liked hearing them reminisce from the time they moved in and how the area has changed over the years. They don’t want to move out, not because they couldn’t find a new home, but because they truly love the neighborhood.
Then there is Mr. Randolf, 40 years old, who was born in the projects and is now some sort of community leader. One moment recalls him talking about the fact that the new apartments cannot provide them with a 4-bedroom apartment. Understanding that Section 8 status holders pay somewhere around $500 a month for a 4-bedroom apartment, it is harder to sympathize. To make matters more muddled, many Section 8 holder’s children and relatives move in with them, taking advantage of the deals they’ve got. Those who moved in illegally may not be able to apply for the status for reasons including having criminal records.
Part of me wants to reveal all the contradictions and focus on all the hypocrisy, but part of me feels like it’s kicking someone when they’re down. I cannot change the reality: This is going to happen whether we make this documentary or not, but do I really have to paint unflattering pictures of the project residents? Since this is my first time in the editor’s seat, I’m overwhelmed by the moral responsibilities that come with the job. Kuleshov can make the viewer believe that a man is sad, hungry, or lustful just by placing different footage immediately following the face of the man. But when it concerns something as consequential as real people, how does one find a firm ground to stand on?
~Chris Lin, two-time contributor, long-time follower of L.I.P.
What do you think, K? Have any thoughts from your own film production experience? I'll respond to your questions very soon.
Monday, August 3, 2009
I wanted to devote an entire post to the other show I visited on Sunday. One which approaches your question about the balance between modern sleekness and the home-spun. I think we would both agree that the modernist box of galleries/museums offers good and bad perceptions of the art experience. It's void, full of potential (like your tabula rasa), yet separated, exclusionary. There exists an in-between, flexible and comfortable, inclusive while still challenging---the exact sort of vision I hold for "Good Stuff House."Home Gallery is in a sunny townhouse in Hyde Park. It houses minimal furniture much like your "Kitty Bowe" collection (clean, simple, the slightest bit 60's), and is literal home to Laura Shaeffer, Andrew Nord, and a couple of young-ins. In tandem to the various knick-knacks and accessories a lived in home collects, artworks dangle, perch, and peek out of every viewable space. Laura and Andrew have been inviting people in for about 9 shows now---several solo exhibits, some artist duos, and this recent curatorial experiment. Laura says that this gives her a lot of room (no pun inteneded) to explore her thoughts in art viewing and making, and has become an interesting connector of people, artists and other creative-minded folks.
The experience is warm and thought-provoking. Just as you interpret someone's personal space as an identifier of his/her character and interests (I've always thought of the home as a place where one "curates" their sense of the world), Home Gallery openly invites viewers to examine the objects on the walls, coffee tables, shelves, pillows, etc. And not only do they welcome you in, but they offer you brunch! (At least this was the case on Sunday.) So as you are sitting on the couch, snacking on grapes, and watching a video play from an old t.v. set on the bookshelf, you also begin noticing the situation. Is that little shoe on the floor also part of the exhibit? What about those drawings on the fridge? It's funny. The container becomes the art, too! And unlike the modernist belief, it is NOT distracting. It is all encompassing and organically contagious---I can't help but look for connections and juxtapositions.
The Diorama Show was particularly playing into those blurred boundaries (perfectly conceptualizing its host: "home" vs. "gallery"), much like I expressed about Gunnatowski's Territory project. Sets within a set everywhere---revealing the stage props of reality as well. The show collected a curious grouping of works, all variations on the diorama. Originally drawn to this exhibit because of my recent work with diorama-like forms, my satisfaction may have been biased, but here are a few images: This is a diorama-box containing a video of weather: "Tree Line," by Luftwerk.The above, called "Mono Lake," is by Jenny Buffington. She included several ice-mountain forms in the living spaces and outside.In the backyard, trees and bushes held up some kids' work, too. These marshmellow people where the cutest!
And the image at the top is a tiny piece by Laura and Andrew hiding in plain sight in their hallway. I might have missed it, if the show hadn't encouraged such detail-looking. (I made C stand next to it for scale.)
Hoping to one day own a home (like you) and a gallery!
Cool pics of the wallpaper show! Wallpaper was so "out" in interior design for awhile, but its comeback is thankfully inventive--goodbye simulated stencil shapes, hello modern simplicity. I think abstraction has found its rightful home in paper pattern.
Thanks for responding to my questions. I too love Claes Oldenburg's plans and drawings, and find them much more entertaining than their realized forms. Maybe it has something to do with nostalgia, too. It's the ephemera that feels more personal, drawn directly from the artist (as opposed to being fabricated in a factory somewhere). The architect's blueprints vs. the actual building. The paper holds the rough visual idea. Those manageable articles---sketches, plans, notes, photos, documents---humanize the big work. They make approachable the seemingly complex. I can connect by my own jotting, sketching, list making habits.
Speaking of the ephemeral...I saw a beautiful show this weekend at the Smart Museum. Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H.C. Westermann Study Collection highlighted not just his work (well-crafted sculptures, prints, and drawings), but also his letters and gifts sent to family and friends, unfinished tinkerings and personal projects. I completely fell for Westermann through the artful documents of his life. Although I may just be a sucker for this at the moment, his love letters and gifts to his wife seemed so much more meaningful than his "polished" works intended for the art world. Westermann did manage to infuse his highly personal content, interests, and style into everything he made, which is very inspiring.
More in a minute.