Nick Briz and I hit it off immediately, he had just arrived from Florida to start the Film, Video and New Media program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I was in the second year of my Masters.
Nick was passionate about moving-image work that groped at the borders of the never-been-seen, he had played in noise bands for the majority of his college years, he is a prolific maker of Net Art and a budding academic and educator. He was the first to write a Wikipedia entry on Glitch Art back in undergrad at University of Central Florida as well as co-founding the first GLI.TC/H conference which just celebrated its second manifestation last fall in Chicago. He taught me how to make my first glitch piece by opening an image file with a text editor to gain access to the indexical Ursprung of the digital representation itself. He was incredibly excited to be in Chicago as it is the Mecca of new media, specifically, Dirty New Media. I wondered how Chicago, the Second City of all places, had become the center of the amorphous, although increasingly centralized (under Rhizome in New York) artistic practice known as New Media Art. The answer lies four decades ago.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1971, Dan Sandin began work on what would become known as the Sandin Image Processor, an analogue computer that could manipulate video images by manipulating the gray-level input. In effect, he had generated an altered field of vision – one that had been mechanically manipulated to transform the simulacrum of video into representations without the pretension of verisimilitude. In the world of the moving image, this was a schism-moment, to uphold the allure of the image or to reveal what the image was: a mirage made to shimmer through voltage oscillation.
Prior to this, Sandin had experimented with color photographs by using chemicals and enlargers to distort and, as he says, “abstract naturalistic images into something more psychedelic.” He had also been doing performances using musicians and Super 8 movies and it occurred to him that by taking the concept of a Moog Model 2, video could be altered in real time. One could “flow with image modification as a musician flowed with their instrumentalities.” What came out of this was the Sandin Image Processor (IP).
Image processors became the tool for popular moving images, ranging from pop music videos and movies, to Chris Marker’s high postmodern classic Sans Soleil. Initially devised to play audio/visual concerts, the Sandin IP became an instrument, a tool that expanded the field of aesthetics that is today called New Media Art. It was visually revolutionary.
When speaking with Sandin, one realizes thathe is very aware of technology as media, as instruments for communication. Even when speaking of his latest work on virtual reality, a medium that holds the promise of a sci-fi future, he states matter-of-factly, “Virtual reality is a medium of expression and you can generate works and experiences with it… Powerful, but it’s a medium of expression.” New Media Art, then, is just that – art made with new forms of media.
Dirty New Media as a loosely defined genre of New Media Art is differentiated by its aesthetic and its practice. As an aesthetic, it mines the technoscape as the surrealists explored the dreamscape for meaning from the smear of life’s traces. Relying on appropriation and the beauty of chance as acceptable aesthetic components of contemporary art, Dirty New Media practitioners have constructed a practice that utilizes sensibilities culled from punk, lo-fi video art, pop culture, early Net Art and glitch to disrupt the smooth functioning of an almost imperceptible web of technology and data that underlies the everyday. As a practice, open-source, copy-left and DIY approaches inculcate the aesthetic of dirty new media both as a means of validating their practice that is oftentimes appropriational but also as a matter of principle that has been an aspect of the movement since the beginning.
When Dan Sandin and Phil Morton began to disseminate the Sandin Image Processor, they wrote their “Distribution Religion,” a two-page text describing their ethos when it comes to copying in the name of culture. As Phil Morton writes, “First, it's okay to copy! Believe in the process of copying as much as you can; with all your heart is a good place to start – get into it as straight and honestly as possible.” In a conversation I had with Sandin, he mentioned that this commitment to open-source work was very much an aspect of the zeitgeist of the time when those working on cutting-edge technology were used to and embraced DIY as a matter of transforming the means of distribution, and simply because there was nowhere to buy the equipment. He also went on to say that it turned out to be the most effective form of distribution in that his IP was disseminated and built far more than commercial IP’s of the time. The story of New Media in Chicago mimics this philosophy of distribution in a cycle of experiment, advancement, education and dissemination.
Dirty New Media (DNM) is at times a generative art practice (in that some artists create their “work” through creating an algorithm or code that then manipulates the input data) but does not feverishly attempt anything that isn’t derivative of something. In fact, it is the derivation that lends it its purpose and, one could easily conclude, that DNM is a very rational response to the kind of postmodern predicament many artists find themselves in: nothing new, it’s all been done. This, perhaps, is where the punk attitude enters with the cathartic swagger of aggressive indifference.
In the past few years, aspects of New Media Art have gone mainstream such as the datamoshed Kanye West music video, Welcome to Heartbreak, to the great lament of my friend Nick who then declared the creative upheaval of glitch was over. But just as the surrealists had been appropriated into design and advertising despite the desertions and detractions by its leaders, a successful aesthetic takes on a life of its own and becomes, if it resounds truthfully, popular – a realization that Briz has since accepted himself. So what makes the corruption of verisimilitude as an aesthetic a touchstone of popular culture?
The glitch aesthetic, probably the most distinct and visceral form of Dirty New Media, like most every aesthetic, comes from a reflection upon reality mediated by the contemporary individual’s experience of subjectivity. For this observer, it is the disruption within the smooth functioning of reality that lends glitch an appeal. I could make an overly generalized statement about the continued aspiration of our culture towards ever-more efficient and seamless forms of communication and experience but it need not even be said. The introduction of iCloud this past year says it all. Air is a data stream. A cloud is condensed, visualized data. Postmodernity is a hyper-rich environment, a cloud of images, information, and stimulation that, if it works correctly, succeeds in performing the real.
I didn't know what to expect when I touched down just before dawn in Rio de Janeiro, but a cab driver with an affinity for loud Whitney Houston music was not it. We drove through the streets as the sun and heat rose over the city, and my new friend spoke and drove at a very rapid speed. I would later come to know this enthusiasm as the typical Brazilian sensibility, a character trait that makes even the most un-Brazilian visitor feel welcome.
The country of Brazil is at a fascinating place in its history. A recent economic boom has placed it as the 5th largest economy in the world, and the steadfast growth has given rise to a renaissance of sorts. Galleries from São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro are successfully showing at international art fairs such as Miami Basel, and people are looking with fresh eyes at what the Southern Hemisphere has to offer.
For me, this visit was a chance to see first hand how a city such as Rio is negotiating its own cultural priorities and traditions while moving forward in an international arena. This is not a discovery, but instead an exploration. What I found didn't surprise me, but ultimately reinforced my notion of Rio as an artistically inclined and culturally vibrant city.
I began my stay in Lapa, the notoriously dangerous and bohemian neighborhood district far from the tourist coastline region. My mid-January arrival coincided with the height of summer's pre-Carnival fervor and I wish I had something less cliché to say than people were dancing in the streets, but people were dancing in the streets.
I was lucky enough to catch an opening on my first night in town at the atelier on my road, Casa Z. The small solo show by Brazilian artist Raimundo Rodriguez consisted of several hanging assemblage pieces. Rodriguez had constructed neat rectangular frames filled with painted and overlapping industrial metal panels. The muted colors and haphazard compositions couldn't help but be visually linked to the hillside favelas sitting atop one another down the street. While the work itself was beautiful, albeit slightly unoriginal, the atmosphere buzzed with a casual attitude and dress. Artists and art lovers, in what felt more like a family gathering than a white cube space, spilled out onto the streets where beers were purchased from a man sitting on his bike. Although the only spoken word in the room was Portuguese, people circled the room in the universal language of mingling.
Call me naive, but I selfishly assumed that the art world in South America would utilize English as a second language as actively as any European art hub. While several top galleries do conduct business in both Portuguese and English, I was given an odd look when I re-entered Casa Z the following day to ask some questions, none of which could be answered in more than awkward smiles, shrugs and again, rapid Portuguese. That said Casa Z is not insular in their international perspective. The space generates revenue off of a back storage closet/bookstore that sells a mixture of publications by Latin American's art superstars, small-size print editions and international catalogues.
One photo-based zine of black-and-white images caught my eye. Created in Rio but produced by German artist Anton Steenbeck, the seven-page publication titled Gaivotas, meaning seagulls, catalogues the simple black graffiti scrawl that is abundant on the streets of Rio. Steenbeck has captured these repetitive gestural symbols independently and en masse with birds in a conceptual photo diary pointing to an urban impediment on our natural world.
This odd proximity of natural beauty and urban development is something that is very apparent in Rio. Drastic inflation has created an even larger rift between rich and poor, resulting in a class division that is palpable. For every sandy beach, lush jungle refuge and quaint colonial architecture, there exists in equal measure violent crime, poverty and pollution.
This clash between culture, social issues and landscape is no more apparent than at the city's Museu de Arte Moderna. Affectionately called MAM, the industrial structure is an ominous concrete building that sits in the city's Parque do Flamengo. Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes' installation has taken up the institution's infamous main hall. A curatorial nightmare, this second floor room is composed entirely of glass walls that provide a sweeping panoramic views of the bay and bulbous mountains that jet up from Rio's cityscape.
I attended the show on a national holiday, a day when the city had almost entirely shut down, and I had the museum almost entirely to myself. Gomes had filled the wall-less room with everyday objects. String, cardboard, glass, and fragmented furniture lay in casual groupings and arrangements that allowed me to walk through and over the discarded items. I was able to meander in the way I imagine Gomes had intended it - in silence. The humble objects are transformed into a micro landscape within themselves, a connection that was further highlighted by the postcard-esque views that surrounded them. The installation retains a poetic simplicity that acts as a reminder of objective beauty regardless of worth. It was the one place in the city that was quiet and I found myself so pleased to be surrounded by the sublime silence of the visual.
Somewhere between the atelier and the monolithic institution there lays a small but ever-growing gallery scene. A Gentil Carioca has two locations, one in Rio and one in Berlin, and is led by artists Ernesto Neto, Laura Lima and Marcio Botnia. The original space opened its doors in Rio's Centro district almost a decade ago with the purpose of elevating artistic and critical debate cross-culturally.
This sentiment of global expansion was echoed by Juliana Cintra, co-director of the esteemed Galeria Silvia Cintra + Box 4. Although the summer show was still in the process of installation, Ms. Cintra and I met at the gallery's new location to discuss Rio's burgeoning scene. Her opinion? "There is not 'South American art,'" the gallery owner tells me. "Latin American artists are talking about the same thing at the same time," Ms. Cintra explains further citing that the majority of her artists for her upcoming show are based in Berlin, Rio and New York.
Will Rio become the new cultural epicenter? I'm not sure. But the city itself is an undoubtedly exciting, established cultural hotbed in its own right. The city sits as a cultural nexus between African, Latin and European cultures and I can only hope the international conversation heads farther in that direction.
In January, Paris can test our patience. The days are so short that by 3.30pm-4pm the cars begin to turn on their headlights. This winter has also been wet. Even on the days when it is not raining properly, a mist and a drizzle has filled the air, as if Paris had decided to be and look like London. There has been so much water that the Seine is now overflowing and I cannot run down through the sculpture garden in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe. And the Seine even looks more like the Thames than usual – it is churned up, dirty; as it flows west towards the channel it tows with it refuse, natural and man-made alike.
And for those of us lucky enough to find sun in the winter as many of my friends have, vacationing in Thailand, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the difficulty of coming back to the cold, drizzle of Paris is compounded by having holidayed with happy people, people pleased to serve and to step aside as we pass on the street. In Paris, the pride, the pushing and the arrogance on the streets are hard pills to swallow after a week or two in the sun and surf, surrounded by personalities that complement the weather.
(The creatures on display at the gallery downstairs. Photo by Frances Guerin.)
I was feeling gloomy about Paris until the other night when I walked my friend Irina home through my neighborhood and into hers. This is why I love having visitors to Paris. Because they remind me that I live in not just the most beautiful city in Europe, but one where the importance of aesthetic presentation filters through into every aspect of life.
I showed Irina the shops and storefronts in my street: the hairdresser, Cizor's, that might be mistaken for a museum, it is so elegantly decorated; the gallery with ornaments and design objects that are the fantasy of adults and children alike; the florist whose windows are displayed with the arrangement of the day also sent out to companies and offices; one of Paris’ best loved restaurants that used to be a pharmacy and has kept the original façade and some of the accoutrements of the early 20th century pharmacy it once was. A little further along, there is the man who makes shoes – he doesn’t just sell them, he makes them; and the nativity scene in lights at Ste Elisabeth's Church which embraces all of the subtlety and taste of Christmas lights all over the city. And the list goes on.
(Cizor's. Photo by Frances Guerin.)
I walk past these shops and storefronts every day. And some days I look in them and wish I could afford what they sell, or at least, justify spending the money to buy what is on offer. But usually, I know, most things look better in a Parisian shop window than they do anywhere else, including my home.
It takes a visitor to show me how elegant and beautiful even the street that I live on can be. And it takes a visitor to reflect back to me a view of Paris that reminds me, inspite of the wintry weather, the tourists, the long lines and the gruff Parisians, it’s still the most beautiful city in Europe.
A short walk from the Grand L-train stop in Brooklyn, nestled between non-descript warehouses is a dark and dirty basement lair that has recently served as the pseudo-permanent home for the artist duo VenusX and $hayne Olivier, whose collaborative music project called GHE20 G0TH1K (pronounced ghetto gothic), and party of the same name, has been a definitive fixture of the underground party and music scene in New York for several years. The insane party that used to thump on far into the morning was virtually a weekly event in their Brooklyn space, after having bumped around temporary venues throughout the city.
VenusX and $hayne are the mainstays of the GHE20 G0TH1K stage, but are known for the amazing guest artists who come to dj for the night (ARAABMUZIK, DJ TOTAL FREEDOM, and SFV ACID for example), who are consciously chosen to highlight often marginalized populations within the electronic music world, namely women and people of colour -- rare in a genre that traditionally has the appearance of being dominated by white men. The crowd too is far more diverse – often labeled as a straight-friendly gay warehouse party, which attracts a distinctively queer crowd of a broad racial spectrum – something hard to find at the staples of New York’s nightlife, which tend to be far more homogenous.
What really keeps the crowd coming though, is GHE20 G0TH1K’s sound, which is like nothing else that can be found in New York. Often based in Latin-inspired beats, VenusX and $hayne blend together samples and sounds from a ridiculously huge array of artists and genres, manipulating and adding their own beats in order to make dark, fast and intensely electronic music that infects your body with the desire to move.
Everything they do is live and off the cuff, showcasing both of their acute djing skills and commitment to experimenting with and extending the boundaries of electronic music. Unlike many other artists who reside within the club/party scene, GHE20 G0TH1K is not interested necessarily in pleasing crowds in a calculated manner, but is instead focused on fully exploring the medium.
VenusX and $hayne Olivier in the Lower East Side. Photo by Brayden Olson and Zachary Ching, courtesy of Opening Ceremony.
At this point, GHE20 G0TH1K has moved far beyond a weekly New York warehouse party, and now falls under $hayne and VenusX’s umbrella project called Clear, Inc. In addition to the music and the parties, Clear, Inc. is also responsible for $hayne’s newly founded fashion label called Hood by Air, which previewed its Spring/Summer 2012 line during New York’s Fall Fashion Week. At the intersections of music and fashion, $hayne and VenusX are trying build a lifestyle where the creative energies from both projects are working together to create a new scene within the electronic music world and the party scene that it is associated with.
The GHE20 G0TH1K aesthetic is craved by people outside of New York City, with $hayne and VenusX on a national tour right now as proof of that. They have also been known to pop up in high-profile places, like their show with Odd Future at the South by Southwest festival, or the multiple appearances they made at some of Miami’s biggest parties during the 2011 art fairs. Their reach beyond New York is difficult to gauge, but they are known for selling out parties around the country; this all from two artists who have yet to release an EP or CD in over two years of collaboration.
GHE20 G0TH1K djing at an after party during Miami Art Week 2011. Photo by Collin Munn.
In the coming months, expect to see this change, with $hayne and VenusX working on a soon-to-be released EP that will feature work entirely by female artists, and will be the first time that their music has been formally recorded and released. Watch out too for Hood by Air’s appearance on the racks of clothing stores around New York and the country, with an expected launch at Opening Ceremony in the coming months.
What is so amazing about $hayne and VenusX’s various projects, even if you do not like the music or the clothes, is the way in which they built their own scene within the electronic music world from the ground up, and always according to their own rules. While maybe their defiant attitudes and often difficult sound made their rise slower than it potentially could have been, they have now clearly established that there is a national population out there waiting in anticipation for GHE20 G0TH1K’s intervention into their party.
They say that at any given time in London you are within seven feet of a rat. My best friends say they suspect that at any given time I’m within seven feet of a snack. My love of food equals my passion for art, and both nourish me in their separate ways. One of the many truly wonderful things about living in London is its amazing ability to cater not only to art lovers and foodies but to combine the two, allowing you to justify indulging in both through the excuse of one or the other.
The Friends’ lounge at the Royal Academy does this in an elegant, quiet way and creates a haven of demure paintings, coffee and Chelsea buns within its historic confines. Bethnal Green’s Gallery Café blends live music, art and food in an atmosphere of cheery togetherness, much like the café Tina We Salute You in Dalston.
The restaurant Sketch, on the other hand, seeks to offer its visitors a very different experience, merging show-stopping contemporary art with mind-blowingly-priced haute cuisine. The Conduit Street restaurant commissions site-specific video pieces from artists and collectives and displays their work on screens around the top of their subterranean Gallery dining hall. It’s a fabulous space, its high ceiling putting sufficient distance between the diners and the moving images to get a great view, no matter where you sit.
When I visited the design team Silent Studio’s London Revolve was being shown, which consisted of pieced together photographs of London’s skyline revolving slowly around the room, as if the restaurant itself were windowed and turning. It seems that this was a London variation on the 2007 work the Studio created for Sketch, Revolutions, in which diners were taken on a journey around the world, moving from London to the Arctic through Paris and the Nevada Desert. The intention then was to make Sketch the first rotating restaurant in London (and most probably the first restaurant that could cross continents between your main course and dessert).
When you’re viewing the London section, however, the experience is less of rotating as of walking around a capsule of the London Eye, only without the drama of being high above the Thames. Nonetheless, it’s never a bad thing to be reminded of the varied skyline of the city, especially when working and commuting dulls your receptiveness to the view, and the piece certainly brought home that we couldn’t have been anywhere else but in London at that moment. The trouble is that after the first rotation of buildings, the impact of the piece is lost and you start trying to spot your office.
This was taking site-specific art to its logical conclusion, reflecting the outside of the restaurant within its walls, but it did little more than this. That’s the danger of combining art and food – you either need sufficient variation in what you are showing to last the length of a meal, or else you need to be able to eat as you wander around a variety of works. I suspect that had the work on display been a more eventful video installation the effect of eating underneath it would have been a more exciting experience.
With screens all around you this room could feel claustrophobic but the Sketch team has created such a sense of airy whiteness and contemporary luxury that you enter the space in the knowledge that this isn’t just about eating, it’s about the experience of eating at Sketch. Even the bathrooms are an experience here, with each facility encased in individual white pods in a surreal vaulted room.
The food is beautiful here too, each course a masterpiece of carefully composed ingredients. Dessert in particular was spectacular; we shared a layered chocolate concoction with a tiny mound of ice-cream and praline on the side and lamented that the portion amounted to only a couple of mouthfuls each. And that’s the trouble with Sketch, the portion sizes are so small and the prices so high that you leave unsatisfied, and you end up buying a pasty on the way home. Whilst this is the case with many trendy London restaurants, the dual downside here is that the average art lover is priced out of viewing interesting, regularly updated site-specific art that would otherwise be a pleasure to keep checking up on.
Sketch’s engagement with its space and the range of artist commissions that keep the Gallery restaurant fresh is certainly to be lauded and the concept is a great one. It would be wonderful to see more collaboration between chefs and artists, but it should be about filling the senses with wonder and enthusing the taste buds as much as the eyes. At the end of the day, there really is nothing better than interesting, thought-provoking art and a full belly.
Does photography matter? More than any other medium in contemporary art, photography is perhaps the most separate and simultaneously the most integrated. The perennial theoretical problems that hinder photography’s place in the realm of fine art have been around since the medium’s inception, and don’t seem to be anywhere near resolution. Perhaps that’s what makes the medium so interesting (and so frustrating) to many critics and historians.
In her 2010 book The Cruel Radiance, Susie Linfield brings up the question of why photography critics seem to “hate” photography—including Sontag, Sekula, Barthes, right back to Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer—or at least treat it with a measure of outright suspicion and distrust. Her book is primarily concerned with examples of photojournalism, however, photographs documenting war and suffering, not necessarily fine art photography. So perhaps she would be delighted to know that, as far as fine art photography criticism is concerned, something along the opposite lines has been published with Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. As Fried said in a recent interview, “I don’t feel the emotional tenor of [my] book has any grief in it – I enjoyed writing it too much…My own sense of the emotional tonality of that book is something like glee.”
Characterizing a text on photography as “gleeful” generally goes against the grain of most photo criticism, and perhaps the difference is that Fried is not a photography critic, but rather a somewhat disaffected painting and sculpture critic, from the Greenbergian school of thought, most famous for his 1960s critiques of minimalism which were heralded as a death-knell of high Modernism. For Fried, photography has re-ignited a passion in art for looking, in contrast to art modes descended from conceptualism: “You don’t actually have to look very hard at a Joseph Beuys exhibition. You don’t look hard at Young British Artists. You don’t look at a Damien Hirst; you go in and have whatever little trivial frisson that junk generates,” he says.
At Photo L.A. Fried will moderate a panel discussing his book, featuring Walead Beshty, Russell Ferguson, James Welling, and Charles Ray as panelists. It’s sure to be a fascinating, perhaps even “gleeful” discussion. And the fair’s offerings will surely present opportunities for looking deeply at photographs—here are a few of our picks for the fair:
(Siri Kaur, Cliff, 2011, from 'Know Me For the First Time,' pigment print, 20 x 30 in.. Courtesy of the artist and Blythe Projects.)
Los Angeles’ Blythe Projects presents the work of Siri Kaur, an artist who moves adeptly between portraiture and evocative landscapes, digital and alternative processes—as in her “Half of the Whole” series of distant galaxies captured with a digital sensor attached to a Meade solar telescope and altered through darkroom experiments. Blythe Projects will also be showing a selection of work from her two series: “Alter-Ego” and “Know Me for the First Time”—the former a series of portraits of celebrity- and superhero impersonators, and the latter a seemingly unconnected series of portraits, misty landscapes, and photographs of predatory birds—both of which share the same sense of pathos, stillness, and vague feelings of disappointment mingled with desire.
In many ways, video and film share some of the troubling aspects of photographs when it comes to visual art. Young Projects, Los Angeles’s premier venue for moving imagery and large-scale video projections from artists such as Gary Hill, Michael Snow, Christian Marclay, and Roman Signer, will present a selection of video works at Photo LA. Paul Young maintains that “moving imagery will become increasingly important in the history of fine art,” and encourages the viewing of video and film as a “concrete art form” on a par with painting, sculpture and fine art photography. For Photo L.A., Young has curated a selection of seven artist-made videos running in constant rotation entitled "Break, Scratch, Drop, Flow: Contemporary Art Photographers, the Post-Photographic and the Moving Image," featuring an international roster: Ulu Braun, Anthony Coicolea, AEAEAEAE and Hans-Henning Korb, Hannu Karjalainen, Roy Menachem Markovich, Nira Pereg, and Mark RaidPere. Every day at 12pm they will also be screening Bill Morrison's latest feature length film, Spark of Being, 2012.
(Klaus Pichler, Plastic Deers, 2010, digital c-Print, matte surface, 55x70cm, Edition: 5 + 2 AP, 80x100cm, Edition: 5+2 AP, courtesy of the artist and galerie OPEN by Alexandra Rockelmann.)
Also worth a look is the photo project “destroyed” by electronic musician-DJ-photographer Moby, who played at Photo L.A.’s opening night party. The work—minimal compositions shot in empty parking lots, deserted airports, and lonely hotels, interspersed with ecstatic photos of enraptured, dancing fans—arose from bouts of jet lag and insomnia brought on by intensive touring.
Some other galleries to seek out at Photo L.A.: from Los Angeles, the young gallery One Hour Cleaners will present work from Siri Kaur alongside Peter Hujar, Larry Clark, Weegee, Louis Faurer, Annette Kelm, and others; and traveling from Berlin, galerie OPEN by Alexandra Rockelmann will present the work of artists Klaus Pichler, Jeffrey Teuton, Florian Japp, and Twig Capra. Above all—enjoy looking.
The narrative of art history is never complete. There are always untold stories that are in danger of being lost to memory entirely, especially if you don’t live in New York City. The New Art Examiner was Chicago’s only major art periodical and is still sorely missed by most of those who remember it. Regrettably, the New Art Examiner had no life outside of the archive, which is difficult to access even for those interested, myself included. If you want a copy of the New Art Examiner, you have to seek it out—the copies I have are borrowed from Duncan MacKenzie of Bad at Sports.
Like many print publications that died, the New Art Examiner has no web presence; its previous web address (see below) leads you to a legal resources website. It was therefore with some sense of relief that The Essential New Art Examiner (Northern Illinois University Press: 2011) was finally published. Edited by Terri Griffith, Kathryn Born (a former ArtSlant contributor) and Janet Koplos, the form of the book is a collection of articles, reviews and essays culled from the lifetime-run, 1973-2002, of the New Art Examiner magazine. As Derek Guthrie wrote in his introduction about the book, “This means that the New Art Examiner will not be airbrushed out of cultural history.”
Framed anecdotally by most as the little magazine that could,The Essential New Art Examiner reveals a feisty magazine that, as I’ve noted before, would run a transcript of a speech by influential art critic Hilton Kramer that he gave while in Chicago and the very next issue run an interview with artist Hans Haacke where he thoroughly attacks Kramer. (Haacke wins the round, by the way.) Likewise, the book contains a fair number of essays analyzing Chicago Imagism in a laudatory way, as one might expect, but it also contains two important essays from Frank Pannier, an abstract painter taking the counterpoint to the figure-based Imagists. Giving an idea of the rowdy debate surrounding the ascension of the movement in the 1970s, now enshrined in Chicago and gaining notice elsewhere, Pannier calls Chicago Imagism an, “infectious manifestation of visual gonorrhea.”
As one might hope,The Essential New Art Examiner provides an important historical perspective of art in Chicago and nationally. To this day alternative art spaces continue to be a strong force in Chicago, and Lynne Warren writes a brief history of N.A.M.E. Gallery for the book, an early alternative space in Chicago founded by Jerry Saltz and Phil Berkman among others. Alice Thorson’s essay “Young Chicagoans Prefer Engagement to Avant-Gardism,” from 1982 laments the migration of artists to New York and the outsourcing of major public art commissions, a still relevant complaint. The culture wars of the 1980s are addressed in several articles, with a distinctly as-it-is-happening tone.
Of course, one can also track the evolution of the Chicago art scene, in María José Barandiarán’s “. . . In a Place Like This?” the author reviews the major 1995 exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, “About Place: Recent Art of the Americas” curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn, the museum’s Associate Curator of Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture. The next year Jeff Huebner assesses the new building for Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in “Bigger, Better, Faster, More?” and consults Grynsztejn, who is now the acting department head of Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture. Today in 2012, the Department of Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture no longer exists at the Art Institute of Chicago (it’s now the Department of Contemporary Art) and Madeleine Grynsztejn is the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
This is not to say that the book is free of faults. With the amount of information included, the book is in desperate need of an index. There are a number of proofreading oversights, for instance, “tide” is substituted for “title” in two separate pieces (Hamza Walker’s “Public Domain” and Steven C. Dubin’s “Art’s Demise”) and in the most egregious error, Phyllis Bramson’s cover image for the book, Decoys, is credited to “Phillis Bramson.” There are several articles that seem completely irrelevant today, like the one attacking the heroin chic advertising trend.
The editors of the volume include an excellent article from Donald Kuspit, “The ‘Madness’ of Chicago Art,” along with a negligible article from 1999 attacking Andy Warhol’s 1962 work Gold Marilyn Monroe—it’s like writing a scathing review of Jeff Koons’ Puppy in 2029, that ship has sailed. Along with another essay, Peter Schjeldahl is included with a cringe-inducing eight-page poem about himself. This led Susan Snodgrass, a former New Art Examiner writer and current Art in America writer (and a former professor of mine), to call the collection “skewed” in favorite of more recognizable names, like those above. Snodgrass noted several authors who were omitted that should have been included: Michael Bonesteel, Margaret Hawkins and Laurie Palmer, among many others.
Indeed, discovering the work an author you aren’t familiar with is part of the pleasure of reading The Essential New Art Examiner, like Steve Hohenboken’s reflections on being a gay artist working with fabric, or the fantastic essay from Joanna Frueh “Explicit—Towards a Feminist Theory of Art Criticism,” which I found I identified with very much.
Despite the shortcomings, Snodgrass and I both agree that this is a promising beginning to getting a better picture of the New Art Examiner. Indeed there are other volumes in the works and I hope they all are printed; it is one step further to a more complete art history as well as understanding the achievement of the New Art Examiner. I would go further still and say that the book is an indispensable touchstone for a new audience seeking a broader art historical narrative, one not linked to the usual power centers in the United States.
I'm a bit shocked to be just now learning of this book's existence, even though I was the last editor on staff at the Examiner (I'd been Assistant Editor, and after my two superiors fled following the 2002 closure, I and one board member tried in vain to resurrect the magazine).
What's even more perplexing, though, is that Kathryn Hixson is not so much as mentioned in this anthology. While it's true that, practically speaking, my other coworker Jan Estep took over editorial leadership in the last few, floundering months of the magazine, Hixson's vision guided the publication for over a decade and kept it going and relevant against all odds. I only wrote for and edited NAE for its last few years, and I'll get over being omitted - but to write Hixson out of the story is not only tragic but just bad history.
Comment by: Rosenfeld on Thursday 05/24/12 at 9:57 PM
Southern California Fine Art
Southern California has surged to to become one of the most important areas for fine art. Let's not forget the Palm Springs area where a vibrant art scene exists.
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Comment by: DENNIS D on Monday 01/16/12 at 8:39 PM
Derek Guthrie has two events in Illinois, one is upcoming at the Evanston Art Center on January 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm.
The other is at Northern Illinois University on January 28:
Santa Fe, known for its embrace of free spirits, new agers, aging hippies, and visible Native American culture, also boasts an important presence in the contemporary art market. When I moved to Santa Fe in August to start a postdoctoral fellowship at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s Research Center in American Modernism, I knew I had landed in a good spot when I saw multiple recent works by Henry Darger, the street artist Chris Thomas, and Meow Wolf.
Although there is a strong pulse to the commercialism defining the Santa Fe art scene, which has no dearth of galleries, there is also a pretty good underground art movement—for example, the Center for Integrated Research. Given the healthy amount of art museums, serious contemporary art galleries, and excellent research opportunities, what more can an art lover ask for? Since there are numerous art and cultural outlets to explore, let me tell you of my most striking cultural experience, Zozobra, and hopefully shed some light about its history.
Will Shuster’s Zozobra, as it is formally known, is the burning of Old Man Gloom, and Santa Feans have rallied with pride around this grassroots event since 1924. Shuster founded Santa Fe’s first modern art group, Los CincosPintores, and held company with the likes of John Sloan and Randall Davey. He came to Santa Fe seeking dry air and high altitude after fighting in World War I, during which he was gassed and afterwards developed tuberculosis. Although doctors predicted that he would die within a year, Shuster lived until the age of seventy-six, passing away in 1969.
Shuster, who was born in Philadelphia, stated that he once witnessed the whipping of a gloom effigy during the famed Mummers parade. When he moved to Santa Fe, it seems that he tried to help heal himself after the war through a similar ritual.
Zozobra has always been held for the purpose of destroying evil spirits. In fact, during World War II, he made the head look like a combination of Hirohito, Hitler and Mussolini. Zozobra was known as “Hirohitlomus” that year. The burning tradition predates Burning Man and Santa Feans are proudly specific about the authenticity of their community cleansing.
Today the tradition lives on. Gloom—physical objects like wedding gowns, divorce papers, and other symbolic items that deserve to burn—is sent to Santa Fe to be put in a forty-nine-foot effigy built out of wood, wire, poultry netting, muslin, nails, screws, pulleys, plywood, shredded paper, spray paint, pizza pans and duct tape. Although one man oversees the construction, the ceremony itself is community-organized and sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, to which Shuster bequeathed the rights to Zozobra in 1964.
When the time comes in early September, Old Man Gloom is stuffed with gloom, and ceremoniously burned, accompanied by sound-bites of his own demise. And do I ever mean ceremoniously. There are fire spinners, dancers and drummers, all meticulously choreographed for the ritual vanquishing of gloom.The actual burning does not start until after about an hour and a half of fire worshipping in various groups and performances. Finally, the fervent, chanted demands to “BURN HIM!” are answered in a satisfying pyrotechnic display, and Old Man Gloom ends up in a heap of wire and ash.
When Steve Jobs died my father said something like this, “it’s hard to believe; the guy was five years younger than me.” Now my old man didn’t know Jobs or, to my knowledge, anyone in the Silicon Valley game. In fact he’d just started using his first Jobsian product a couple months earlier. I asked, “What’s so hard to believe? He had cancer.” It took me a while to understand his response, that you see everything through the prism of your own life experience.
Time passes and this exchange replays in my mind as I’m standing in a second floor loft filled knee high with dark, moist soil. The loft is on Wooster Street, in SoHo. Incandescent bulbs spread a glossy sheen across eggshell white walls. It’s been like this since 1977 when the Dia Art Foundation commissioned Walter De Maria to create The New YorkEarth Room. A glass partition, no higher than the soil, serves as a retaining wall. It’s evident that this is where all visitors stand; the floorboards have been worn thin by footfall. Outside a car bumps along the cobblestone street and somewhere else in the building a generator is humming on a frequency so low it seems you can almost feel it, softly, in your stomach.
I understood what my father was getting at almost intuitively, that a personal gauge is always measure of oneself against something else. My father was thinking about time, holding half a century up to half a century. How can you imagine someone’s lifetime without thinking of your own?
It is a similar line of thought that brings me to the Earth Room, that objects (and this goes for people and places and circumstances too) become real only when experienced directly, as in with your body. A sculptor I wrote about in the spring helped bring this concept into focus for me. His work is made on a scale determined by his body, so 1:1 is life size. I knew when I began writing about his sculptures that I would have to get into their physical space if I was going to have any chance of knowing them on a physiological level. One afternoon I spent hours with a roomful of them, and it was one of the most intimate art experiences I’ve ever had (partly, surely, because I was the only person in the room). Thinking of the sculpture as a body in relation to my body, its parts relative to my parts, its movement versus my movement…I came away with the feeling that I knew the work the way you know someone who has just bared their secrets, fears, and dreams.
Before you see the Earth Room you smell it, the pungent aroma of dirt as thick as you’d expect in a greenhouse. You feel it too, because the soil is watered weekly its constantly moist and that water hangs like an invisible cloud, an aura of palpable humidity, around the undulating field of loose terra firma. It’s a smell that does not belong to winter, and is hardly common in SoHo even in appropriate seasons. It’s a primeval scent that fills your mind with archetypal images of nature that extend beyond Western civilization to agrarian ages and gods of harvest. It makes you think of fertility, and then the new year about to begin, 2012.
Walter De Maria, The New York Earth Room, 1977; Photo: John Cliett / Copyright Dia Art Foundation
The Earth Room was completed in 1977, five years before I was born. It’s been here the whole time looking just this way, smelling exactly as it does now. At this very moment (4:00 on the 23rd of December) I am the only person with the Earth Room in my field of vision, the only person on Earth. The trajectories of our respective existences have come together—body to body—and the thing I feel most compelled to do is breathe. How odd. Not at all a typical art reaction. Deliberately breathing is a grounding activity. It focuses my thoughts on a physical process that requires no thought. Unthinkingly I am breathing in the Earth Room. The boundary between its body and my body becomes less distinct.
According to Dia this is the third iteration of the Earth Room, but the other two no longer exist. Bill Dilworth has been this artwork’s stewardsince 1989. He says he’s not sure exactly where the dirt is from, he’s heard Pennsylvania, he’s heard upstate New York—what he knows for sure is that the artist chose this particular dirt for its color, a deep dark umber that appears more black where it intersects with the walls’ whiteness. I stare at this line where dirt meets wall until all I see is a blur of dark beneath a patch of light. The line loses all definition and becomes a space where darkness and light merge. It could be dusk, or dawn. The stillness feels pregnant with force; it’s like being inside a Rothko.
I told Bill that he’d be seeing more of me in the year ahead, that I felt I was just beginning to appreciate De Maria’s work though I’ve known about it since my college days. Bill nodded, his hands folded across his lap, “Wonderful thing about these permanent installations,” he says, “is you can come to them in your own time.” As we shook hands it occurred to me that permanent installations of contemporary art are very rare. Monuments and memorials may be permanent, but exhibitions come and go quicker than the seasons. You go to them in their time, while they are available to be experienced. Time in the Earth Room doesn’t seem like “art time.” It has a geological presence, what the writer John McPhee once described as “deep time.” All of the eighties, nineties, and aughts are eclipsed by the deep time of the Earth Room. Installed anywhere else and this tremendously powerful sense of the artwork’s inertia would be gone. The depth of time excavated with probably little more to show than a big hole.
Before I departed I took a medium sized aggregate in my hand and crumbled it. As the grainy particles of dirt filtered through my fingers I remembered that exchange with my father about Steve Jobs. The memory was overlaid with what Bill had said about coming to things on one’s own time. Obviously there is no shortage of time-tracking tools in the world, but the only ones that are true and natural as gauges of human experience are the internal ones we know to be our own. In 2012 I’m going to bring my father to experience the Earth Room. I have a feeling he’ll alter the way I understand it, even though he has no idea who Walter De Maria is.
When I told my friends and acquaintances in New York that I was leaving the city their reactions were pretty uniform: “Where are you moving to?” they asked hopefully. I’ve been known to move around a lot, from London, Paris, San Francisco, Kyoto, to New York, so when I answered, “I’m moving to Indiana,” I got looks of absolute shock. “Oh my God, WHY?” was the usual reply, intoned with a mixture of disbelief, disgust, and sympathy.
Most people, especially artists, move away from the Mid-West to come to the city, but I was doing it the other way around. I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California and since then had always lived in big cities. Moving to the Mid-West actually seemed like a step backwards.
“Not just anywhere in Indiana,” I consoled my friends, “I’m moving to Bloomington—it’s a college town.” Bloomington is the home of Indiana University (IU), where my husband is now pursuing his MFA degree—hence the move.
Bloomington is a little dot of blue in an overwhelmingly red state. A little oasis of health-food stores, art galleries, and music venues, tucked in between the beautiful rolling hills of Southern Indiana. It was most famously portrayed in the movie Breaking Away (1979), which highlights the area’s unique industrial past as a center for limestone extraction. Today, the outskirts of the town are littered with abandoned quarries, one of which was coincidentally the source for all of the limestone used to build the Empire State Building.
Opening at the Grunwald Gallery, 2011. Porcupine suit by Suzanne Wyss.
As an art scene, Bloomington has a couple of commercial galleries, a community art center, and a local artist-run printmaking collective and gallery, but the locus of attention is on the University, with its fine art gallery, museum, and the various student-run project and pop-up spaces. Along with students’ and locals’ work, it’s not unlikely to find paintings and videos from innovative IU faculty like Caleb Weintraub, Jawshing Arthur Liou, or Margarent Dolinsky on view in the commercial galleries or the University-run spaces. And since the art scene is centered around the University, the town’s art discourse and dialogue is in conversation with larger contemporary art trends and necessarily avoids the inward-looking regionalism from which most small town art scenes seem to suffer.
Since there are only about five or six destinations for art viewing in any given weekend, compared to Chelsea’s hundreds, the scene is much more compact and easy to dial in. When there’s an opening, everyone goes.
Albert Pfarr, Recombine; at Fuller Projects, 2011.
And in contrast with gallery openings in Chelsea, in Bloomington the gallery attendants speak to anyone and everyone about the work, not just people who look like they might be collectors, with a refreshing enthusiasm. At video-artist Jawshing Arthur Liou’s opening at Pictura Gallery for instance, regular-Joe baseball-cap and plaid-shirt-tucked-into-their-jeans-wearing customers were engaged in conversation about the work—people who wouldn’t be given a second glance in Chelsea.
Granted, it’s small and the opportunities are limited, but given the University’s influence and draw there’s no shortage of fascinating people here doing incredible work in disparate fields. In just the first few weeks I became friends with an ethnomusicologist working on transferring Native American music from old Lomax-style field recordings to digital media and a Baroque harpsichord specialist who had passed up Juilliard to stay in Bloomington.
Pop-up show for IU BFA Photography students, 2011.
In the song “Big Country,” David Byrne sings about the comforts of middle-America and concludes:
I wouldn’t live here if you paid me.. I wouldn’t live here oh no sirree. I wouldn’t do the things that those people do.. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to..
Like Byrne, I thought I never would embrace a small-town life, but now that I’m here I could get used to it. At least for a while.
Hello Natalie! I, too, went to grad school at IU (MFA, painting, 1974) but, unlike you and your husband I went there from Kansas City, MO via the US Army and a trip around Europe -- no big city culture shock for me.may cham cong
Comment by: audichien on Friday 12/30/11 at 7:16 PM
hello Valerie! thanks for your comment! You're totally right, all art is regional in some shape or form. I'm definitely planning on visiting Chicago soon--seems like there is a lot of connections between Chicago and the other cities out here, lots of people traveling back and forth. And I'll take you up on exploring the other Midwest college towns!
Hello Natalie! I, too, went to grad school at IU (MFA, painting, 1974) but, unlike you and your husband I went there from Kansas City, MO via the US Army and a trip around Europe -- no big city culture shock for me. But I had visited many big cities and knew that my life wouldn't be spent in Bloomington, as much as I liked it. I remember one evening sittng around the beer table discussing the future with my fellow grad colleagues and the topic of where to move in six months was top on everyone's mind. One fellow - from Brooklyn -- summarized it pretty well for us at the time. "Well," he said, "it's either New York or ANYWHERE ELSE." And if you want to part of that scene that definitely was the right answer. But most of us had come from diverse backgounds and only two packed their studios and moved to the cement canyons.
I very much enjoyed my time in Bloomington (have never been back though) and hope you do too. I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with one of the visiting artists, Alex Katz. At one point I was lamenting about the isolation of Bloominton and he stopped me short. He asked, where else and when would I ever have that isolation to do nothing more than make my art and mingle with a hand selected group of people all interested in the same thing as I. I had a large free studio, access to excellent equipment, a cadre of friends, income from my teaching assistantship, in other words, total freedom to do as I needed. He was so right.
I enjoyed your story and hope you both have a geat time. Say hi to everyone for me -- or at least their ghosts ...
Comment by: mrbailey47 on Tuesday 12/20/11 at 11:00 AM
Welcome to the Midw. Arts scene!
Hey Natalie - loved the article! I grew up on a farm by Purdue - far from the blue dot, much to my chagrin as a kid. I've found that all art is regional (like politics!), but some, if done well has universal appeal. Check out Chicago, if you haven't already. And the other college towns of the Midwest can be jewels, as well. I live by Ann Arbor - lots of great art here. I'm part owner of a gallery called WSG Gallery downtown A2. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the art in this region. You may just have to look a little harder!
My personal relationship to performance art is tumultuous at best, because much like video art and other newly hyper-trendy mediums, there is a lot of potential for poorly conceptualized and sloppily realized work to shroud itself under the all-encompassing umbrella of “performance art,” and create an artificial patina of “provocative, intriguing, and new.” With this in mind, I approached Performa with a great deal of anxiety regarding what I would see, being that Performa ’11 was my first experience with the Biennial.
The organizers behind Performa are undeniably expert branders, creating a great deal of aesthetic and art-media-based buzz around the Biennial months before it even started. They were especially successful at energizing excitement in a young audience, even in the face of expensive performance tickets, which is often challenging for large arts institutions.
Yet I was skeptical if all of the branding would actually equate to challenging or imaginative work, and was sadly largely disappointed by the events I attended. I am not looking to confuse disappointment with dislike or disgust; that would be inaccurate since nothing I saw was necessarily “bad,” but I almost universally left my performances bored, or feeling like I had been cheated from seeing performance art, instead watching what basically amounted to short, perhaps “avant-garde,” plays or ego-centric musings.
Elmgreen & Dragset, Happy Days in the Art World, 2011, Featuring Joseph Fiennes and Charles Edwards; Photo: Paula Court / Courtesy of Performa
First on my docket of performances was the piece commissioned from Elmgreen & Dragset titled Happy Days in the Art World, which was what I was most excited to see, since in the past I have very much enjoyed their collaborative projects. The “performance piece” was undistinguishable from a hip off-Broadway play, with a graphic and minimalist set, actors roughly playing Elmgreen & Dragset, and a third actor playing a deranged and computer-like interjecting delivery-woman. The play was a funny, loosely autobiographical journey through the trials and tribulations of the collaborative process, while continually poking fun at the many problematic power structures of the art world, and the people at its helm. While hilarious at points, the jokes seemed sloppy and superficial, after all, there is only so much room for the Larry Gagosian or Glenn Lowry joke before you get bored, especially when the people being made fun of are the kind of people who make Performa and other behemoth art organizations tick. It seemed like the commission from Performa was supposed to act as some kind of humble self-deprecation, but would probably be more at home in a theatre festival rather than a performance Biennial that touts its commitment to finding and fostering new and exciting performance art.
Simon Fujiwara, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, 2011, A Performa Commission; Photo: Paula Court / Courtesy of Performa
Simon Fujiwara’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf, was another performance that I had expected to be amazing, and again left feeling duped, a feeling that seemed to resonate with many other audience members as well. Again, the “performance” functioned in a highly narrative, “new-play” type way, and relied heavily on Fujiwara’s cuteness factor as he reflected on his life, family, school, his own homosexuality, and other personal musings. Again, like Elmgreen & Dragset’s piece, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, was not bad, it just was not anything to write home about or to see again. The performance also relied heavily on a narrative of being hastily thrown together, which whether true or not, did not resonate well with the artists I was attending with, who greatly resented the fact that he received a large amount of funding to realize a project backed by vast resources, and instead of exploiting that to do something amazing, he squandered it on something tired and lackluster.
The last performance of note that I attended, and the one I dreaded most for its over-hype and celebrity factor, was Laurel Nakadate and James Franco’s Three Performances in Search of Tennessee, which surprisingly was one of the best things I attended during Performa. Regardless of Franco’s undeniably pompous stage presence, his and Nakadate’s energy fed off of each other well, and produced a collaboration that was superficially simple, yet in the end, had a lot of substantial subtext to wade through. I do not want to reveal too much about the performance, due to another interesting feature of their collaboration, that the new website paddle8.com recorded and broadcast the entirety of the performance on their website. The construction was basic though, with the first act consisting of a meditative group séance to get in touch with the spirit of Tennessee Williams, a second act in which unknowing actors had to do a cold reading of a Williams play onstage with a digital Franco in front of the audience, followed by a third act in which different actors performed the same short segment from a Williams. The performance as a whole towed the line between serious and playful in a way that created a dialogical experience with the audience but with little highbrow pretense.
My overall disappointment with Performa ’11 must also be temperedby the fact that it was entirely impossible to see all of the performances going on, therefore any kind of universalizing statement can easily be refuted with a counter example. I did however, attend almost all of the “big-name” staples of the Biennial, which arguably function as a way to feel a pulse for the entirety of Performa, and those were largely underwhelming save for the surprise from James Franco and Laurel Nakadate.
In the world of art fairs and biennials, Performa is still in its infant stages, and its team should be celebrated for producing such a massive and diverse experience with a medium that is so elusively ephemeral and clearly difficult to commission and produce. If even a couple gems came from Performa ’11 then I would argue it was worth it. I just hope that the Biennial continues to challenge itself and grow, and does not remain static, and in many ways antiquated, like much of it did this year.
Friends picked me up from Philadelphia International Airport and as we were leaving the parking garage I twisted around in my seat to get a view of the structure behind me. Up close and from below, there are indecipherable swirls of color on black canvas, horizontally interrupted by the dark voids of open parking garage levels. Though hard to read, it’s clear something is happening on the side of the massive concrete edifice. As one moves away from the clusters of airport buildings, onto I-95, heading into Philadelphia or Southbound toward Maryland, these panels of color come into focus as vibrant figures, twenty-six in total, dancing their way across the fractured façade of the airport’s parking garages.
The mural is called How Philly Moves, and at nearly 85,000 square feet it is one of the largest in the world. Jacques-Jean Tiziou, the local photographer whose images of dancers make up the sprawling composition, claims there is no one optimal point of view from which to take it in. The greatest amount of visual clarity and a real sense of its tremendous scope are perhaps best gotten as one moves along the adjacent highway. These dancing Philadelphians are on the move, and in our cars so are we, travelers both visiting and local alike. The airport, and now by extension the mural, is a “gateway” to and from the region, and I assure you the dancing figures on its parking structures are rather more inviting than the immigration officers within.
A Performing Arts City
Perhaps this will come as a surprise to some, but Philadelphia is a thriving performing arts city. I’ve seen dances in public parks and fountains, abandoned lots, churches, old schools, not to mention in more expected clubs and theatres. Furthermore, people are friendly, creative. On my recent visit a trolley driver got on the intercom to rave about my friend’s hairdo and a bank teller gave me an unsolicited recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese. This unabashed openness and generosity comes as no surprise to Tiziou – hereby JJ (note: as I’ve known the artist over a decade, I find it impossible to call him anything besides his abbreviated nickname) – whose photography has for years been capturing the joy and passion of the city’s residents in all their idiosyncratic ways. JJ’s own unique passion is shooting dance and movement, and the twenty-six dancers on the mural represent but a fraction of those who participated in the project. Subjects ranged from seasoned professionals of countless dance styles to amateur aficionados to, well, anyone who felt like getting down in front of the camera. The thing that united them all is a love of dance and an unhampered willingness to share that enthusiasm.
But How Philly Moves did not begin or end with the high-profile mural, which was installed by a skilled team from Philadelphia’s famous Mural Arts Program and which was inaugurated with a rooftop dance party at the airport this October. It’s had many manifestations. Beginning as a finalist proposal for a subway station commission, it moved on to multiple print exhibitions and slide projections, including a frenetic and impressionistic slide projection on the side of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. There’s also a new permanent exhibition of 162 photographs plus a video documentary in the airport’s Terminal B-C baggage claim. Three hundred ten dancers have currently participated over four sets of photo shoots since Spring 2008. In that time JJ has generated approximately 32,000 photographs. The evolving project is far from over.
Back when I was a college student, spending unhealthy amounts of time in the dark room, JJ was the first person I knew who really embraced digital photography. Even before going digital, JJ shot liberally, rapid fire. He got into people’s faces, unafraid to make mistakes. While I was carefully composing and calculating exposures on large-format field cameras, JJ was following the light, shooting everyone and everything. He took an insane number of photographs in those years learning that the added ease with which an exposure could now be made belied the work embodied in processing, caring for, and storing that image.
Indeed, the digital revolution in photography has in theory made it easier to make and disseminate work, but more confusing to assess its monetary worth. The value of an image is a nebulous thing indeed. Yes, material costs are (debatably) down, but there is also always someone willing to work for free. Plus there are embodied production and storage costs and rights and reproductions to consider.
When one takes a digital photograph, it might seem easy to give it away, but for someone like JJ who has taken over a million photographs in his lifetime, this simple interaction becomes more complicated. With an archive so large and data backed up offsite on countless hard drives, the chances are greater that in ten years time someone could request an obscure image. I know I’m not alone in asking, “Hey, JJ, remember that time you took a picture of me at that one place with so-and-so? Can you send me a copy of that?” This takes time and effort, and maintaining storage devices all those years wasn’t free. Something that seems so intangible, easy, and costless is decidedly not.
This brings us back to How Philly Moves, not the mural, but the project. In recent years JJ has been meditating on ideas of how to create sustainable models for photographers in his position, those who want to do less economically valued community-based work. In JJ’s case, weddings and corporate assignments had been subsidizing his occasionally pro bono art, social-justice, and community-focused projects. JJ’s “dream” is for his photography to be community supported and for years he’s had a link on his website for donors who find value in what he’s doing to make repeated or one-time contributions to help underwrite his diverse practice. This practice includes photographing artists and activists participating in local, national, and international social justice projects.
But what a community values is just not as economically viable as what a corporation or individual might value. Yet just as digital technology changed the way that people take and share pictures, so too is the internet changing the ways in which projects' financial goals can be realized. There is no one model and existing ones are far from perfect, but it’s nevertheless clear that there is an ever-evolving relationship between artists and their audiences, one centering on the choice of the individual viewer as the arbiter what matters.
So many Philadelphians wanted to dance for How Philly Moves that JJ had to schedule additional photo shoots at his own expense. For the latest shoot, which took place this Fall, JJ turned to the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, where he ran a successful month-long campaign to raise $25,000 to move forward with How Philly Moves photo shoots. (He raised $26,270). The community-funded model used on the site is an incarnation of JJ’s “dream” with greater public visibility. Six hundred seventeen individuals backed the campaign at various levels of support, but JJ would have been equally (if not more) thrilled if 2,500 people gave $10 a piece, or 25,000 people gave $1 each.
When I spoke to JJ recently, it was obvious that he’s been thinking a lot about this sort of thing. People often ask him about how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign and he is very clear that it's not just “free money.” Such success requires an active social network and a lot of community mobilization. In a way, this was an ideal project simply because so many community members were involved (as dancers and volunteers) that many people already felt like stakeholders. Developing sustainable models of community-based artwork requires a lot of business savvy and marketing strategy. Though JJ’s career is clearly doing well, he wants to go back to school at some point. He’s unsure, however, whether it would be better to go for an MBA rather than the more expected MFA.
And JJ’s not alone. He constantly meets young and experienced photographers in a place where he was not long ago. One of his (many) dream projects is to run a symposium or host brainstorming sessions where artists could teach, share, develop and further consider the possibilities of working sustainably in community supported models.
Jacques-Jean Tiziou, How Philly Moves; Courtesy of the artist
Everyone is photogenic
All that said, these models allow JJ to pursue what could be considered his mantra or manifesto: Everyone is photogenic. It might sound cloyingly heartwarming, and it is. JJ has literally photographed me in my pajamas waking up on New Year’s Day on a mattress in someone’s flat in London. I was grumpy, confused, sleepy (note: this event was not remotely as scandalous as it reads!). In that sort of scenario, before teeth have been brushed or hairs pulled out of face, you’d be more inclined to punch the photographer in his lens than to listen to him explain why you might at that moment be photogenic. But JJ is annoyingly persistent and ultimately convincing. He really wants us to be active members of our communities, to share in or find whatever joy is around us, and to realize that we are all beautiful and photogenic.
In a society so driven by celebrity and competition, perhaps what we should really be focusing on is collaboration and community. The Kickstarter campaign in which so many people came forward to declare, “I find this important and valuable,” is one sign of his success, an affirmation of this goal. So is the giant mural, which welcomes us to Philadelphia and offers us a friendly goodbye when we leave. Whether we’re cruising past the mural in our cars or vying for elbow room on a crowded plane, JJ doesn’t want us to see those around us as obstacles, or competition for space, but instead as our next “dance partners in this larger dance of life.”
So there are mistakes, no matter how misguided or wrong they might seem, you really ought to make the first time you go to an art fair. After a few years of stumbling through these tacky conventions, you get to know too many people and you get to become a little self-conscious about being seen acting ridiculous. The tragic result is that you end up conducting yourself with proper professional dignity, which finally and totally sucks all the remaining fun out of these altogether crass commercial conclaves.
Biennials are better international gathering events if you take art at all seriously, they just aren’t as much fun. It’s mostly art bureaucrats behaving like little old ladies on Roman holiday, collecting emails and postcards to scrapbook back home. Art fairs are generally a terrible place to look at art but the novelty of the first time shouldn’t make you want to treat it too much like the tiresome professional event it eventually is. The parties are better than biennials and the trashiness of too much money has its charms to be sure.
Everyone of course is there more or less on business - don’t let it all spook you. The smorgasbord of art for sale, international curators in primary color suits and quirky glasses two-stepping their way through the aisles, the chic get-ups and twice daily costume changes, the VIPs and VVIPs, exclusivity nestled inside exclusivity until you spot the door into the cabin on some yacht where only billionaires are allowed to enter, these are all fodder for the late night telephone calls to your current squeeze back home.
The first art fair I went to, I worked a magazine booth at Art Basel Miami Beach and I did all the things I learned later that you were definitely not supposed to do. I drank often and repeatedly, consistently chasing free drinks wheresoever they could be found. I freeloaded every taxi, crashed every party that was crashable, and took disco naps in hammocks in fancy beach clubs. I don’t remember paying for any a meal (though I mostly forgot to eat anyway) except fried plaintains from a Cuban street stall at 4am. I said obnoxious things to influential art worlders, I slept with sloshed curators, danced on bars, showed up to my merch table bleary-eyed in a dirty white suit coat, nodding over the magazines I was supposed to be selling. In short, I had a really good time.
Then again, I was happily a nobody from nowhere, the lowliest worker in an obscure magazine with a modicum of Euro-intellectual cred, enough for when I met people they filed me away as a someone who belonged just enough. But I was there and I had nothing to lose. It was still the early years of the Miami fair and the red ropes weren’t strung quite so tightly. We still happily found holes in the fences and the holes were just big enough for me.
And no matter how many times I aimed for one of Jeffrey Deitch’s parties, I never quite made it there, always sidetracked or hanging back for friends who couldn’t get in, ending up at some shitty dive where the drinks were less free and easier to get. Although I never made it to the Deitch party that first year, I did perfect the art of charging in to almost any fete uninvited and unfettered, sometimes getting tossed out for my troubles, no worse for the wear, and just charged off somewhere else where some art dealer or collector caught the tab and were old enough to appreciate the reckless dynamism of youth.
At your first art fair, you should do all these things and more. You should try to see everything you possibly can. Go to most of the art fairs (or at least three) and try to see every booth, make notes about every artist and then lose them, try to see every offsite collection and gallery, try to go to at least a handful of lectures given by the intellectuals to the apathetic as a simple beard for steroidal commerce. You should always be trying to be meet people you can never find, giving up at 2am when your cell phone finally dies or you fall into the pool with the thing in your pocket. Don’t even really bother to sleep, just cat nap as catch can, don’t even really waste your money on a hotel room, there’s always someplace to crash. You won’t be able to do accomplish all of it, but you should feel noble in trying. You’ll hate yourself the next week, but you only get to do it for the first time once.
It’s likely the second, third, fourth time you go, it still won’t matter, it’ll just feel like it does which makes you self-conscious, like you might end up on Artforum.com bleary-eyed, sucking tequila out of a stripper’s navel. None of us are really famous after all, and how much networking does a person want to do in the end? Networking becomes fantastically boring the moment one calls it “networking.”
How much art can a person safely consume? I could probably devote my life to studying just two or three really great artists, why even bother filing away the hundreds of names and where they show and cross-referencing it all? Making friends, having fun, arguing about art, checking in on the international travelling circus of the art world and its wares, acting ridiculous in a situation that at its very core is patently ridiculous, those are decent enough reasons to go to fairs I think. It’s easiest to harbor such ideals the first time though. Later it gets a little too complicated (or at least feels that way), so savor it.
As rains washed the city and the River Po flooded its banks during Artissima 18, Turin’s present-day devotion to contemporary art was plain. Public works from Daniel Buren, Rebecca Horn, Tony Cragg, and Michelangelo Pistoletto, among others, mingled with Baroque architecture, greeting me at every turn. Exhibition-goers spilled onto the streets and an atmosphere of art and innovation was inescapable.
Turin is no stranger to innovative thinkers; this is after all where Nietzsche spent his final moments of sanity, Umberto Eco made his home, and architect Carlo Mollino lived and died. It’s also a city shrouded in stories of black and white magic, where you can supposedly enter the “Gates of Hell” through a drain cover in the Piazza Statuto, and a few missing fingers on a statue are cause for supernatural speculation.
Perhaps an in-depth understanding of the city and its goals, namely to draw cultural tourists, is what led to the selection of Turin-native Francesco Manacorda as Artistic Director for Artissima. In his second time as director, he created an inspiring mix of events and non-commercial projects. The strategy, according to Manacorda, was to create a “quasi-group exhibition” using the fair as a testing ground for new ideas in contemporary art.
Within the fair Fabian Seiz’s Another End of Painting (2010) at London-based gallery Josh Lilley was an eye-catcher. In this freestanding sculpture the artist manipulated the simplest of materials – rough cut wood, paper paint samples, strips of fabric, and a cloth tape measurer – to create a quirky yet elegant work. At Giorgio Persano, I was mesmerized by Alessandro Sciaraffa’s installation Ti porto il mare (I bring you the sea, 2011) of tilting drumheads filled with pebbles, which created a meditative soundscape throughout one side of the fair hall. In a special section titled “Back to the Future” artists from the 1960’s and 70’s were revisited, and none was more eye catching than Giorgio Griffa’s simple raw canvas paintings at Giampiero Biasutti. Director Manacorda addressed this section noting that reasonable prices coupled with the chance of discovering new artists would be the key its success.
Two new projects bolstered an already enthusiastic atmosphere: Simple Rational Approximations, taking place within the fair, and Artissima LIDO, set in the city center’s medieval "Roman Quadrilateral" district. Simple Rational Approximations, curated under the direction of Manacorda by Turin artist Lara Favaretto, was modeled on traditional museum sectors. The unquestionable favorite was her take on a museum’s permanent collection in which twenty magnificent cakes were created daily in homage to the likes of Claes Oldenburg, Lucio Fontana, and Damien Hirst, among others. Visitors lined up for their afternoon sugar buzz, briefly oohing over the creations before devouring them. I sampled tributes to John Baldessari and Robert Gober, returning for a little bit of Dan Flavin, because they were just that delicious.
On the other side of town, Artissima LIDO was curated by Italian artists Christian Frosi, Renato Leotta, and Diego Perrone. Taking place for the first time outside of fair hours, the program gave voice to a rising generation of Italian collectives, spaces, and artists. For anyone willing to brave the rain, there were some real surprises. The curators were given carte blanche, which couldn’t have been more obvious than at Codalunga. Here the presentation of GG Allin’s prison works displayed alongside portraits from serial killers and a post mortem letter of condolence to Allin’s sister from John Wayne Gacy, provided an unexpected contrast to the relatively chaste atmosphere of the fair.
During the day The Others endeavored to lure visitors to Turin’s former jail, Le Nuove, with a fair of galleries established after 2008. In the evening I joined the hordes braving a downpour to pack the streets of San Salvario for Parartissima, a celebration of young creatives. To add to the cultural abundance, on the 5th the crème de la crème of Turin’s galleries presented their finest in a multitude of openings for Contemporary Arts Night, while the all-night Club to Club music festival had more than one gallery assistant looking haggard on Sunday morning.
Talk of the economic crisis couldn’t be avoided. During the press and collector preview on the 3rd, the atmosphere was charged when a number of works sold before noon. The bank foundation CRT allocated €350,000 for acquisitions for Turin’s two key contemporary art museums. As the weekend wore on conspicuous “purchased for GAM/Castello di Rivoli” materialized in booths throughout the fair, but despite high hopes, sales reports in general were mixed.
Regardless of sales, what Artissima has created is a lofty opportunity for an insightful discourse between independent spaces, gallerists, curators, and artists on the future of contemporary art. During the fair Turin’s mayor, Piero Fassino, declared a desire to transform the city, comparing its potential future to that of Berlin. However others weren’t so convinced. When I pointed out my surprise at this comparison to one local, he replied “Sure, and in the 80’s Turin was to be the next Barcelona.” The point is, Turin isn’t, and shouldn’t be trying to become another city, because, at least over this weekend, just being itself was pretty damn impressive.
Today I ventured out to 798, Beijing’s home to contemporary art. The site of the art world here in Beijing is itself worth the hike. The galleries have taken up residence in a disused electronics factory that was apparently built by the East Germans, by the look of things, in the 1950s. As I was guided around the space by one of my fellow ArtSlant contributors, I was amazed at the buildings, much more than I was by the art: the original Bauhaus style with Communist slogans still sprawled across the walls made the buildings sights to behold.
I was struck by the immensity of the spaces as well as the design – dwarfing Chelsea’s biggest spaces, and making art gallery hopping in Paris appear as precious as a tea party.
That said, I didn’t think that the galleries always used their spaces to their advantage. Pace Beijing for example, had both an extraordinary building and an exhibition of work by the hottest name on the US art scene, Sterling Ruby. The Pace gallery occupies a former arms factory, a building made prominent by a sawtooth profile roof with repeating clerestories.
Despite the height of the ceilings, the clerestories ensure they come so low that the space becomes effectively horizontal. Nevertheless, some of the Ruby sculptures were extreme in their verticality and thus had to be hidden behind supporting concrete pilons. And the result was a closing down of the building on the art work, completely distracting from the reason we are presumably enticed inside. I was so much more intrigued by the building than Ruby’s sculptures, and yet, in another space, the reverse may have been true.
A highlight of the day was the non-profit art center, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art. But again, it wasn’t so much the art that appealed to me, rather, the whole experience of visiting the space is what I will take home with me.
As a part of their “service,” I was greeted by a young man who showed me around an exhibition by Los Angelean Walead Beshty. The man went to great pains to explain the art to me — all about transition and transportation of art to the museum; it was okay, but nothing earth-shattering.
And as he meticulously pronounced certain words, slowly and carefully to ensure comprehensibility, it was all I could do to stop myself telling him that he was far more interesting to me than the art. Though the art wasn’t as chintzy as some of the work I had seen during the day, the young man fascinated me because he had clearly read the script and was regurgitating it with great competence. I wanted to know what was not in the script.
I have seen this again and again over the past week: Chinese people following a script. And when the script doesn’t quite go according to plan, the trouble begins. My guide at the UCCA was the same – when I asked him a question, he struggled to answer me, and simply repeated what he had said before, not because he didn’t know the answer, but because I think he had not necessarily learnt the vocabulary to answer. I was so appreciative of his English, especially because my Chinese now extends from “hello” to “thank you.” And what I loved most of all was his eagerness to impress me, to make my visit to the UCCA a pleasant experience; it didn’t really matter that he was not always informative and that I didn't always understand his English.
When he had difficulty explaining why a particular photograph was very grainy, I wanted to save him, and so I asked where he lived. This is always interesting: which ring road orients them? And if I am courageous enough, I will ask how they live, what floor, how big, and then, if I can, how much. Some things I take with me wherever I go, and one of them is an obsession with apartments: how big, how much and where? My three favorite questions.
I didn’t get this far with the guide at the UCCA as I thought better and asked him about his studies: marketing and publicity. This of course raised a whole new set of questions, beginning with how he got to be a guide in an art gallery. His story was quite common for a young Chinese man, but for me as the foreign listener, it was fascinating. When he asked me if I had enjoyed my “visitor’s experience” I was profuse in my thanks. I find it special and unique to be in a world where as a foreigner I am made to feel so welcome. It’s for these reasons that at the end of my day at 798, I was ultimately more impressed with the people I met than with the art that I saw.
When I was seventeen around 1993, I was convinced I could snag the title for the Sassiest Girl in America. According to the editor Jane Pratt, the winner would appear on the cover of Sassy magazine, and her “intelligence, wit, social responsibility, creativity and general sassiness” would also be awarded with “cash, fashions and jewelry”.
I had a friend take pictures of me with my Pentax K1000 lounging atop my 1975 Plymouth Volare wearing some of my dad’s old Levi’s 517’s dyed puke yellow, raver platforms and my hair slicked back in a semi-pompadour. I fashioned a handmade book of collages made out of fake-fur, nestled it into a Tide Box lined with astro-turf, along with a hand-typed letter explaining that my favorite pastime was watching people. I sent it off amidst much anticipation and encouragement from everyone I knew—to no response whatsoever.
I recall the actual finalists that year being, from my perspective, rather lame, but no matter. Sassy was enormously important to me back then, as it was to so many others. It’s no secret that it was seminal for all of us misfit girls in the early 90s who in an even less hospitable era might have ended up like Sylvia Plath. It made us feel like we weren’t alone. An n+1 review of the 2007 book How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time described me to a squirmingly accurate tee:
“If you subscribed to or even occasionally read Sassy, the teen-girl magazine that existed from 1989 to 1996, [you] grew up on R.E.M., the Smiths, the Cure, Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth, Liz Phair, Hole, Bikini Kill, PJ Harvey, “My So-Called Life”, and John Hughes. Your romantic ideals were forged by repeated viewings of “Dead Poets Society”, “Say Anything”, and Morrissey riding around on a tractor in the middle of winter for the “Suedehead” video. You published a zine or bought zines, issued seven-inch singles or bought seven-inch singles. You were probably a high-achieving malcontent, a wearer of black in high school who became a thrift-store-haunting feminist theorist in college.”
These days, googling around, to find out more about what became of Sassy, I came across an erudite, 90s-obsessed, Joan-Didion-quoting fifteen-year-old fashion blogger—the “wunderkind” Tavi Gevinson (otherwise known as the Style Rookie). Photographing herself in brainy getups that reference everything from Stevie Nicks to Hitchcock babes to “Twin Peaks”, the celebrated Tavi also encyclopedically documents all of Rayanne Graff’s outfits (from “My So-Called Life”), scrutinizes John Waters flicks, idolizes Courteney Love and the riot grrrls, and–in a moment—had the thought to revive Sassy magazine.
It seems Jane Pratt wasn’t up for it and now there’s simply an online “Rookie Mag” (which frankly seems a bit gnawed-raw by its own advertising potential), but it got me to thinking about young fashion.
Teenage girls of this yet-nameless decade, much like those of its predecessor, are a distant country to me. I confess I know none, and the ephemerality of the media that accompanies their upbringing perplexes me. I posted pictures from magazines on my wall, indeed, but they were made of paper. I had my own phone line, but it plugged into the wall with a cable. And I was a fashion auteur in my own mind, but since I was never a model and Sassy gave me the cold shoulder, I was never able to share my style with thousands of people.
I imagine (naively, it turns out) that the young women of today—especially those talented and misunderstood ones like Tavi—find the kindred lost souls rather quickly. And if they believe they are special and visionary, they start their own version of what we crotchety Gen-Xers called zines, except with an entry level circulation of like, the whole world. Potential for connections is infinitely horizontal, there’s no tree-root logic, there are no longer fashion editors or modeling agencies—or even money—guarding the gate to being a fashion icon.
So,I set out last week to take a look online at what’s up with these girls. Surely there was a world out there on the internets of Tavi Gevinsons, of armies of tiny fledgling i-D magazines staffed by a spangle of wildly creative and obscure teensomethings in the yawn between the Far East and South America.
I looked, but I didn’t get far, because I started to feel like throwing up my lunch. Like, in a bulimic way.
One of the first—and last—things I examined for this project was Lookbook.nu. Calling itself the “collective fashion consciousness”, in principle it seemed like a great idea. You take pictures of yourself and your “look” and post it for others to check out and “hype”. You don’t get paid or anything, but you can promote whatever it is you’re selling—your vintage finds, your blog, your work, yourself.
This was where the bulimic nausea started to creep in. Flipping from unimaginative pouting photo to unimaginative pouting photo, it occurred to me that these girls were twisting themselves into all these pre-codified poses to appear as much like commodities as possible. Check out for example the look of this sixteen-year-old Swedish “student and blogger”, entitled (gulp) “FEATHERLIKE LIGHTNESS”. Could she have Photoshopped out an entire third of her inner thighs? One brave person said something in the comments about this girl’s frightening dimensions, but otherwise her look was considered “awesome”, “brilliant”, “beautiful”, “gorgeous” and a personal favorite, “sooooo vintage” by the Lookbook audience.
I started to click around Lookbook, maybe Miss Feather Lightness was a fluke. But sadly it seemed that, if Lookbook.nu was any indication, the “democratic” teen fashion voice of our time is crowd-sourced from zombie-lipped platform-heeled quasi-anorexic sixteen- to twenty-two-year-old “stylist” and “blogger” automa-glamazons from Sweden, the Philippines and Bumbleshuck, USA. They appear to have little or no inkling that they are offering up their diminished bodies and zombified style-souls as free advertising for corporations.
The “contributors” list the origin of their clothing and, more often than not, it is garments from H&M, Top Shop, Zara, or the like, mixed in with their personalized “vintage” accents. Vintage, I see, has become the catch-all for “personal style”, a lubricant for the purchase of new brand-name items so one does not feel like total drone after buying and donning sweatshop-produced cookie-cutter silhouettes.
Fashion shown on the backs of young women is certainly the fastest strategy for getting into a teenage girls’ pocket, or, for that matter, anyone else’s. The Lookbook girls, whose remuneration for being stylists, models and online-marketers is infinitely immaterial, appear to be simultaneously a corporealization of the commodity fetish while at the same time at the height of post-Fordist labor. That is, 1) they are the product themselves while performing the service of producing, yet 2) if we consider this service to be their offering up of their style-soul, and this service is considered labor, they are a good example of what Paolo Virno called “servile virtuosity”. The humanity (as vague as it may be) that these girls mobilize in putting together an outfit and publishing it is co-opted as surplus value by the ogres, and in return, their humanity is drained like so many carbs and trans-fats.
The redhead Feather girl continues to haunt me. Like a specter. Or perhaps like a zombie. When I think of her disintegrating body appearing in the digital ether, I resort (certainly too literally) to the Deleuzian idea of the “body without organs” or BwO. An anthropomorphic shape, a plane upon which desires can move in any direction, an intensity, “matter that occupies space to a given degree—to the degree corresponding to intensities produced. It is nonstratified, unformed, intense matter, the matrix of intensity, intensity=0” (A Thousand Plateaus, p 169)… she is not exactly human, but rather a field across which other things move.
Tavi seems to be an exception to this ghostly phenomenon among the young damsels of the digital, and her fierce sense of agency appears to keep her whole amidst a certain onslaught of toothy barracudas. She is a different kind of BwO, she is a plane of consistency that is free of hierarchy, a true multiplicity.
I confess I’m a bit jealous of her; perhaps if the sixteen-year-old me was transported to now, I would be front row at Paris fashion week and meeting Yohji Yamamoto instead of taunted by jocks at the back of the cafeteria for wearing “clothes from the dumpster” (to paraphrase my old English teacher). On the other hand, in my early days I was spared the zombie/vampire invasion … that is, soulless bodies trying to possess you and bring you into their ranks, or bloodsuckers trying to drain your essence. Sure, I was miserable back then, but at least I was me. In some ways it’s not surprising that Tavi can’t get her head out of the 90s, the riot grrrls and Sassy. That decade was a first and last haven and platform for a young woman’s wild creativity before the internet, Lookbook.nu and—yes—the zombie apocalypse.