June 5, 2010

The Artist Is Absent

It is like going to the war.” –Marina Abramović on performance art

UPDATE: Klausie (sort of) blew it (Animal via Art Fag City & Linda Yablonsky on the Givenchy gala for ArtForum: “the fashion mob was tweeting like mad”)

Marina, saintlike, abstracted, ensconced in a monochromatic robe (in one of three patriotic colorways) with the functional slouchiness of a Snuggie.

'ó'quentiño' by Irene Regueiro, Patricia Alambiaga Arnal, Lebymar Blanco Pérez, Elena Bàez & Nela Sanchez

'ó'quentiño' by Irene Regueiro, Patricia Alambiaga Arnal, Lebymar Blanco Pérez, Elena Bàez & Nela Sanchez

But her costume has nothing to do with allusion or somatic comfort; it’s closer to the Zen of a color field, aiming for the very same transcendence through an entirely different medium.

Seeing the other people you come to that state where you start to feel unconditional love for the total stranger. That is what happened to me. My entire heart opened to the level that was incredible. You see them and by being still they become eyes like the door of the soul, you really start knowing them on the most intimate level. That is why people avoid looking in the eyes, especially here in New York. I looked by now, 1,565 pair of eyes. This is enormous amount of eyes. It was so touching to see I knew the people so intimately but never spoke word with them.

–Marina Abramović, interview on WSJ‘s Speakeasy Blog, June 1 2010 (Highly recommended)

As Hrag Vartanian points out, MoMA itself stakes a claim to authorship in The Artist Is Present (after setting a precedent with the @ sign): the exhibition existed as much in the digital space as it did IRL, where a web cam evolved into a kind of meta-art, largely through social media metastasis. The microsite was an exhibit about an exhibit—an anti-Chatroulette, if you will—while the Flickr feed of Marco Anelli’s unmistakable portraits could easily make for a post-hoc catalog and future exhibit. (H.V.’s excellent recap on Hyperallergic has spared me the need to eulogize the exhibit.)

marina-flickr

First of all, I am not ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Marina Abramović before my first visit to MoMA’s comprehensive survey or her life and work two and a half months ago. Since that fateful first exposure, I have grown quite sympathetic to her work, which I would describe with adjectives like “raw,” “visceral,” “somatic,” ad infinitum.

While it’s probably too much to expect that the actors would reperform any pieces from the Rhythm series, it’s definitely illuminating to see certain pieces in the flesh, so to speak (namely Imponderabilia, with its ephemeral interactivity, but others as well). At least, it is for those who are unfamiliar with Marina’s particular brand of performance art—including myself, the first time around—i.e. the vast majority of MoMA’s visitors.

Marina & Ulay, Reunited

Marina & Ulay, Reunited

Unfortunately, the pieces executed by Marina’s minions are, in many ways, a novelty: the more you know about the artist and her oeuvre, the less successful the reperformances become. I found that they were far less impactful the second, third, fourth, etc. times around; the sheen of originality quickly fades once you recognize that the anonymous faces are rotating between the five ‘live’ works on the sixth floor. By the third time I visited the exhibition, I was far more concerned with where Marina and Ulay went when they walked off the screen in [the video of] Relation in Space (in which they repeatedly walk into one another) than the four people in the 8-foot cube behind me (reperforming Relation in Time and Point of Contact), taped off to demarcate its artness, hermeneutically if not hermetically sealed.

(Similarly, I found it interesting to see where the performer in Skeleton chooses to fix their diffuse gaze: the women gratuitously inviting rain under their dresses; Marina fondling herself; the men dry-humping a lush if admantly unresponsive field; or Marina in homage: victorious, self-lionized, Napoleonic, eternal. It turns out that they’re too busy “[going] back and forth between… euphoric moments and then intensely sad feelings of heaviness.“)

When I first saw this on T Magazine, I thought it looked like a movie trailer… turns out, it is.

In other words, the work on the sixth floor relies on an element of unpredictability that constitutes the essence of performance art. I distinctly remember when my first encounter with Luminosity, shortly after the exhibit opened in March. The white light is strangely forgiving: she struck me as painted, photorealistic, timeless in the split-second before I realized that she was not just an image but a real person. If that naïve (in a good sense) suspension of disbelief cannot be underestimated, it is precisely because it will never happen again.

Of course, the inherent ‘unrepeatability’ of Abramović’s work only underscores the singular nature of performance art. Again, although some have questioned the authenticity of reperformance—to the effect that any attempt to do so somehow devalues the work itself and Marina’s legacy—I think there is something to be said for the sheer novelty of reperformance, where ignorance is bliss.

klaus-biesenbach-vs-marina-via-moma-flickr

Date: May 23, 2009
To: K. Biesenbach
From: M. Abramović
RE: Retrospective at MoMA

I decided that I want to have a work that connects me more with the public, that concentrates … on the interaction between me and the audience.

I want to have a simple table, installed in the center of the atrium, with two chairs on the sides. I will sit on one chair and a square of light from the ceiling will separate me from the public.

Anyone will be free to sit on the other side of the table, on the second chair, staying as long as he/she wants, being fully and uniquely part of the Performance.

I think this work [will] draw a line of continuity in my career.

–M.

via Arthur Danto in NYT

Hence, the true power of Marina presented herself: that of an artwork unfolding in real time. It was neither a performance nor art by most definitions of either word—performance suggests action and art suggests meaning—but, insofar as the medium is the body itself, it was Performance Art, reduced to its essence: presence (not unlike Tehching Hsieh’s “Lifeworks,” which also bear MoMA’s stamp of approval).

A friend and I agreed to get to MoMA early in hopes of earning an audience with her inimitable highness Marina Abramovic on a Saturday morning two months ago. Unfortunately, there was already a substantial crowd—to the extent that they let people into the foyer (between the ticket check and stairs to the atrium) 20 minutes before opening—by 10 AM (when we had agreed to meet at MoMA), despite the gorgeous weather, semi-early arrival and the ‘magical’ tourist attraction up the block.

A rough chronicle of my experience after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

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May 26, 2010

Assorted Links

UPDATED, one last time before midnight.

Os Gemeos & Blu (Works in Progress) in Lisbon

Os Gemeos & Blu (Works in Progress) in Lisbon

Street art’s symbiotic relationship with the Web makes you wonder whether the genre’s broad popularity stems from the fact that its characteristic features—swift execution, quicksilver response to pop culture and politics, the dominance of quotation and commentary, snarky attitude, fragmented statements embedded in the world rather than meant to stand apart from it—actually reflect the way that plugged-in people process information, more so than “traditional” art. There is something particularly contemporary about street art’s whole M.O., in this sense.

–Ben Davis, Is Street Art Over?, Slate, May 26 2010 (Highly recommended)

Fresh Stuff from Ron English in Queens

Fresh Stuff from Ron English in Queens

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Two perspectives on Marina:

She and MoMA have brought some magic back into art—the sort of magic that all of our courses in art history and appreciation had encouraged us to hope for.

–Arthur C. Danto, Sitting with Marina, The Stone blog on NYT, May 23 2010

There are euphoric moments and then intensely sad feelings of heaviness. Whatever you’re feeling becomes intensified. Certain truths about things I need to fix in my life are revealed to me. Marina says that in her own life she’s not so disciplined—that the performance gives her structure.

–Deborah Wing-Sproul, The Performer Made Bare, NYMag, May 23 2010

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prokhorov-bloomberg-jayz-via-espn

[As Prokhorov] explained to “60 Minutes,” “I don’t use a computer. We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it.”

You know what? He’s not necessarily wrong. Do we REALLY need all this information? Like, right now—you’re reading this column and hopefully enjoying it, but ultimately, could you have survived the weekend if you missed it? I say yes. Just about everything online fits that mold—you have to sift through loads of bad writing and irrelevant information to find the occasional entertaining/funny/interesting thing, and even then, it’s not something that’s making or breaking your week. Ever been on a vacation and had little-to-no Internet access that week? You survived, right? Maybe the big Russian is on to something.

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Candy-Darling-by-Peter-Hujar-via-huffpo

Candy reminds us of the postmodern notion of self-creation—the way we don social signifiers with the same ease as clothing, constructing our selves bit by bit from cultural cues and images. Rather than the solid frameworks we cast them as, our selves are more like sweaters we put on and take off. When it comes to social identity, we’re all a wee bit in drag.

–Caroline Hagood, New Documentary Tries to Solve the Riddle of Andy Warhol’s Candy Darling,
The Huffington Post, May 21 2010

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Was2651110

The problem of negative externalities [refers to] costs that accrue when the self-interested actions of one person leave bystanders worse off. The biggest example of a negative externality is global warming: When we burn carbon-based fuels, we benefit ourselves while imposing a great cost on billions of other present and future inhabitants of the planet.

–Felix Salmon, The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic, Wired, May 24 2010

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j-bennett-fitts-land-of-ahs-via-good

GOOD Picture Show has a gallery of J. Bennett Fitts' incredible photos of Middle America

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March 30, 2010

Art vs Audience

Core77 recently posted a couple of videos by Mike Figgis for the Tate Liverpool, in which an ‘average’ audience—presumably a demographically accurate cross-section of locals—shares their opinions about a canonical work of modern art. The first group of schoolkids is rather skeptical towards a Dan Flavin, which has been installed in their classroom for a day, and they’re equally baffled by Jeff Koons’ “Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank.” (More Koons below.)

Conversely, an older group seems to grasp the significance of Duchamp’s Fountain, as displayed in a public restroom, while remaining largely indifferent to the object itself, readily abstracting the idea from its physical manifestation.

I’m undecided as to whether their candid opinions are more or less authoritative than those of art historians or critics.

Read the rest of this entry »

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March 16, 2010

Daylight Saving Time & Other Items

» Aesop Rock – Daylight (4:25) – 4.1MB m4a @ 128kbps

The Persistence of Trite Imagery

The Persistence of Trite Imagery

Since this Sunday marked Daylight Saving Time, I decided to put my philosophy degree to good use by pondering the psychology and metaphysics of this semi-annual ritual.

First of all, there is technically only one daylight to be saved: contrary to folk wisdom that might suggest otherwise, daylight is an indivisible entity. In a sense, daylight is like money—which is also grammatically singular but conceptually plural (insofar as one would hope to have more than one money)—such that daylight is quantifiable, at least in terms of daylight hours. In other words, official terminology denotes that summer is ‘Time to Save Daylight’—i.e., Time for Daylight-Saving—while the colloquial (if not altogether prevalent) shorthand “Daylight Savings” is a gerund, as per the nominal usage of “Savings” for that type of  bank account. (Even the Wikipedia URL for the Daylight Saving Time entry is Daylight_savings.)

The monetary metaphor is useful in illustrating how DST’s pithy essence “spring forward, fall back” belies the curious phenomenon that either occasion—the turning of the clocks in spring or in fall—can be described as gaining or losing an hour. Common parlance suggests that we have indeed acquired a full 60 minutes, yet this increment simultaneously seems to have slipped through a mysterious temporal rift in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It appears that we have both gained and lost an hour on Sunday, a discrepancy that reveals two divergent systems of belief concerning time and how it is measured: absolute vs. relative. The two views correspond to a scientific picture of an independent physical world and a pragmatic ‘lived’ experience of time, respectively.

The former system holds that time marches forward of its own accord and that to push a clock forward—from 2AM to 3AM, say—disturbs the clockwork of the universe to the effect that humans have erased an hour from their day. Here the bank analogy must be modified: on Sunday, we withdrew an hour on credit, which we will pay back in October; for the next six months, we owe one hour to the universe, or nature, or whatever. We have lost it in the interest of practicality—we need to borrow the hour for the better half of the year—though we plan on restoring balance in six months or so. For the absolutist, the hour is deferred.

Those who abide by the second perspective, on the other hand, see time as more malleable, where chronology is purely pragmatic: we gained an hour on Sunday because we now have an extra hour of sunlight—and, ostensibly, productivity—to the effect that the days themselves grow longer. By springing forward, we stake a claim to the greater daylight afforded by the rotation of the Earth, silently folding one hour into the shroud of slumber in order to extend each and every day in those six months. For the relativist, it’s possible to save daylight like money albeit not in the interest of yielding a long-term dividend: everyone cashes out the same predetermined amount at the end of each day.

Of course, both schools of thought understand that the actual demarcation of time to be incidental (i.e. pragmatic in a broad sense)—otherwise we wouldn’t have license to give and take (or take and give) hours as we please. Nevertheless, I wonder if there is any correlation between the saving(s) locution and the gain/loss dichotomy: are relativists more predisposed to regarding DST as a savings account, as opposed to absolutists who treat the extra time as a line of credit?

Does that even make sense? Rather, does it even matter?

Now for the real news:

  • Advertising 2.0: This Time, It’s Personal. FaceBook is now crowdsourcing targeted advertising like social AdSense (=AdBook?). (NYT, Future Perfect) Also, Product Placement: Geolocation is so hot right now (NYT)
  • Mattel Mentality x Mad Men = Barbie. WTF. (NYT)
  • Google Maps now has (spotty) bike directions: Gothamist blurbs, Streetsblog mentions, Wired crowdsources; Bike Snob NYC is more thorough, with an incisive riposte to the Post
  • Big ups to the Alma Mater in the Times. But seriously, the prospect of digitally tracking writers’ inspiration and composition process is quite fascinating.
  • Stanley Fish on Pragmatism’s Gift.
  • I’ve always been a stickler for free throws (i.e. I don’t understand why every player isn’t shooting 90+% from the line), so I was pleased to see that Wired has posted a guide on How to Nail a Free Throw.
  • Old news, but here’s a couple of interesting articles on sports video games and their source material; specifically, how video games are have become increasingly true to life for athletes: League of Gamers (ESPN); Gamechangers: How Videogames Trained a Generation of Athletes (Wired)
  • Speaking of video games, Virtusphere. Just watch the damn video.
  • G4 (correctly, I think) identifies Chatroulette’s ‘Merton.’ NYMag’s Vulture (correctly, I think) identifies Ben Folds as a “Fin de siècle singer-songwriter.” Just watch the damn video.
  • (Over)analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” music video. (Vigilant Citizen)

Music news:

  • What Would They Know: Matthew Perpetua interviews Liars for Pitchfork.
  • Time to Get Away: LCD Soundsystem finishing up their last record. (Daily Swarm)
  • Wanna Be Startin’ Something: MJ posthumously lands a massive record deal. (WSJ, NYT)

Art news:

Bonus Trailer:

Ride, Rise, Roar trailer via Wired.

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March 12, 2010

Lady Gaga ft. Beyoncé – Telephone

While I like Lady Gaga for what she is—flawlessly executed surreal pop performance art—I can’t say that I follow her every move. However, the new video for “Telephone” is epic.

We had an amazing time working together on her video and it just kind of works out because we both like women.

–Lady Gaga on MTV.com

(OMG wouldn’t it be, like, AWSM if Gags and B were besties in real life?)

Vulture talks fashion and costumes in a scene-by-scene breakdown (I personally thought the leopard catsuit was unflattering and uninspired, but the rest of the dress was great). Kottke notes the unabashed product placement. Videogum hates.

I also have some half-baked analysis about celebrity, pop culture re(up?)cycling, etc.:

Lady Gaga may be our Madonna, Warhol or Bowie, but (I’m not sure if this will come off as cheesy, pretentious or just plain ignorant) these comparisons are moot insofar as my generation inherits the legacy of Madonna, Warhol and Bowie as much as Ms. Germanotta herself. The fact that she exists in the present confirms that she is, in fact, none of the above, and I think it’s safe to assume that the next generation will have their very own Lady Gaga. They will have their own Banksy, Animal Collective, Tarantino, David Chang, etc., and we will claim to have seen it all before. But they won’t have Lady Gaga the way that we have her now. (She is, after all, a social media genius.)

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