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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Ephemera // Recycled Images

In Art, Cinema, Ephemera, History, Image on January 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm

You can’t take it with you.  At least that’s what they used to say.  That statement may seem antiquated in an age of continuous cataloging and archiving.  The internet is vast and able to hold more information than all the libraries and museums of the world.  Furthermore, the information we carry is limitless; infinite knowledge at our fingertips that waits patient and dormant, ready to be called forth into being at any given moment.  The more memory we store on data banks, the more the past is sucked into the orbit of the present, ready to be called up on the screen, making the past simultaneous with the present in a new way.  But as three dimensional objects are collapsed and transformed into clean and discreet units of electronic information, we grow more and more nostalgic for the mangled ephemera of generations past…  the wear and tear that gives a physical object that unique texture.

Ephemera is transitory written and printed matter not intended to be retained or preserved.  The word derives from the Greek, meaning things lasting no more than a day. Some collectible ephemera are advertising trade cards, airsickness bags, bookmarks, catalogs, greeting cards, letters, pamphlets, postcards, posters, prospectuses, stock certificates, tickets and zines.   One of my personal favorites are safety matchboxes from Japan and India.

The safety match was invented in 1844.  Their safety is due to the separation of the reactive ingredients between a match head on the end of a paraffin-impregnated splint and a special striking surface, and the replacement of white phosphorus with red phosphorus.  The exterior of the matchcover is usually imprinted with a producer’s logo, often with artistic decorations, or serves as an advertising/promotional media for the undertaking it is sold or handed off in.  The ease of making matchcovers of different shapes also made them quite a popular cheap promotional item or anniversary souvenir.  In an era of instant information access and viral publicity, logo-bearing matches may have the edge as ambassadors that convey distinction in their very physicality.  Mark Nackman,  owner and president of AdMatch, claims that “matches have universal appeal, and that’s the mystery — that one little package could resonate with familiarity, maybe beauty, and a feeling of value.”  Frankly, I agree.  My Grandma has a very diverse collection (in a fancy glass bowl to boot!) and that is where I first encountered their magic.  It is the very banality of the ephemera that makes it so appealing.  The idea of finding remarkable beauty in a mundane place; a physical artifact forsaken by the past and only truly understood with perfected wisdom of hindsight.  It makes one feel special.  And why not, ephemera is just commodified nostalgia.

Daguerreotype portrait depicting Joseph Plateau

The aesthetics of nostalgia might be less a matter of simple memory than of complex projection; the invocation of a partial, idealized history merges with a dissatisfaction with the present.  As early as 1798, Immanuel Kant had noted that people who did return home were usually disappointed because, in fact, they did not want to return to a place, but to a time, a time of youth. Time, unlike space, cannot be returned to–ever; time is irreversible. And nostalgia becomes the reaction to that sad fact.  This physical and emotional upheaval related to the workings of memory was seen as a “disorder of the imagination” from the start.  Nostalgia, in fact, may depend precisely on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its emotional impact and appeal. It is the very pastness of the past, its inaccessibility, that likely accounts for a large part of nostalgia’s power. This is rarely the past as actually experienced, of course; it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. In this sense, however, nostalgia is less about the past than about the present.

It operates through what Mikhail Bakhtin called an “historical inversion”: the ideal that is not being lived in the present is projected into the past. It is “memorialized” as past, crystallized into precious moments selected by memory, but also by forgetting, and by desire’s distortions and reorganizations. Simultaneously distancing and approximating, nostalgia exiles us from the present as it brings the imagined past near.  Nostalgia sanitizes as it selects, making the past feel complete, stable, coherent, safe from the unexpected and the untoward, from accident or betrayal, in other words, making it so very unlike the present.

If the present is considered irredeemable, you can look either back or forward. The nostalgic and utopian impulses share a common rejection of the here and now.  If the future is cyberspace, then what better way to soothe techno-peasant anxieties than to yearn for a Underwood Typewriter? But there is a rather obvious contradiction here: nostalgia requires the availability of evidence of the past, and it is precisely the electronic and mechanical reproduction of images of the past that plays such an important role in the structuring of the nostalgic imagination today, furnishing it with the possibility of “compelling vitality.” Thanks to the internet, nostalgia no longer has to rely on individual memory or desire: it can be fed forever by quick access to an infinitely recyclable past.  That is why there is an incredible surge in nostalgia today.

Three Frames

Video Ephemera and Audio Ephemera refers to transitory audiovisual matter not intended to be retained or preserved.  The large capacity and reach provided by resources such as the Internet Archive and YouTube have made finding and sharing video ephemera (past and present) dramatically easier.  My own video work as well as that of many of my peers relies heavily on found footage and recycled images.  An interesting correlation can be observed between pre-cinematic moving images of the late 19th Century and the contemporary rise of GIF art.  Like their erstwhile forebears, GIFs transport the viewer into a dimension unlike anything we experience in waking life.

Sites like Rhizome, 8-Bit Today, and Nasty Nets dig through the deepest recesses of the Internet to find these oddball creations. Many of these artists go by aliases that recall the early days of message board handles and instant messaging screen names (e.g., Videogramo and Out 4 Pizza), and host their works at sprawling Web pages that are part portfolio, part art installations. Others opt to use their real names, and even occasionally find their works in respected galleries. Michael Bell-Smith, for instance, has been featured at the New Museum in New York.   Many pieces of animated GIF art are abstract designs, while others relish in their dated appearance — incorporating ’80s and ’90s goth and cyberpunk influences as well as classic video game elements. Results often careen wildly from creepy and unsettling to oddly beautiful…

::Terence OBrien::

GIF art recalls the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge.  There is something intrinsically haunting about Muybridge’s animations.  The subjects of his photography experiments feel as if they are living fragments… two-dimensional ghosts, tethered to the frame, suspended in Hell, sentenced forever to repeat the same actions like the mythic Sisyphus.  In 1867, under the trade pseudonym ‘Helios’, Muybridge set out to record the scenery of the far West with his mobile darkroom, christened ‘The Flying Studio’.  He produced notable stereoscopic views, and later, panoramas including an important series showing San Francisco.  His reputation as a photographer of the first rank spread, and he was approached by the President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Leland Stanford, to attempt to photograph a horse trotting at speed, to settle a long-standing controversy among racing men as to whether a trotting horse had all four hooves off the ground at any point.  In the Spring of 1872 Muybridge photographed the horse Occident, but without any great success, as the current wet collodion process normally required many seconds for a good result. In April 1873 he managed to produce some better negatives in which a recognisable silhouette of the horse showed all four feet above the ground at the same time.

Soon after, Muybridge left his young wife, Flora, to go on a photographic trip. While he was away, she had an affair with a Major Harry Larkyns and became pregnant. Muybridge – an imposing figure in broad-brimmed hat and long white beard – discovering that the child was not his, confronted Larkyns, and shot him dead. Tried for murder in February 1875, Muybridge was acquitted by the jury on the grounds of justifiable homicide; he left soon after on a long trip to Central America. On his return, he took up the action photography project once more. Using a new shutter design he had develped which operated in as little as 1/1000th of a second, he obtained more detailed pictures in July 1877. He then devised a new scheme, which Stanford sponsored at his farm at Palo Alto. A fifty-foot-long shed was constructed, containing twelve cameras side by side, facing a white background marked off with vertical, numbered lines. Each camera was fitted with Muybridge’s high-speed shutter, released by an electromagnetic catch. Thin threads stretched across the track were broken by the horse as it moved along, closing spring electrical contacts which released each shutter in turn. Thus in about half a second, twelve photographs were obtained showing all the phases of the movement. Later, twenty four cameras were used; and lateral cameras giving oblique views.  The sequences published in scientific and photographic journals throughout the world excited considerable attention. By replacing the threads with an electrical commutator device, releasing the shutters at precise intervals, Muybridge was able to take series of actions by other animals and humans, projecting his results in motion on the screen with his Zoopraxiscope projector. This machine, described by the Illustrated London News as ‘a magic lantern run mad‘ was basically a projecting phenakistiscope, with a contra-rotating shutter.  This technology is the backbone of cinema.

::Muybridge text ripped and stolen from the work of Stephen Herbert and Brian Coe::

Jake Forney, "Horses Were Horses Before Men Would Ride"

Insect Typewriter Companions

In Art, Cinema, Ephemera, Industry, Insects, Literature, Surrealism on December 27, 2009 at 9:28 pm

*Penumbra Report owes its creative genesis in part to the delicate midwifery of an anthropomorphic machine.  I was at Blue Moon Camera and Machine developing film and visiting my friend Christie Spillane, when my partner in slime, Lady Quackery, noticed the elegantly framed poster of NAKED LUNCH above what appeared to be a shrine / display of beautifully refurbished typewriters.  We became hysterical.  In a frenzy we rushed to the display and began typing on the mahines.  After caressing and groping each and every one of those beautiful machines, we tucked in our shirts, pulled up our stockings, fixed our hair, decided we had somehow descended into some sort of temporary madness, and promptly left the store.  We were mere feet from the car when that hot, typological fever took hold of our loins and dragged us back inside hysterically screaming until an early 1930s Underwood No. 5 was purchased.  It’s been true love ever since.

When most people think “typewriter,” they picture something much like the Underwood No. 5.  Why? Because this is the most successful typewriter design in history.  When the Underwood was first introduced, it was only one of hundreds of competing and extremely varied typewriter designs.  But by 1920, this machine, succeeded in defining the stereotype of a typewriter: a machine with four rows of keys and a shift, typing with typebars through a ribbon onto the front of a cylindrical rubber platen. This is the form that still determines our concept of what a typewriter is — or “was.”  The No. 5 was the quintessential Underwood.

The CURE for modern machine angst resides within. Does our disposable culture leave you worried? Fed up with squandering your hard-earned equipment budget on devices rendered obsolete before they are even broken in? Searching for a companion machine with which you might actually have time to become intimately familiar?

Within our Portland, Oregon based facility you will discover a veritable treasure trove of functional, durable, fully warranted mechanical devices, from tried-and-true photographic apparatus to the west coast’s largest selection of refurbished and eager mechanical typewriting machines.

::Blue Moon Camera and Machine::

In some ways typewriters are fascinating because they are the predecessors of the electric processors used today.  As Walter J. Ong puts it, “Since writing came into existence, the evolution of the word and the evolution of consciousness have been intimately tied in with technologies and technological developments.”  Although, the most alluring characteristic about these machines is that they can be seen not only as tools of a bygone era, but independent psychological entities autonomous of human will.  There is something inherently different about a MacBook Pro and an Underwood No.5.  The MacBook is like an inanimate terminal, sterile and often cold to the touch.  On the other hand, the Underwood is pulsating, arousing, virile… almost sentient.  It comes down to the feel of these machines.  A typewriter can be a guiding tutelary spirit or, contrastingly, a demonic presence or pet-like familiar.  The only difference between familiars and demons are the specific ways in which a familiar possesses an individual.  In contrast to demons, familiars do not possess the body.  They rather possess the personality, the soul, the human affective relations and the psychological processes of a victim, but the familiar spirit maintains a differentiated personality with those who attack.  Sometimes the familiar spirit entices the human spirit by appearing friendly and comforting when things go wrong, thus developing a progressive dependence on the spirit and the diminishing reliance of one’s individuality.  Akin to a mercurial spirit, the typewriter acts as a medium (think both senses of the word), that creates a vortex and tearing a hole into other realms.  It has magical powers because it is, in fact, a window — a hole in the wholeness of our world (which is never a seamless wholeness), through which our imagination may come in contact with the symbolic dimension.

The invention of the typewriter changed the course of Western culture, forever mutating the topographical landscape of literature.  Many authors and writers have had unusual relationships with typewriters. Friedrich Nietzsche used a typewriter in an attempt to stem his migraine headaches and his incipient blindness. Mark Twain claimed in his autobiography that he was the first important writer to present a publisher with a typewritten manuscript, for Life on the Mississippi. E. E. Cummings may have been the first poet to deliberately use a typewriter for poetic effect.  Jack Kerouac, a fast typist at 100 words per minute, typed On the Road on a roll of paper so he wouldn’t be interrupted by having to change the paper. Within two weeks of starting to write On the Road, Kerouac had one single-spaced paragraph, 120 feet long.  Another fast typist of the Beat period was Richard Brautigan, who said that he thought out the plots of his books in detail beforehand, then typed them out at speeds approaching 90 to 100 words a minute.  Ernest Hemingway used to write his books standing up in front of a Royal typewriter suitably placed on a tall bookshelf. Tom Robbins waxes philosophical about the Remington SL3, a typewriter that he bought to write Still Life with Woodpecker, and eventually does away with it because it is too complicated and inhuman of a machine for the writing of poetry.  After completing the novel Beautiful Losers, Leonard Cohen is said to have flung his typewriter into the Aegean Sea. William S. Burroughs wrote in some of his novels that “a machine he called the ‘Soft Typewriter’ was writing our lives, and our books, into existence,” according to a book review in The New Yorker (the image to the right is Claes Oldenburg’s eponymous sculpture).

Of course, David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of Burroughs’ novel, Naked Lunch, is perhaps the greatest example of the morbid and perverse relationship between man and typewriter.  In the film, Burroughs’ typewriter is a living, insect-like entity (voiced by Canadian actor Peter Boretski) and actually dictates the book to him.

Onscreen Naked Lunch recalls both The Sheltering Sky and Barton Fink in its respective evocations of the life of the literary exile and the torment of trying to write. Mr. Cronenberg’s hideously clever contribution in the latter realm is the insect-cum-typewriter that supposedly assists Bill in his efforts but clearly has a mind of its own. Both the writing bug and the Mugwump, a man-sized and rather soigné strain of monster, are capable of registering their approval by oozing viscous, intoxicating substances from various parts of their anatomies. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” Bill is told upon encountering his first cigarette-smoking Mugwump on a bar stool in Interzone. “He specializes in sexual ambivalence.”

::Janet Maslin, Drifting In and Out of a Kafkaesque Reality::

Cronenberg and Burroughs share a biologist’s detached view of humans as species.  They view the species in evolutionary terms.  A post-humanist stance that visualizes man as being in a brave new denatured world of permeable boundaries.  Technology reaches directly into unseen depths, stimulating the ganglia and the viscera, caressing and remolding the interior volume of the body.  In this way, Kafka’s Metamorphosis of industrial man into primordial insect parallels the current transformation of mediated man into futuristic machine.

In this video, a robot re-enacts the typing of a love letter from Franz Kafka to Felize Bauer, in which Kafka makes reference to typing the letter on a typewriter and expresses the impact the new writing device has on his train of thought:

The link between insects and technology is not new. To quote Virgil’s Aeneid, “And now Aeneas saw in a side valley a secluded grove with copses of rustling trees where the river Lethe glided along past peaceful dwelling houses. Around it fluttered numberless races and tribes of men, like bees in a meadow on a clear summer day, settling on all the many-coloured flowers and crowding round the gleaming white lilies while the whole plain is loud with their buzzing.” The souls of the dead draw from the rivers of forgetfulness to re-format their hard drives and enter a new life back on earth. Virgil, the son of a beekeeper, makes the comparison between human and bee society throughout his verse. As in the Roman ideal, the world of the bee depends on the rule of a single monarch, and members are ready to sacrifice their lives for the whole. Insect colonies offer themselves up as mirrors for their human hosts. They provide a symbolic language for arguing between the needs of the collective and the individual. Like insects themselves, these representations mutate over time and evolve into exotic models of human behavior. McLuhan spoke of the mission of humans to ‘fecundate’ technology. It was a tenuous metaphor to begin with. Today it barely rates as a metaphor – more like a description.  The industrial nature of insects have made them the perfect symbol for the modern age.

Ladislaw Starewicz (1882-1965), born in Russia from Polish parents was a stop-motion animator who used insects and animals as his protagonists. Biologist, in 1920 he became director of the Natural History Museum in Kaunas. Inspired by the stop-motion animation work of Emile Cohl he began producing nature documentaries about the lives of insects, experimenting with the use of live insects at first and then the animation of small articulated puppets created with the carcasses of dead insects. His insects’ nimble gestures lead one through an array of human emotions, and to a heightened sense of sympathy and forgiveness. This may be why his insects and animals are so easy to relate to, and why they are so notably Eastern European.   Important author, had a great influence on the cinema of animation following up to authors such as Terry Gilliam and Tim BurtonThe Cameraman’s Revenge (1912) is a story of betrayal and jealousy, artistic struggle, with a bit of recursive humor too.

Black Melancholia // Saturn

In Alchemy, Art, History, Image, Myth, Pharmacopeia, Psychology on December 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

Certain poisons worked by an occult and specifick property and have their essence from the stars and celestial influence which is apt to destroy the strength of man’s body, because being taken but even in a small quantity, yet are so precious a quality that they kill almost in a moment.

::Ambroise Paré::

Ambroise Paré was a French surgeon renowned for his ingenious experiments.  He once used a solution of egg yolk, oil of roses, and turpentine for war wounds instead of boiling oil and cauterization.  In 1565, Ambroise Paré described an experiment to test the properties of the Bezoar Stone.  At the time, the Bezoar stone was commonly believed to be able to cure the effects of any poison, but Paré believed this to be impossible. It happened that a cook at Paré’s court was caught stealing fine silver cutlery, and was condemned to be hanged. The cook agreed to be poisoned, on the conditions that he would be given some bezoar straight after the poison and go free in case he survived. The stone did not cure him, and he died in agony seven hours after being poisoned. Thus Paré had proved that the Bezoar Stone could not cure all poisons.

Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I

The Mütter Museum has an interesting exhibit up about Lead.  The quote above was a reference to the physical dangers of that element. In alchemy, the planet / diety associated with lead was Saturn/Cronus.  A Saturnine disposition has been a common ailment of artists and philosophers since the beginning of time and is better known by its  synonym:  Melancholia.  The name “melancholia” comes from the old medical theory of the four humours: disease or ailment being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily fluids, or humours.  Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. Melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile; hence the name, which means ‘black bile’ (Ancient Greek μέλας, melas, “black”, + χολή, kholé, “bile”); a person whose constitution tended to have a preponderance of black bile had a melancholic disposition. The other humors are yellow bile, blood, and phlegm.

In 1921 Swedish physician Fahråeus suggested that the four humours were based upon the observation of blood clotting in a transparent container. When blood is drawn in a glass container and left undisturbed for about an hour, four different layers can be seen. A dark clot forms at the bottom (the “black bile”). Above the clot is a layer of red blood cells (the “blood”).  Above this is a whitish layer of white blood cells (the “phlegm”, now called the buffy coat). The top layer is clear yellow serum (the “yellow bile”).

The print-maker and theorist Albrecht Dürer ties all this together with his masterpiece “Melancolia 1.”

The alchemist’s lot was such that he was often depicted as a melancholy and frustrated being, as, for example, by Chaucer, Weiditz, Brueghel, and Teniers. In a wider sense, melancholy was held to be an attribute of students or seekers after knowledge. The doctrine of melancholy, moreover, is inseparable from the Saturnine mysticism that permeates alchemy. One of the elements of Saturnine mysticism is measurement, typified by the compasses, balance, and hour-glass.

The polyhedron lying beside the foot of the ladder (representing the base metal, lead) may be an image of the Philosopher’s Stone, or more immediately, of the so-called ” Stone of Saturn,” which Saturn (or Kronos), “swallowed and spewed up instead of Jupiter.” Saturn, who is often represented in alchemy as an old man with an hour-glass upon his head, was addicted to swallowing his own children; for this reason, infants, usually shown at play, enter into the Saturnine elements of alchemy.

::John Read::

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children

Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus.   Gaia created a great adamant sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle by cutting off his genitals, castrating him and casting the severed member into the sea. From the blood and semen that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. From the member that was cast into the sea, Venus later emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance.  After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. This period of Cronus’ rule was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.

Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to preempt the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly devoured, thinking that it was his son.  Once he had grown up, Zeus used a poison given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order.

Cronus spent the last of his life as a prisoner of Tartarus, a dark, gloomy place that can be described as a pit of blackness.  Feelings of shame, fear, guilt and humiliation shackle us and keep us confined to the pit of darkness. Its mutations have become so ramified with time, so contradictory that soon one could no longer say just what melancholy was in the first place. Yet we all have a feeling for what it is being referred to, a sort of enormous black abyss which contaminates and sucks up everything in its vicinity.  Having recognised, for example, a sickle, a scythe, a broom, an oar, ankle shackles a crutch, or even an old man preparing to devour a child, the viewer would immediately recognize Saturn, who, in turn, he would automatically associate with melancholy.  If a picture contained devices alluding to geometry or mathematics, these too led back to the same theme, since in the Middle Ages, mathematicians and geometricians were regarded as melancholic. “The mathematician is a mirthless fellow,” wrote Martin Luther, and equipment related to that science is also visible in Dürer’s engraving.  Conspicuously present in the background of Dürer’s engraving is an enigmatic, eight-sided, and up to the present inscrutable polyhedron, one whose very inscrutability makes it mysterious, even uncanny. This polyhedron not only alludes to melancholy, it also radiates it, so to speak. It is no riddle, but rather a mystery. Nonetheless, by virtue of this polyhedron, Dürer’s image could be referred to as melancholic.  In place of transmissibility, the inexpressible aspect of melancholy moves to the foreground. In place of the concrete, the abstract.  Melancholy is the dark unknowable.

The Goya painting is also of note.  It is one of the series of Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823.  Goya produced a series of 14 works, which he painted with oils directly onto the walls of the house. At the age of 73, and having survived two life-threatening illnesses, Goya was likely to have been concerned with his own mortality, and was increasingly embittered by the civil strife occurring in Spain.

Blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In depth psychology, Carl Jung interpreted alchemical blackness as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development.  James Hillman writes, “The rotting and blackening process of alchemy, dreadful wounds and suppurating sores, the ritual butchery of animals or their contagion and poisoning, and other such shocking imagery point to where something material is losing its substance and thrust, where a physical impulse or animal drive is descending toward the underworld.”

Every night and every morn

Some to misery are born.

Every morn and every night

Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,

Some are born to endless night.

::William Blake, Auguries of Innocence ::

Superficial Identities in Emerging Æsthetics

In Art, Image, Internet, Myth, Society on December 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Laura Brothers, Danger Dialogue

Who are you? Who cares? With proper self-branding, not only will you find out who you are, you will make the right people care, opening up a slew of the right opportunities specifically tailored for you. Maximize marketing potential and get the type of work and respect one deserves.

::Excerpt, www.artofselfbranding.com::

REVIEW:  EXPENSIVE DEATHSTYLE

In his new project, Santiago Vernetti invites each of us to redefine “selling out”.  Repackaging commodified party culture in Los Angeles to make it appear palatable to intellectual scrutiny, Monsieur Vernetti’s images of lost children slide down our corroded psychic arteries easier than a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks.

The superficiality of a youth culture obsessed with AND TRAPPED BY an oversaturation of images, readily available for consumption, causes excessive narcissism and a preoccupation with oneself (not to mention an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness when one realizes that one is being watched or observed, the feeling that “everyone is looking” at oneself, i.e. paranoia).  This leads to a state of constant performance in the struggle to secure a public identity.  Private identity has dissolved giving rise to self-branding and the art of discrimination.  In laymen terms, what Facebook pictures do I choose to associate with myself?  How do I craft a profile that accurately reflects the identity I am trying to sell?

But if all is performance than EDS and FB could be seen as historical documentation of a never-ending, continuous spectacle.  Mr. Vernetti gives us each front row tickets to the Fall of the Times New Roman Empire.  His website gives public access to a fun house of seemingly perverted mirrors.  It is only after a deeper glance do we see the truth: each picture is a portrait of Dorian Gray.

Party photography on the internet as vehicle for the dissolution of celebrity // or // a hypocritical exercise that participates in the creation of celebrity albeit an illusory one // or // things I go to, and the people I see there as platform to launch a moonlighting career // or // just something to pass the time… ::Santi Vernetti::

…this time however I come as the victorious Dionysus, who will turn the world into a holiday…Not that I have much time…  ::Nietzsche, Letter to Cosima Wagner::

Indeed, as reported in his mythic death/rebirth:  unable to recognize himself in the vague and distorted reflection produced by the mirror, Dionysus nods his head in a vain search for his own image and identity.  The Titans interpret this action, in its telling motions and gestures, as his consent to be sacrificed. They kill and dismember him, and then proceed to boil and broil his flesh. After which they party.  Dismemberment can be unserstood psychologically as a transformative process.  It is original unity submitting to dispersal and multiplicity for the sake of realization in spatio-temporal existence.  Party Photography as a dissolution of celebrity is a psychological transformation of a non-event:  The Autonomous Zone:

Stephen Pearl Andrews once offered, as an image of anarchist society, the dinner party, in which all structure of authority dissolves in conviviality and celebration…  The media invite us to “come celebrate the moments of your life” with the spurious unification of commodity and spectacle, the famous non-event of pure representation.  In response to this obscenity we have, on the one hand, the spectrum of refusal and on the other hand, the emergence of a festal culture removed and even hidden from the would-be managers of our leisure. “Fight for the right to party” is in fact not a parody of the radical struggle but a new manifestation of it, appropriate to an age which offers social networking sites as ways to “reach out and touch” other human beings, ways to “Be There!”

Pearl Andrews was right: the dinner party is already “the seed of the new society taking shape within the shell of the old” (IWW Preamble). The sixties-style “tribal gathering,” the forest conclave of eco-saboteurs, the idyllic Beltane of the neo-pagans, anarchist conferences, gay faery circles…Harlem rent parties of the twenties, nightclubs, banquets, old-time libertarian picnics–we should realize that all these are already “liberated zones” of a sort, or at least potential TAZs. Whether open only to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants, like a Be-In, the party is always “open” because it is not “ordered”; it may be planned, but unless it “happens” it’s a failure. The element of spontaneity is crucial.

The essence of the party: face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss– in short, a “union of egoists” (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form–or else, in Kropotkin’s terms, a basic biological drive to “mutual aid.”

::Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.::

Primitive / Occult Revival in Modern Æsthetics

What is clear now is that the West’s fascination with the primitive has to do with its own crises in identity, with its own need to clearly demarcate subject and object even while flirting with other ways of experiencing the universe.   ::Bell Hooks::

We find ourselves in an uncertain state.  We seek structure and security.  This mediated world increasingly produces feelings of alienation and loss.  In our desperate attempt to understand our own nature, we seek the company of others. Obsessed with the material reality of the flesh we long to touch one another.   The intimacy once conferred by community and religion in tribal life has dissolved into a state metaphysical restlessness.  We travel from city to city but all is the same.  Italo Calvino recognizes that, “arriving in each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had:  the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”  What we look for is value and meaning.  “What is the meaning of life?”  The question cannot be answered in this form because it confuses objective, abstract meaning with subjective, living meaning.  In this case, it is an actual or possible derivation from sentience, which is not associated with signs that have any original or primary intent of communication.  Occult imagery, with its emphasis on the unknowable and its use of highly potent symbols allows exploration without limitations.

Laura Brothers, Robo Pop Float Void

Surrealism / Collage

In Art, Dreams, Image, Surrealism on December 1, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Lou Beach, World Of Men C

Lou Beach, Preggers

The Futurists and the Dadaists employed collage to protest entrenched values, while the artists of the Russian avant-garde used photomontage, an outgrowth of collage, to demonstrate their support for a progressive world order. For the Surrealists, collage served as a surrogate for the subconscious. Pop artists recognized it as a means of directly incorporating elements of popular culture into their work. Robert Rauschenberg expanded collage in his own way by creating Combines, assemblages of paintings and found objects that were intended, he said, to act in the gap between art and life.

Emphasizing concept and process over end product, collage has brought the incongruous into meaningful congress with the ordinary. With its capacity for change, speed, immediacy, and ephemerality, collage is ideally suited to the demands of this and the prior century. It is a medium of materiality, a record of our civilization, a document of the timely and the transitory. It is no wonder that today’s artists continue to use collage as a way of giving expression to the unorthodox, both in art and life.

::DIANE WALDMAN::

Max Ernst, image from “Une Semaine de Bonté”

Each of these… projects recurrent themes of sexuality, anti-clericalism and violence, by dislocating the visual significance of the source material to suggest what has been repressed.

Jindřich Štyrský, Marriage

Alexis Mackenzie, Just This Once

Alexis Mackenzie, Jade Moon

PREVIEW:   Digital Collage as a Popular New Aesthetic?  What are the roots/implications of this resurgence in occult imagery?  Stay tuned for a follow-up post.

Laura Brothers, Earth Chant

Santi Vernetti, whatiseesometimes

Dreams That Money Can Buy / Digesting Automatons

In Art, Cinema, Dreams, Industry, Surrealism, Technology on December 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Dreams That Money Can Buy is a 1947 American experimental feature color film written, produced, and directed by surrealist artist and dada film-theorist Hans Richter.  Collaborators included Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Darius Milhaud and Fernand Léger.

Oh Venus was born out of sea foam

Oh Venus was born out of brine

But a goddess today if she is Grade A

Is assembled upon the assembly line

Her chromium nerves and her platinum brain

Were chastely encased in cellophane

She was equipped with a prefabricated heart

Mannequins and robots seem intimately connected, but what exactly is their relation?  Would you say that the former is the ancestor of the latter?  Are they synonymous twins born from the same human desire, or do they satisfy different longings?  A robot may not be anthropomorphic, but a mannequin must seem human.  Mannequins are always artificial, but are robots artificial only when they feign organic nature?

The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The mechanical duck appeared to have the ability to eat kernels of grain, and to metabolize and defecate them. While the duck did not actually have the ability to do this – the food was collected in one inner container, and the pre-stored feces was ‘produced’ from a second, so that no actual digestion took place – Vaucanson hoped that a truly digesting automaton could one day be designed.

Voltaire wrote that “without [...] the duck of Vaucanson, you have nothing to remind you of the glory of France.” (“Sans…le canard de Vaucanson vous n’auriez rien qui fit ressouvenir de la gloire de la France.”)

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