Every year the Los Angeles Chinatown art community takes a yearbook photo. Over time the number of participants has grown in number. This year’s photo, which doubled as a holiday greeting card, has more participants than ever. Pictured in the latest photo are the artists, designers, writers, dealers and collectors who have been active in the community this past year.
Feral House is probably best known for The Lords of Chaos, which remains the definitive history of Norwegian-brand black metal. American Hardcore, a pretty thorough account of the intense, short-lived movement, and Lexicon Devil, the story of Darby Crash and the Germs, followed. Over the last couple of years the publisher has put out a lot of really relevant sensational and offbeat titles. In the process they have sometimes republished some fantastic lost art. It’s A Man’s World, for example, has over 200 pages of bizarre cover illustrations for postwar men’s adventure pulps by such forgotten greats as Mort Künstler, Norman Saunders, and Norman Eastman. These magazines were first published for the WWII veteran market so they pretty much invented our iconography of Nazi bondage sadism. Men’s adventure magazines, however, lasted into the 70s, so over time those original images of shackled woman in German torture chambers went through a number of metamorphoses. By the mid-60s, for example, helpless woman reappear as the victims of murderous outlaw rebel swastika wearing bikers. Ultimately, men’s pulps were outmoded by pornographic magazines like Playboy (Swank was, in fact, originally a pulp). The illustrations in It’s A Man’s World reveal the incredibly overt extent to which sadistic misogynist fantasy, castration anxiety, and homoeroticism under lied popular representations of rugged male virility.
In Bavaria and Austria the grotesque looking, shaggy and horned Krampus monsters (a.k.a. Klaubauf or Bartel) come out twice a year with their clanging cowbells, dangling chains and sinister switches -- December 5th and 6th to punish children during the feast of the red mitered St. Nikolaus, and again a month later, around January 6th, to ward off evil spirits in a custom called Perchten. Whether or not they are the henchmen of Nikolaus or they are his adversaries is never made totally clear. As is commonly the case with surviving pre-Christian mythology, much of the pagan folklore has been redefined by humanist morality to fit, however awkwardly, into allegories of good vs. evil. Pagan mythology, on the other hand, is more often particularly concerned with power. Krampus are, like many monsters, emblems of uncontrolable natural force and untamed energy.
The First Annual Extremist Conference DVD is now available at Pruesspress.com. For those who missed the unprecedented collaborative event organized by Los Angeles and Berlin based artists’ publications The Rambler, Spring Journal and MEISE, last month’s night of performances, readings, and music was video taped. The DVD contains a slightly condensed version of the nightlong event that took place on November 20th in Chinatown.
Ginger Snaps: Unleashed is the follow up to the original Ginger Snaps. The first movie, tag-lined “They Don’t Call It The Curse For Nothing,” played adolescent angst and black humor to full effect; it was the age-old werewolf story, but told from a teenage Goth chick’s point of view. One of the many cutting charms of the movie was the connection made between what is scary about the first moments of sexual awareness and what is frightening about monsters, especially, in this case, the lunar relationship between the menstrual cycle and the curse of the werewolf. The dialogue is full of such allusions. After Ginger is infected by a werewolf, for example, she broods to her sister: “I thought I was horny, but it turned out I was just hungry for raw flesh.” Ginger Snaps: Unleashed, the third film in the series, is at least as good if not better than the first. It picks up where the original ends off with Ginger’s sister Brigette trying to deal with a slightly less sexualized “curse” (Ginger Snaps Back also came out this year, but it went in a totally different direction). In the follow up the black humor is equally dry, like when Brigette’s new side-kick Ghost asks her about the werewolf. “Where did it come from, the Infinite Darkness?” Ghost wonders out loud. Brigette’s answer is characteristically deadpan: “I don’t think so, Ghost. More like the suburbs.” What sets the film apart is that everything, except maybe the premise, is even more stark and intense than before.
Kommando Henry Ford is the third in a series of exhibitions curated by Professor Thomas Winkler and André Butzer. The first of the shows, called Kommando Pfannenkuchen (translated Commando Pancake), took place in Los Angeles last February at the Daniel Hug Gallery in Chinatown and was the product of the collaboration between artists from Berlin Germany and the US. The second, Kommando Friedrich Schiller, took place in Detroit Michigan this past November. Kommando Henry Ford will open on December 20th at the Neuro-Café in Stuttgart. Artists include: Bara, André Butzer, Marc Chandler, Ben Cottrel, Michael Dreyer, Tine Furler, Andrew Gilbert, Thomas Groetz, Thilo Heinzmann, Thomas Helbig, Marcel Hüppauff, Miss Kenichi und Freundin, Maja Körner, Daniel Maier, Daniel Mendel-Black, Pauki, Patrick Schell, David Sickinger, Astrid Sourkova, Thomas Winkler, and Susanne Winterling.
Joe Preston fans now have SunO)))’s latest sludge-fest album White2 to feed their insatiable appetite for sublime dread. It's been a long while since the last Thrones album, so it is always great when Preston collaborates with other bands. Before his work with Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley on SunO)))'s White1, there were brief stints with Earth and the Melvins. Preston is, in fact, the super-sized “Joe” on the back cover of Lysol, which would far and away rank among the best Melvins albums ever if it was not so much about Preston’s own dark brand of sound. There is a hint of something cheerful in the Melvins, a kind of nervous laughter in the face of the abyss, which just doesn’t happen on a Preston track. As on Lysol, Preston’s drone has a lingering quality, much more like leaning too far out over the edge and peering overlong into the yawning emptiness. That these eerie sounds echo from the lower register of amplified heavy metal is clear. Less overt but still very present is the curious link to the endurance quality of 60s Minimalist art music, like early John Cale, Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, Henry Flynt, etc. These counter-intuitive elements are combined hauntingly on White2, and the third track DECAY2 [NIHILS’ MAW] especially sounds like an incantation read aloud from H.P. Lovecraft’s mythic Necronomicon. For those who can’t get enough Thrones, there is a great version of Obulus on the 1999 Italian horror movie soundtrack La Foresta della Morte put out by Toyo Records.
The short video Babyscapes provides a look inside the bizarre mind of Los Angeles artist Charles Irvin. On the face of it, the movie is about the emotional conflict of deciding whether or not to have a child, which Irvin clearly considers a totally frightening prospect. A few documentary-like scenes interspersed throughout the movie actually verge on a pseudo-objective attempt at a discussion of the subject. These segments, however, only provide the most perverse and meager anchor for the artist’s unhinged flights of dark, panic-stricken fantasy that include mutilated babies, zombies, a headless bride, a love duet sung by a mommy and daddy skeleton, etc. In a favorite scene a green elf-like demon makes a baby in his otherworldly laboratory-lair by spooning hot meat sauce into toddler pajamas.
Video Green, just out in Semiotext(E)’s Native Agents Series, is the most recent compellation of Chris Kraus essays. Written in the early-to-mid-90s after the author and critic moved from New York to Los Angeles, the book is her second since the infamous I Love Dick, a fictionalized account of her short tryst with Dick Hebdige, author of Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Although it is true that Video Green casts a jaundiced eye on the academicism of Los Angeles art, it is almost by accident. Kraus happened to be teaching in the graduate program at the Art Center College of Design when she wrote the essays. Most of the writing is really much more about the culture shock of a New Yorker trying to acclimate herself to a West Coast world she found ironically lonely and inhuman. It so happened much of the art coming out of the schools during that period Kraus felt mirrored what was most empty about Los Angeles. The better part of the book, however, is actually not about art as much as it is about living. Kraus’s larger subject is often the artifice of sincerity. Where psychology is at issue, nothing is certain or fixed in a Kraus piece. The writing is as much concerned with telling a story as it is with the story itself. As with Aliens and Anorexia or I Love Dick, these essays are about intimacy, both as something that is somehow produced by construction and as something that altogether escapes it. The Kraus self-portrayed in these essays is a super complex person, equally rendered in full emotional armor and simultaneously bared to the harshest scrutiny. Kraus devotes much of her book to recounting her experiences trying to connect to the new world around her. Much of the book is, in fact, an original exploration of bondage, etc. Video Green is illustrated with atmospheric photos by the artist Daniel Marlos.