January 30, 2005

Theatre of Terror

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When Chechen guerilla freedom fighters took 900 hostages during a Moscow performance of the Western style musical Nord Ost in 2002, what struck the artist Catherine Sullivan was that not only had the terrorists hijacked the theatre, they had hijacked the actual symbolic value of the show as well. Sullivan set about to try and figure out the total profound implication of the attack which many Russians saw as their own 911. It struck her that so many different histories of cultural trauma were colliding at once. There was the original story the musical was based on which was a kind of heroic adventure epic set at the turn of last century, itself a combination of Russian nationalism and western colonial mythology. There was the fact that such a story had been remade as a Broadway type spectacle, and there was the brutal reality of the Chechen rebel confrontation with Russian Black Ops and the plight of the hostages, 129 of whom died when the police chose to raid the theatre with poison nerve gas. For Sullivan the question was how to express such a vast spectrum of trauma employing solely the conventions of theatre. The outcome was Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land (2004) now on display at the Zürich Kunsthalle. For some time now the artist has enjoyed turning our most cherished and idealized forms of cultural expression on their head in complex multi-channel videos that mine the spectacle of theatre.

Posted by dmb at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

Decline of Western Sexuality

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As is frequently the case with much contemporary art, the French self-proclaimed provocateur novelist Michel Houellebecq’s appraisal of the human condition often offers, in the guise of running commentary, little more than a cynical repetition of what is most empty and hopeless about living in today’s world. Houellebecq’s themes tend to center mostly on the pros and cons of western repression, the impossibility of happiness posed as the ultimate conundrum. What distinguishes these novels from the decadence of parallel artworld efforts to address similar subject matter, however, is the general surliness of the author’s schizophrenia on the merits of one approach to the problem over another; Houellebecq takes a more existential attitude preferring to recognize our very apolitical reservations to these artificial intellectual divisions. The Elementary Particles, Houellebecq’s second effort, is, for example, the story of two brothers, a sexually uptight scientist type and his equally caricatured pervy hedonist counter-number. Both, Houellebecq proposes, are extremes and, as such, are in equal and opposite ways failures. The over the top Sci-Fi finale ironically concludes that the bleak utopia Aldous Huxley so strongly warned against in Brave New World may actually be the best recourse after all. Platform, Houellebecq’s latest effort, once again takes up the theme of our sexual repression, only this time it is set on the stage of western globalization. Once again, the split personality of our relationship to pleasure is thoroughly ridiculed. Only this time it is not simply a question of the isolated sickness of western attitudes to sexuality. They are, in a post-911 world, also considered as an example of what our aggressive cultural expansion exports to the rest of the globe.

Posted by dmb at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2005

Shakespear Insult Page

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The Shakespearean insult page at www.pangloss.com is incredibly thorough. Culled from his major works, there is seemingly no end to the Bards putdowns. Almost every snide zinger is quoted here from the well known mere mundane stab “get thee to a nunnery” to the endgame death thrust of “Thou churlish dismal-dreaming clotpole!” And what an honor it is to be set straight and put in one’s place by the master of all wordsmiths.

Posted by dmb at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2005

Melvins' Book

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The Melvins’ massive tome-to-self Neither Here Nor There is a qualified disappointment. But only if one is expecting to find a treasure trove of candid photos from tours, backstage shenanigans, etc., and any other intimate or otherwise insights from the only major book on one of the most awesome, heaviest bands ever. Sure, there is a smattering of these kinds of images and quotes. Only one has to work through an incredible mire of hyper-stylized over-design to find even the smallest micro-fragment of something sincere, like pictures of Dale Crover and his first drum set, or the following decontextualized quote from King Buzzo: “I have NO IDEA what you are talking about. If you mean what sort of hairstyle did I have before now, I was a Nazi skinhead. I was a Nazi skinhead until I found out that kicking the shit out of ‘niggers’ and ‘kikes’ was part of the job. I thought it was just about being gay.” If, on the other hand, you’re really into Mackie O.'s thing, the book is really all about her esthetic. It is a tour de force repository of the kind of design that really began to emerge in Melvins’ album art especially after Stoner Witch. In fact, the coffe table book is, more than anything else, a send-up to contemporary design style and Juxtapoz-school-of-art second generation Robert Williams. For those of you who basically only really want to see large format reprints of Mackie's album art, whoever you are, you will be amply rewarded.

Posted by dmb at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Piano Monster

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For Jim Shaw's current show in Los Angeles, The Dream That Was No More A Dream, the California, post-conceptual surrealist commissioned a hardwood version of the monster from B-movie master Roger Corman’s 1956 It Conquered The World. The trick for the fabricator was to figure out how to construct the creature’s organic cucumber-like shape with rectilinear planks of pine. If that was not hard enough, Shaw had dreamed his creature with piano keys for teeth. The monster’s body needed to encase an entire operational piano. Opting for a cask-like structure, the fabricator used abutted boards all cut at the correct shape and angle. These boards were doubled or tripled in thickness wherever it was necessary to make the shape more rounded. Usually one only ever gets to see the final product. On occasion, however, the incredibly hard work that goes into constructing such a large-scale hand-made sculpture (the monster stands taller than eight feet) is documented.

Posted by dmb at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2005

Phil Dick Letters

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Claudia Krenz has placed the first year of her correspondence with psy-phi master Philip K. Dick on sale. Dick was a prolific letter writer. That year alone he wrote Krenz over 60 letters. At the time Krenz was writing a master’s thesis on Dick’s UBIC. Her initial interest was mainly in trying to better understanding what Dick was getting at in the novel, but a quick gloss of excerpts shows how instantly broad the exchange became. At the time Dick was writing VALIS (a four book trilogy) in which he really began adamantly to break down the author / narrator / character distinction. The letters describe dreams in which scenarios from past novels and his actual life begin to merge and become inseparable in the authors mind. The normally paranoid world of the author is complicated by visitations by a white bearded man. Dick is perplexed because these dreams are in Greek, a language he did not know he knew. In a statement, Krenz claims it was her desire to make the letters widely available to the public on-line but that her efforts were thwarted by US Copyright code.

Posted by dmb at 03:01 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2005

Hidden Vagenda

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It is easy to understand why Kimya Dawson, who used to be in The Moldy Peaches along with Adam Green, might at first come off as naïve. On first take her songs sound almost pre-sexual in their simplicity. Only don’t let all the blatant enthusiasm fool you. There is nothing simple about Dawson’s worldview. The subjects of her songs are as big as they come: rejection, trauma, love, politics, consumer culture, death – often all at once. Take the title of her latest album: Hidden Vagenda. Right away the album takes a strong position. In fact, it is almost like a super quikie treatise on life. Unlike folkies though, Dawson is really inventive with turning the singer-songwriter’s voice on its head, which is much more akin to the sweet insanity of the late Daniel Johnston (or, Chris Knox, the no less hyper-sensitive New Zealander). Only her almost self-help-like fervor puts Dawson in the league of such famed bands as the 60s Fugs (Ed Sanders, along with the better known Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg, was among those who sought to levitate the Pentagon by encircling it with Yippie protesters). Most of all, Hidden Vagenda is as sweet and life affirming as the best songs by the great Jonathan Richman whose latest release by the way, Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love, has to be one of the best albums of 2004.

Posted by dmb at 12:03 AM | Comments (0)