Thursday, May 04, 2006

Video is...

Now that the semester is over, I just came across a quote from Bill Viola, where it's as if he were channeling all of the energy I have been putting into my recent posts on Paik's super-unconscious, Brakhage's Muse, and Professor VJ's aesthetic potential and proprioceptive body-intuition.

He says:
Video is part of my body; it's intuitive and unconscious.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How A Comedy Persona Terrorized His Victims

First you have the video of Stephen Colbert standing before the thousands of people at the White House Correspondents Dinner like he was their worst nightmare. Colbert, the mock-conservative who uses black humor to twist neo-con logic to its ultimate far right extreme, was telling the President and the obedient press corps that sat before him:
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
As you can imagine, the verdict on Colbert's performance has been mixed. This is to be expected given that the target of much of his venom is the same press corps that is supposed to be objectively reporting on him. As an Observer article critically bashed Colbert's performance, their description of the event was curious: "Mr. Colbert had gone through a litany of his own branded, harsher barbs, courtesy of the persona — and in some instances, the scripts — adopted on his cable comedy show, The Colbert Report."

Yes, the persona - sometimes scripted, sometimes not - wrote his way into the event so that his "well-worn shtick" (their term) would have its final say on the political farce that passes as our contemporary Federal government run by so many crooks, cronies, and liars that it's becoming difficult to out-farce them. It's as if this administration's "well-worn shtick" (my term) gets wearingly one-note-ish and whenever they go out and "try new material," the audience boos them off the stage (think of the most recent $100 gas rebate fiasco that happened just this week - a new shtick that bombed with its intended audience).

In a Salon article, "The Truthiness Hurts" (great title), the writer compares Colbert's performance to the Situationists and their "ironic mockery 'détournement,' a word that roughly translates to 'abduction' or 'embezzlement.'" The writers goes on:
It was considered a revolutionary act, helping to channel the frustration of the Paris student riots of 1968. They co-opted and altered famous paintings, newspapers, books and documentary films, seeking subversive ideas in the found objects of popular culture.
He then goes on to quote Guy Debord:
"Plagiarism is necessary," wrote Guy Debord, the famed Situationist, referring to his strategy of mockery and semiotic inversion. "Progress demands it. Staying close to an author's phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas."
Of course, that quote is from the 19th century writer Count de Lautreamont, not Debord. But the dark, violent comedy from Lautreamont, the author of Maldoror, does not get its props here because reporters rarely do their in-depth homework, and besides, when the dark humor of the artist-terrorist overtakes the political intentions of that same artist, it's hard to make the necessary connections one must account for when writing journalism. This is why most of the journalists at the Correspondents Dinner didn't "get it" - not because they are dumb (although some of them may be that too), but because they have never done the investigative research into their own and America's dark side. Have you ever read a story in the Washington Post about the darkest, psychic undercurrents of American social behavior that somehow plays into the manufactured "fear factors" produced by the current administration and its none-too-subtle attempts to rule over our individual thought processes?

Still, situating Colbert's performance in the lineage of Situationist détournement in a mainstream press venue like Salon is a good start. And like Lautreamont, Colbert's "shtick" released the deadly emanations of his comic barbs so that they would soak up our souls like water does sugar. The funny thing is that the clueless Washington press corps did not even realize this was happening to them and that the entire event was a pitch-black joke at their expense.

We need more Situationist Comedy.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fiction So Bad It Kills

As Frank Rich reminds us, the neo-con artists who have been running the country for the last five and half years have been creating the worst kind of amateurish fictions imaginable. The problem is that they themselves are so dissociated from the imaginative engine that drives most successful fiction, that they have literally become the worst hacks in literary history.

Says Rich:
The demons that keep rising up from the past to grab Mr. Bush are the fictional W.M.D. he wielded to take us into Iraq. They stalk him as relentlessly as Banquo's ghost did Macbeth. From that original sin, all else flows. Mr. Rove wouldn't be in jeopardy if the White House hadn't hatched a clumsy plot to cover up its fictions. Mr. Bush's poll numbers wouldn't be in the toilet if American blood was not being spilled daily because of his fictions. By recruiting a practiced Fox News performer to better spin this history, the White House reveals that it has learned nothing. Made-for-TV propaganda propelled the Bush presidency into its quagmire in the first place. At this late date only the truth, the whole and nothing but, can set it free.
But for the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, words like "truth" and "free" ring hollow. The lying has become an out-of-control cancer growing on the nation and now we are all becoming affected by it.

Is there an antidote?

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Yale (Boulder) UCLA

Yesterday's Sunday New York Times features an article in the Art section called "Tales From the Crit" that says May is the cruelest month of all for art students, and then proceeds to do its elitist East Coast / West Coast thang focusing exclusively on Professors and Grad students at Yale and UCLA , with a few side quotes from some already graduated and very well-established artists whose work can be found in the commercial gallery scene.

It opens with an image they caption with the following line: "In a meta moment, Hein Koh's 'School of Art,' depicting a group crit, is shown during her final crit at Yale," and then the lede is all about the new film, Art School Confidential.

The article correctly points out that "today's leading art schools...have become so instrumental to gallery success" that the pressure at these schools keeps getting more and more intense. You will not be surprised to hear that the article does not address the fact that these elitist art schools are outrageously expensive and are meant to teach students how to successfully commodify themselves for the art market. No, rather, forget how much money it costs and what sort of economic and social background you would need to come from to position yourself for artistic greatness. Let's focus instead on how hardcore getting an MFA at an elitist school really is. I was waiting for the inevitable metaphor relating getting an MFA at Yale to getting an MBA at Harvard, but only got the trendy, Bush-era hyperbole of painter Lisa Yuskavage, who tells the reporter
My experience was a lot like boot camp...only in the military they break you down to build you back up into a team player who serves a leader. At Yale they break you down and leave you to put the pieces back together.
The Few. The Proud. The Bankable.

Unless you got into a West Coast school where things get more mellow and, as Thomas Lawson, a CalArts dean, says, the courses "tend to have more student participation — more of a peer review process." Schools in Cali have to compete for the elite students who still have the will to Make It Happen in commercial gallery culture. Making the case for more MFA students to "go west!" - the Dean concludes: "On the East Coast there is still a lot of faculty grandstanding." Touché.

The Few. The Relaxed. The Bankable.

Although, it must be said that UCLA-based conceptual artist John Baldessari gets close to our own Boulder style when, in the same article, he says, "for me the group crits are really successful if I could walk out of the room and the conversation continued. I see my role as being a good moderator or navigator."

In Boulder, things are different still. The vibe here is what one of my top students calls Sub-Mellow.

"There's mellow," she says, "and then there's sub-mellow."

If we were going to build our own myth out here in the Rockies the way the myths of Yale and UCLA are being further built in the NYTimes article, I think we would have to metafictionalize the Boulder "pit crit" as a bowl, a place where the hot young artists of today double as excellent snowboarders called "killa guys" and where the rich and talentless are called "frenchie crisps." Then there are the scores of A.D.I.D.A.S. ("all day I dream about sex") art-life remixers who use the high altitude as a natural elixir to fantasize about all of the rising young Suzie Qs and Sweet Jons permeating the landscape like 3-D synthetic characters from a Virtual Reality world created especially for second-lifers navigating the immersive J. Crew universe.

But here's the twist (or the "invert") that makes the Boulder-based art-student more than just a myth, or even worse, a cliché. A lot of the work being made out in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies challenges the whole gallery scene, making it seem insignificant. Projects like Opensorcery, Screenfull, CTRL-SPACE.TV, DJRABBI, and HIAFF.

Here in the Heart of Sub-Mellow, we hoard our energy for the big bursts of productivity that are always on the cusp of rocking the art world. We honestly believe that what we make here has the potential to virally infect the art world, even if in some small way that has more historical staying power than the "flavor of the month" commercial gallery scene that the elitist art school factories seem destined to perpetuate. Of course, we believe this because we don't know any better and besides, we all keep drinking the same organic Kool-Aid.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Confluence of Comedy, Politics, and Fake News

As the title to this blog entry suggests, the fake newsmeisters, like Stephen Colbert, are making inroads. Last night, Colbert gave the keynote performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner, an annual event meant to poke fun at the current administration. But who can laugh at the humorless twits currently tearing our Constitution to shreds? Apparently, the writers at Comedy Central can.

Colbert is Lenny Bruce dressed in mock Faux News clothing. The best video stream of his biting and insightful roasting of the POTUS as well as the media who have glorfied Bush for far too long is here: part one and part two (this site is pretty cheesy, but the video quality is better than the one at Crooks and Liars).

So says Colbert, with the President right by his side and all of the media elite sitting in front of him:
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
Overall, a very ballsy performance. Bravo!

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