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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


MOCA, Los Angeles.
Martin Kippenberger, The Problem Perspective

Energetic, colorful and massive body of work by an artist whose career spanned an impressive but quick 20 years. The work ranges from simple line drawings, large-scale paintings both representational and abstract, to large installations while containing a seriously wide range of subject matter using humor, satire, historical reference, personal experience, lots of self reference,  and all-around acute technical craftsmanship.
The variety of medium, subject matter, and the overall expansive number of amazing works is quite refreshing.  
The greatest part of the exhibition (besides ALL OF THE COLOR....for a color junkie it was seriously satisfying) were the arrangement of hundreds of sketches running through each exhibition room Kippenberger would create at different hotels he would stay at.  Each of the pieces of paper the drawings were composed on still contained each Hotel's Monogram!  The range of subject matter and the technical skill of the "sketches" is incredible, as you could actually see the wheels spinning in this man's head right there on paper.  I have to admit it kicked me in the butt a bit to begin sketching again, and reminded me of the possibility, exercise, and beauty simple (or in this case not so simple) sketching holds!  So my mixed media class is going to be in for some serious sketching exercising this upcoming semester!!! wooohoooo!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kitt & Pinter

I've been to discombobulated to keep up posting over the break, but I couldn't let the deaths of Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter pass without at least a couple links.

Here are a couple choice Kitt performances (the first, "I Want To Be Evil," was the tune that made me fall for her -- the second, "Uska Dara" is in Turkish):

And here's the first segment of a TV version of Pinter's play "The Collection," starring a quartet of terrific actors: Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell, Laurence Olivier and Alan Bates (you can get to the other parts if you click through to youtube):

Exhibits of note in San Francisco

I will be making a trip to S.F. over this winter break. Here are a few exhibits or venues of note that will receive my attention. The third image is a "light on paper" piece by Josephine Taylor titled Me Drinking Milk and Saliva at Catherine Clark (which is now in a new location on Minna St.). The Yerba Buena Center For the Arts has an exhibit that at least caught my attention. It is titled The Gatherers: Greening Our Urban Spheres. It could be awful or engaging-?
The Walter and McBean Gallery on the San Francisco Art Institute campus has an exhibit as well that I will check into. (See image with shovels- click for link to description.)


Friday, December 12, 2008

Lo-fi and Proud

Melissa Swanson, a student, has completed a couple shots for a "trailer" for an animated film (an animated film she doesn't intend to actually complete). She's using a melange of techniques -- the backgrounds are woodcut prints, some of the animation is done in Flash and then printed out on transparencies, and then she's shooting the transparencies against the backgrounds with a digital camera -- then compiling the shots with QuickTime. She's also started using paper cut-outs, and painting on the transparencies. You can sometimes see light reflections on the transparencies -- Melissa's been wondering if that's problematic, or if it actually adds something worthwhile. I don't think she intended the shots to look so lo-fi, but she seems to be developing an affection for its lo-fi qualities.

It reminded me of some animation I'd seen by Brent Green -- he does stop-motion animation, drawing on transparencies whose edges you can clearly see -- sometimes the light flares along their edges to pleasing effect. He doesn't try to hide the seams of his process at all, and the layers of lo-fi attack accrete into a genuine aesthetic. Here are some excerpts of his short "Hadacol Christmas" -- I particularly love the scene at the end of the clip, where Santa's sleigh is held to the sky with flickering scotch tape, and a slurry of blurred snow makes the night look like a pulled-apart cotton-ball:

The full animated short can be found on youtube in two parts:

More films can be found on his website, and he also has a DVD of his films for sale.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Mutilation of Books for Artistic Ends

When Logan asked me if I might have any books he could have, that would ultimately be mutilated for the cause of art, my response was: "Of course not." Nonetheless, he went on to find material for his piece “For I too shall receive my letter," currently installed in the art building stairway.

Serendipitously, someone provided me a link to work from another artist who mutilates books, Brian Dettmer -- though the mutilation takes the form of a kind of x-ray excavation. If books had minds of their own (not the minds lent them by their authors), they might cough up images like those produced by Dettmer, when caught up in scrambled indexical fever dreams.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"I Like Hats"

Here are pics of the final for Kat's design class, taken by Alejandra Rubio. The final was a fashion show, with at least one element of clothing constructed out of recycled materials.

Duct tape helmet. The announcer said that while it may not effectively ward off blows to the head, it is waterproof.

The rope tie (which could perhaps double as a noose) can be swung around 180 degrees, to show off the rope bow tie on the other side.

The below can-scalloped dress made a nice tinkling sound as the model sashayed past.

A comfy-looking jacket made of quilts:

The whole outfit's nice, but the mask really makes it:

A semester at SNC...

One word......Saucy. 

Toiyabe Mountain Range Photography Excursion: Great Basin

This past Sunday the evening section of beginning photography made an excursion into the Great Basin. We ended up in the upper portion of the Toiyabe mountain range running south of the small rural town Austin. These mountains top out at over 10,000 ft. There are a number of mountain ranges in this area of central Nevada that catch a good deal of snow and are higher than portions of the Toiyabe range (although these ranges do not get quite as much as the Rubies in north-central Nevada). It is possible to travel for hours on gravel and dirt roads in this area and at times cross paths with few if any other travelers.

I did manage to get some video footage on the approach to the canyon we ended up in that I may be able to use. With my camera on the dash and the lense telephotographing the approach there is sense of being floated over the entrance rather than pulling the distance into the viewer. I slightly under-exposed the footage at this point, but i may be able to pull something out of it.

The students will be printing images from the excursion for their final prints.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Topffer article in The Comics Journal

I have a longish essay in the latest Comics Journal, #294, which is now out. The essay is on Rodolphe Topffer, one of the early pioneers of the comic strip; his work has been collected in English translation only recently. He's one of my favorite artists, and in the article I try to get at some of his innovations -- to quote myself:

From a superficial glance, his work might seem to share much in common with his predecessors; for centuries artists had been creating images in sequence, using captions to explain the storyline. Töpffer didn't even push forward to adopt the last piece of the formal puzzle that would make his work unarguably "comics," the leap into speech balloons (or at least not in his published work -- he toyed with them in a notebook and then abandoned the approach). But there are two crucial differences in his method – differences that were in fact innovations – which keep his work feeling "modern," functioning as stories rather than specimens of graphic history.

The primal innovation was the injection of speed into the graphic narrative, both in the execution of the drawings themselves, and in the time that exists between the images. He's not drawing scenes, but moments. His images don’t languish in a buffer of time, adrift in temporality like islands at sea – they flow one after the other with a kind of ticking impatience. The sort of time he captures is unthinkable without the metronomic guillotine of the clock. There's a bit of a conundrum in this, in that each image seems to have a lesser duration (each panel sticks in the eye less than the framed quasi-theatrical dioramas of a typical broadsheet) – and yet more images are needed to elaborate the full circumference of an event, to feed the impatience of time.

Töpffer's other major innovation was his realization that the text and image need not support each other in a kind of explicatory unity (or redundancy), where one converges with the other toward a mutual vanishing point of agreed-upon meaning. Rather, text and image can exist on fundamentally parallel tracks, supporting each other in contradiction.

Text and image perform a dance of mutual commentary, not explanation. Two cohabitating modes of expression are yoked together in one singular medium, producing a habitat whose primary mode of meaning is divergence: in short, a universe defined by irony.

To find out why the rather pedestrian image below is one of my favorite panels in all of comics, you'll have to read the whole article.

The issue also has, among other things, interviews with the cartoonists Jason and Mark Tatulli, and an excellent article by R. Fiore, reviewing two books on the censorship of comics in the 50s, which is online in its entirety.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blip Festival 2008

Blip Festival 2008: The Promo from Richard Alexander Caraballo on Vimeo.

Blip Festival 2008 is currently going on in Brooklyn. From the website:

Highlighting the chipmusic phenomenon and its related disciplines, the festival aims to showcase emerging creative niches involving the use of legacy video game & home computer hardware as modern artistic instrumentation. Devices such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Nintendo Game Boy and others are repurposed into the service of original, low-res, high-impact electronic music and visuals — sidestepping game culture and instead exploring the technology's untapped potential and distinctive intrinsic character.

Their Myspace page has selections of some of the music. And Weekend America had interviews with some of the musicians. Interestingly, a couple of the musicians talk about the raw and "dirty" quality they can get using the old videogame systems -- a rawness that, you have to figure, derives more from a sense of aural nostalgia than from any analog ghosts in their digital machines.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

So Emotional

James Nagel's BFA show opened tonight, headed by his self-kidding title: "I'm So Emotional." His paintings were created around the theme of a breakup, playing around with images that cross the line between personal snapshots and glossy magazine ads.

As he was working his way through the images, he was dealing with a kind of haunted sense of commercialized deja-vu. Memories of a departed person suddenly resurrected in the stylized daydreams of perfume and clothes ads. Magazine ads are airports for all sorts or eros -- thwarted, hopeful, mangled, obsessive -- to land in. Some strips of paint on the canvasses look like they've been laid in at an auto-body shop.

James' process of working towards these images was partly a process of abstraction. Patterns, and especially stripes, came further and further to the fore. After looking at the paintings it was hard not to see stripes everywhere.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nevada Museum of Art: Romello Yu

I took the two sections of the Beginning Digital Darkroom class to the Nevada Museum of Art. As usual, there was a good mix of exhibits on display; I hope to post about some of the other exhibits in the coming days, but thought I'd start with Romello Yu's "Remembering Abu Ghraib," now in the media gallery. It touches on some issues that recently came up in class, particularly in regard to an assignment in which the students had to make a poster-sized image that was in some way a response to the war in Afghanistan and/or Iraq.

One of the problems that immediately comes up in the assignment (at least for those who focus on the horrors of war) is: how do you represent something horrible without abstracting it in such a way that the horror is aestheticized?

It's a bind that I don't think Yu escapes. He has created stylized versions of the poses found in the Abu Ghraib photos, utilizing Tangrams. The work is clearly not done in bad faith -- I don't have any sense that Yu is trying to exploit the photos, or the people in them, in any way. He wants to show the prisoners as manipulatable objects, but I don't know that his commentary -- "prisoners as playthings" -- is an insight that's compensated for by the aura of abstraction and aestheticization it's wrapped in.

It reminded me of Botero's paintings and drawings on Abu Ghraib, which I saw displayed a couple years ago in Berkeley. Those were clearly acts of sympathetic imagination; the focus of the paintings is squarely on the prisoners, usually to the exclusion of the guards, in a way that is meant to put the viewer right there in the prison cell with them. And yet I felt there was something redundant about these images, which affected me far less viscerally, less deeply, than the photos themselves. Seeing the originals -- displayed on my computer in the middle of a work day when I was working as an art director, taking a break from my current assignment to take a peek at the day's news -- was a real gut-punch. I felt like I was covered with a nauseating slime for about a week afterwards.

That the Abu Ghraib photos seem to make subsequent visual interpretations seem redundant is not to say there's nothing to say about them, beyond the blunt horror of their evidence of abuse. They could be talked about in relation to a number of things: the history of lynching photos and postcards (it wasn't until I read an article on the book "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America" that it occurred to me that lynching photos weren't taken as exposés, but rather as souvenirs), gender relationships, frat hazing rituals, pornography.

In some way, in their cruelty and in the strangeness of how the cruelty was expressed, they beg to be examined, to be understood. There's something fundamentally mysterious about their existence at all, as photos. Why were they taken? Why do they seem to have a sickening veneer of tourist photography to them? Certainly some of them were taken in an extension of the cruelty of the acts they were recording -- underlining an act of humiliation by making a note of it, something that could be distributed beyond the moment itself. Keeping the humiliation for posterity.

Some of the motives for the photos seem to have been more complicated and conflicted. Sabrina Harman, who took several of the photos, claimed in an interview that one of the reasons she took the photos was because she could hardly believe what she was seeing, so she wanted to record what was happening, as a way of confirming it to herself. She wasn't the one who leaked the photos, and her rationale may be self-serving, but I suspect there's at least an element of truth to it.

I have a suspicion that the Abu Ghraib photos will always defeat the visual artist (though I can imagine a play, a film, a novel or a documentary expanding our understanding of those images). I think visual artists will nonetheless continue to respond to them -- partly because their impact is so visceral, and responding to them visually is a way of trying to psychologically metabolize them. I think, also, there is an impulse to cling to the social relevance of image-making, in an environment where visual culture seems to have its own autonomy, its own overpowering ubiquity, rendering the visual artist a mere asterisk in a strangely impersonal and massive transaction.

The Abu Ghraib photos are facts that defy art, even the artfulness of looking: in the way that even photos taken in extremis -- the photo of Robert Kennedy's assasination, say, or Eugene Smith's photo of a WW2 American soldier holding a dying baby in the Saipan mountains -- seem composed, seem to have been taken in by a thoughtful eye. The Abu Ghraib photos weren't taken by witnesses, but by perpetrators -- images that weren't taken in an act of seeing, but in an act of blindness. There's a powerful feeling of schizophrenia in them -- what is so clearly evident in the photos is something those who took the photos were not seeing. It's natural for an artist to attempt to reclaim those images from the blank stare that first captured them. No matter how quixotic that errand may be.

R.I.P. Odetta

Obit in the NY Times. Here's a clip of her on the Johnny Cash show, back in 1969, doing a solo song and then a duet with Cash. The duet is a calypso tune, which is a funny match for a folk singer and a country singer, but they pull it off just fine.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Emerging Cinema at the Nevada Museum of Art

It appears the Nevada Museum of Art has not renewed a subscription to Emerging Cinema. Emerging Cinema has been the source of their film screenings over the last year. Most of the films screened at the NMA have been fantastic cultural resources, for cinephiles and other curious seekers. It is too bad, especially considering that I had an alternative cinema in my neighborhood. Let’s hope they can screen more films in less lean years.
The image is from the new film by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno about Zidane, the great French futbol player (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait). Some of you may remember the room at the SF MOMA late in 2007- remember that journey to SF?- full of monitors. That was Gordon's room of video projects.
From what I can tell this "documentary" is worth watching- keep an eye out. I'm particularly interested in how it might actually function in an experimental manner for a documentary (relative to some work I want to do down the road).
(Image from: