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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flat Rate: Gallery Event this Saturday

(Via Kat Hutter):
Please come to the "Reference Gallery" (Prim Library 3rd Floor Hallway) featured event this Saturday evening 5-7pm, "Flat Rate" a Juried Community College Show. The show is the brain child and construction of your very own SNC Gallery Club Students! This Exhibition features artwork from various Bay Area Schools including College of the Sequoias, Diablo Valley College, College of the Siskiyous, Sacramento City College, Sierra College, American River College and many others. We received a number of high quality pieces which are now on display on the 3rd Floor Hallway of Prim Library.

Show Description:

"Flat Rate" is a show for emerging artists from Community Colleges. It’s concept is rooted in the “Flat Rate” size limitations of The US Postal Service’s Priority Mail, Flat Rate Boxes (up to Medium size box).* “With Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes, if it fits in the box, it ships anywhere in the U.S.” The goals of the exhibition are to show case up-and-coming artists of all mediums while exploring the constraint of a physical size category on art works.

Here is the Advertisement they put together:

As always, there will be food, refreshments and good company.

Please come support your SNC Student Gallery Club's Efforts and extend our art community!


Kat Hutter (Gallery Club Advisor)
SNC Student Gallery Club
SNC Art Department

SNC Spring Choir Announcement

(Via Donna Axton) -- The SNC Choir’s Spring concert.

Where else can you see: SALLY HAMMEL as an evil witch;
JILL COLBERT, CAMILLA RINMAN, EVELINA RUTDAL as the queen’s ladies in waiting
RYAN SOUVA as a singing sailor

And faculty members LANE MURRAY, MILLIE CLARKE and student Claudia Henao in the Greek chorus and Witches’ chorus.

We’re performing works by Samuel Barber, and DIDO and AENEAS by Purcell. You may not be familiar with this music but you will love it.

Leah Defalco and Jackie Megnin will be dancing during the performance

This Saturday at 7 pm (March 27)

at St. Patrick’s Episcopal on Village (just up the hill from Subway)


As usual, an evening of great music, wonderful performances, and delightful entertainment
Come and be proud of the SNC choir

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Field Trip Course

Hey all,

Lots of people have been asking, so I thought I would share the info about the new field trip course for the fall. As a bonus, this course will count towards the new Humanities and Art History minor!

The class is designed to help all kinds of students feel more comfortable around, and talk knowledgeably about, many kinds of art. We need some Fine Arts students in the class to think and talk, too! This class is a short course (6 weeks) and meets on Fridays and Saturdays (see schedule below), so it will work well for students who have full schedules already.

ARTH 112, Art Literacy (3 credits):
This introductory course can function as a stand-alone, entry-level presentation of art viewing skills accessible to both art majors and non-art majors. This class will present different set of introductory topics than ARTH301 AND ARTH302. There are no prerequisites.

Course Description: Art Literacy is a set of communication skills that broadens a person’s understanding of his/her world. This class will introduce the student to the basic skills needed for viewing and interpreting art, for writing and talking to others about art, and for putting art in a broader cultural and historical context. The course will be conducted through a series of five short field trips to museums, archaeological sites, and galleries in San Francisco, Reno, and Carson City over a six-week period. Some reading and reflective writing will enhance the student’s art viewing experience.
Course Fee: $150.

Course Schedule:
Students are required to attend 4 Tahoe Gallery openings on Thursday nights and write reflections.
Fri., Aug. 27 10-11:15am First Class meeting
Fri., Sept. 3 10-11:15am Class meeting
Fri., Sept. 10 10-11:15am Class meeting
Sat., Sept.11 All-day Field Trip (Reno)
Fri., Sept. 17 10-11:15am Class meeting
Sat., Sept.18 All-day Field Trip (Grimes Point Archaeological Site)
Fri., Sept. 24 10-11:15am Class meeting
Sat. Sept. 25 All-day Field Trip (San Francisco)
Fri., Oct. 1 10-11:15am Class meeting
Fri., Oct. 8 10-11:15am Class meeting
Sat. Oct. 9 All-day Field Trip (Carson City)
Fri., Oct. 15 10-11:15am Class meeting
Sat. Oct. 15 All-day Field Trip (San Francisco)
Fri., Oct. 22 10-11:15am Final Class Wrap-up

Monday, March 22, 2010

Anime Talk & Prezo Tomorrow at 6:30

I'll be giving a talk and screening on anime tomorrow evening on campus, in TCES 139. I'll show several clips from a variety of films, on the topic of how Japanese and American animation have influenced each other over the years. Then I'll show Satoshi Kon's mind-bending anime "Paprika," which is about a team of psychologists who are able to enter their patients' dreams. This is part of a series of multicultural presentations at SNC, and will run from 6:30-8:30, Tuesday the 22nd.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Artist profiled in the Times today hands out Ceramic tokens

Read below for a profile of this artist who started working small and personal in the 80's when everybody else was going big and monumental. A wonderful way to make a question in many peoples' days.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Avatar and the Colonization of the Unreal

I caught Avatar over winter break, and liked it a lot more than I expected to. I went a bit grudgingly, out of a sense of quasi-duty, to see where state-of-the-art digital technology was pitched. There's no doubt that at the level of writing, the thing is toweringly dopey. It has the grandiose incoherence you can only get when you marry warmed-over Joseph Campbellisms to 21st-century mass media technology. When bronze-age myth meets the pixilated age of representation, bombast is the only way to efficiently move your mind past noticing that nothing makes a lick of sense (the best, and funniest, takedown of the script's discontinuities is here).

And yet the thing won me over. It was like spending a couple hours in a $250 million lava lamp. Except for the night scenes, illuminated with neon bioluminescence, which were detours into a $250 million black light painting. Looking at the trailer, I thought the aesthetic was kitschy and downright ugly. Watching the movie itself, I was pushed through tacky into a kind of rapture. I was reminded of the pulp scifi artwork of Hannes Bok, which at first glance radiates unintended camp, but retains an integrity of weirdness that's admirable and ultimately (to me anyway) beautiful.

I mean it as a sincere compliment when I say I found Avatar's gyroscopic insects and dust motes as exciting as the predatory hexapods and crimson dragons (at one point, someone in my row at the theater playfully tried to bat away a cloud of gnats that was hovering a few inches from his 3-D goggles). The movie is a compelling act of creative hubris: there's something self-consciously godlike about creating such a convincing, entire world from scratch, down to every little art-designed alien fern.

It's at once impressive and off-putting. I had a conversation in my animation class last semester about what Avatar seemed to represent, once the trailer was rolled out on the internet. I told my students that my initial sense of distaste toward the trailer might mark me as a grumpy old guy; I was curious if they'd find my skepticism toward the film rooted in something genuine, of if I was just being mentally sclerotic.

Avatar brings some cultural tendencies to a climax: the realization of fantasy with a visual authority that places the fantasy on par with the real world. It's a cultural arc that was kicked off in earnest with Star Wars. Star Wars hit me at a very impressionable age. I was 8 years old when it came out, and it's fair to say I was obsessed with it. I played with Star Wars toys, read Star Wars comic books, had Star Wars bedsheets on my bed (for several years, that was the zone of my dreaming -- enwrapped in the cast of Star Wars, ranged statically like a blockbuster Mount Rushmore, Han Solo with a lazer bolt perpetually frozen in emergence from his gun, like a jagged icicle that would never melt).

Part of the reason it captured my imagination so strongly was that its visual authority was unique at the time. This was no saturday morning space show with rockets hanging from strings. It was just one movie, the sole place where the spaceships and aliens didn't seem resolutely fake. In contrast, all the other movies and TV shows that invoked that impossibility and fantasy were completely unconvincing.

By way of comparison, I showed the students in my class a clip from Isis, a live-action Filmation superhero show of the same era. It was a favorite show of my wife's when she was young. A couple years ago, out of curiosity, we dug up some Isis clips on youtube, and were amazed at how shoddy, and especially how aggressively boring, it was. In one scene, Isis is chasing some joyriding teenagers, and the overdubbed squealing of tires is the only thing that indicates the chase is occurring at something faster than second gear.

(Coincidentally, according to Wikipedia, the actress who played Isis, Joanna Cameron, is a distant relative of James Cameron)

I'm not advocating for any of these 70s kid-focused shows with any misplaced nostalgia. They were crummy. Criminally insulting, even. The writers were working from the assumption that children were dolts, imbeciles. Isis was packaged as a companion show to Shazam (the two heroes sometimes joined forces in cross-over episodes); Shazam was so stupid, it remains in my memory chiefly because it was the first thing I saw that actually destroyed my ordinary childish suspension of disbelief.

In one episode, Shazam had to break into a cave whose entrance was being blocked by giant boulders (maybe he had some friends who were trapped in the cave -- I don't remember). For some reason, he couldn't just punch or kick the boulders out of the way. Instead, he rubbed the sand at his feet until it liquefied. The he polished the liquefied sand into a giant, smooth glass lens, hoisted it above his head, and used the lens to focus the sun's rays into a laser -- which, trained on the boulders, made them explode. I turned to my mother, who was also in the room, and said flatly to her: "He can't do that." I was willing to provisionally believe that people could fly, or be turned into mythological superheroes at the crash of a thunderbolt -- but this, this was taking things too far.

Which is all to say I have no real affection for the crap of yesteryear. Though I do have a certain gratitude for its flimsiness, and its somnambulant pace. It cleared space for my child's imagination to inhabit other, better imaginings in the interstices of its slowed-down time. Of course, reading books, you have free play to imagine as you will. But on TV, the slowness and incompetence encouraged you to re-imagine what you were actually seeing even as you were seeing it. Even the pace of the editing was slower, allowing you to stay a step or two ahead of what was going on; in contrast, the rapid-fire editing of today seems designed to keep you from digesting images -- your only choice is to react to them.

The result of all this was an unintended but profound dynamic: as an 8-year old, my imagination could do better. It could do better than 99% of movies and all of TV. Which made the imagination seem like powerful force. More powerful than a multimillion dollar industry devoted to dazzling the eye and captivating the brain.

I distinctly remember a dream I had, either in late elementary school or early Junior High, in which I saw a dragon in flight. There was nothing particularly dramatic about the dream -- I wasn't being chased by the dragon, or riding the dragon -- in fact, the dragon was at a considerable distance, high up in the sky, glimpsed through an open latticework of tree branches (I was walking down some woodland path). It had the sinuous, unhurried grace of a relaxed swimmer, luxuriating in her element.

When I woke, I stayed in bed with my eyes closed, savoring the dream, letting its details imprint themselves on my now-conscious mind, so I wouldn't lose the vision to the mundane obliterating machinations of the morning. The vision was precious because it seemed so real. At the time, there were no movies where a dragon could be seen gliding through the sky, with the casual vividness of an actual living thing. At best, a living dragon could be suggested with the eerie clarity of stop-motion models, or through two-dimensional animated drawings. My mind was the only place where such a thing could be found.

I was reminded of that dream while watching Avatar, during a scene where about twenty dragons simultaneously occupied the frame, strewn from foreground to background, each one expertly articulated by talented animators. I had to laugh. What hope would I have as an eight year old, next to that? What impulse to savor a dream-scrap, if I could just get my hands on a DVD and scan to a scene a dozen times more elaborate?

Over the course of my adolescence and adulthood, there has been a dramatic shift in the alignment between the childhood imagination and mass visual culture. Avatar currently exists in an elite class of representation, but it sits at the apex of widely disseminated technologies of depiction and animation. A chief cultural difference between my childhood self and the children of today is that access to realistic fantasy (if not "photorealistic fantasy," then at least "persuasive fantasy") is now a pervasive condition, not an exceptional one.

As soon as they're old enough to be propped in front of a screen, kids now see vast quantities of programming designed by teams of professionals, art-directed from top pixel to bottom -- there's scant room for their own imaginations to make improvements. It amounts to a professionalization of the fantastic.

And, perhaps, it casts "imagining" as a fundamentally passive act. Which seems tied to the sense of helplessness and depression some people felt after watching Avatar (at least according to an immediately notorious CNN article that starts out: "James Cameron's completely immersive spectacle 'Avatar' may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora"). The imaginative world exists outside them -- it's not something they can conjure themselves.

(It should be noted that a group of Palestinian protesters took the opposite tack, dressing up as Na'vi before being pelted with tear gas containers. Of course, there's no way for them to conjure the paradisiacal world of Pandora, they can only conjure its inhabitants, who perforce look out of place amidst the scrub grass and barbed wire: they can only take up the mantle of the Na'vi as exiles.)

So I have to wonder if this is the end result of our technologies of fantasy: to generate spectacle that overpowers the spectator, turning the spectator into a sort of recieving robot for all the images that precede him. The imagination of the spectator (especially the child spectator) is at the mercy of what has come before. Of course, when images spring from the "interior," or the subconscious, you could argue that those images are no less unwilled. But it still seems like a radical restructuring of the imaginative enterprise: an exteriorization of the dream life. Dream becomes a collective and purchased experience, as opposed to an interior, subjective, and individual one.

The wellspring of images is localized as something socially ratified and funded, versus something more distributed and mysterious. It's roughly the distinction between an opiate and a dream (and for the record, when I suggested these sorts of distinctions to my students, they didn't think I was just wallowing in old-fogeyisms).

All the same, I don't want to get apocalyptic about it, and start keening over the imminent demise of the imagination. It might rather be a realignment of the primary imaginative task: not to individually bring worlds into being, but to take the pieces of a world engineered by other people and to wander through it at our own pace. Not to construct, but to explore.

It's an approach that's deeply embedded in the postmodern condition, but the roots go deeper than that. In a way, that's what happens when we wander a city, isn't it? Who has time to build a world from scratch? Virtuality will produce its own flaneurs.

For now, it's James Cameron's world, and we're living in it. I'm curious to see what sorts of habitations will be built there by future interlopers, squatters, vandals and utopians.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shooting & Asking

The first show up in the Tahoe Gallery this semester, "Shoot First and Ask Questions Later," featured the video work of Julie Perini. She gave a fun, engaging talk, tracing her development as an artist, coming up through the DIY ethics of college radio and zine culture and later mapping that desire for immediacy and authenticity to the tactics of conceptual artists like Adrian Piper, when she was exposed to their work in graduate school. At one point she re-enacted Piper's Catalysis IV, in which Piper stuffed a towel in her mouth and rode on public transportation, injecting an odd and alienating behavior into the stream of the everyday (Perini, who claims to be somewhat introverted in public, said she found the experience far more difficult than anticipated).

The dominant piece in the gallery was "They've Got a Name for Girls Like Me," projected on the largest open wall. Regardless of its status in her oeuvre, it positions itself very literally as a "signature piece," consisting of snippets from dozens of films that feature a character named "Julie." Perini has edited together all the instances in which someone calls out "Julie" (and also, drolly, some instances where we see the name written down on some important plot-nudging note). All the emotional modulations of the name (breathy, commanding, romantic, remonstrative) become a one-word arpeggio. The effect is humorous and a bit diabolical -- once you've seen the piece, you're guaranteed never to forget the artist's name (or at least her first name). It brings to mind pop songs that chant a name as the chorus, in catchy OCD delirium, like "Barbara Ann" or "Jolene." It also speaks to the way we personalize mass movie experiences (if your name is "Julie," you'll see movies that have characters named Julie in a different light, hearing -- at least on a subconscious level -- all the exhortations to Julie as a sort of intimate address. But that's just an overt example of the externalized narcissism that is a fundamental part of movie-watching.)

To segue on a note of catchy pop music, "Johnny, Are You Queer?" records Perini trying to memorize the lyrics of the Josie Cotton song of the same name (in her talk, she mentioned it was filmed as a sort of act of procrastination for going to the gym). The camera is trained on Perini's face as she mouths the lyrics and replays the song, trying to set the words in her mind. It gives an anthropological distancing to a private undertaking, the kind of thing one would do in your bedroom as a teenager, acquiring a piece of pop culture like an article of clothing, adjusting the trim so you can wear it naturally.

"Watch Me Break it Down" stars Perini's feet, dancing in a variety of public spaces in and around Buffalo, NY (a library, a street corner, a skating rink, etc). Perini set up a camera at foot level and broke into a dance (most of the people in the background either fail to notice, or feign not noticing -- in her talk, she said she was originally unhappy with the piece, because she ended up using the other people as mere props -- but she's made her peace with it). And "Guy at a Coffee Shop" is a perfect example of using video as a sort of sketchpad -- not gathering staged material to a pre-planned end, but capturing a moment that seems fleeting, genuine. While sitting in a coffee shop, Perini noticed a young man who appeared to be sketching her. She had her video camera, and surreptitiously filmed him in the act. His eyes keep flicking up from the drawing pad (hidden from view), in a compulsive tic that's somehow reminiscent of a fish gulping for air. Rather than a mouth grasping bits of air, his wide-flung eyes grasp bits of sight. Subtitles appear over the footage, clarifying the audio when Perini or the guy speaks, and reconstructing Perini's thought process while observing. Drawing and filming are given an equivalency. At one point, the guy, realizing he's being filmed, assents that, drawing or videos, it's all basically the same thing. He gives her a thumbs up, and a second later a subtitle flashes on the screen: "Why did he do that?"

Lastly, her piece "Suffragette Slasher" is a reconstruction of an act of artistic and political vandalism by the suffragette Mary Richardson. In 1914, Richardson slashed Velasquez's painting "The Rokeby Venus" (hanging in the National Gallery of London) to protest the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women's Social and Political Union. Richardson released a statement after the fact:

"I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy."

In her video, Perini plays Richardson, getting dressed in preparation for the assault, and carrying it out. A news item quoted at the above Mary Richardson link has the terrific sentence "The woman, producing a meat chopper from her muff or cloak, smashed the glass of the picture, and rained blows upon the back of the Venus." That sentence, despite the reserved diction, evokes the sensationalistic sex-and-violence combo that drives the disrobe-and-hack dialectic of slasher films. Perini intercuts the preparation and attack in a stroboscopic flurry of edits, paced like a climactic horror-movie sequence. Here, when the cleaver hacks into the naked female form, it's wielded by a suffragette rather than a masked bogeyman; the sequence itself appears to chop itself up like a whirring cuisinart of emancipation and attack.

The staged and scripted qualities of "Sufragette Slasher" would seem to set it apart from the other work, but Mary Richardson is an apt surrogate. The woman, unnoticed at the margins of culture, hanging like an asterisk at the edge of a great painting, suddenly does the unexpected and occupies center stage. It may be other people's music, other people's paintings, other people's movies, other people's spaces, but Julie still gets to be the star of the show.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wild Card

If you missed the first SNC Gallery Club show of the semester, "Wild Card," here are a few images from it. The show featured work by Molly Allen, Anza Jarschke, Arielle Shipe, Logan Lape, Nick Geankoplis, and Victoria Buck. I was especially taken by Victoria's "Sorry," which featured a cluster of ceramic flowers, levitated away from the wall with wire, arranged to suggest a human profile dissolving into puffs of cloud. It was a lovely, delicate apology.

Soundtrack to Life

All the interesting studio classes the art dept. has to offer have been consuming much of my time here at SNC. This semester I have had to step away from the studio and get some of those core classes and mandatory assignments done. Being removed from the studio atmosphere has shifted my interests a bit and played a role in my search for new art. With the convenience of looking music up on Youtube and new flow of music from Pandora I find that the availability of vast amounts of streaming music is endless. I love thinking about how vast this availability will be in the near future. The amount of availability is not limited to any one genre either. From rock to reggae, and electronic to hip-hop, it seams as though all music is being rediscovered in a more adaptive online environment. I have seen some unusual blends of genres that I never thought would sound good together as well.

At the moment I have been working and spending time with images of personal musical influences. I find that as a child I never really put names to faces in regards to listening to music. In working with images of artists I listen to their music simultaneously and it creates a much more personal listing experience. I'm also spending a lot of time breaking down that personal experience. I guess it all comes back to the moment when a really good song comes on and all you are thinking is, " this is my jam!"

A couple artists that I have always liked include:

BassNectar, Deadmau5, Girl Talk, Matisyahu, Ratatat, and Slightly Stoopid.

Some new artists that I Have recently discovered and recommend browsing threw:

Andre Nickatina, Animal collective, Eek-A-Mouse, Kid Cudi, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Rusted Root.