Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Gore Gore Girls

RIYL Shonen Knife [whose Olglio reissues are discussed at the end of this post]: The Gore Gore Girls, sez Modern Kicks (and you should be reading Mr. S. for his art smarts anyhow). Rawk with GGG at Mobtown's Mojo Room and Lounge on Wednesday, 13 April: go-go.

living room photo

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Loretta Lux

On Washington and torture

From Thomas Friedman's op-ed piece in last Thursday's New York Times, a welcome and heartening examination of George Washington and warmaking, especially in connection with how General Washington handled prisoners-of-war. Friedman reads Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing (Oxford University Press, 2004), and notes that, in the eighteenth century, European custom dictated that prisoners were not entitled to be taken as POWs, nor entitled to their life under conditions of surrender; "[i]n one egregious incident, at the battle at Drake's Farm, British troops murdered all seven of Washington's soldiers who had surrendered, crushing their brains with muskets." Especially poignant in times where mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners is justified by imagined crimes or intelligence withheld, Fischer explains that American warmaking was very different at the time of the Revolution:

"The Americans recovered the mutilated corpses and were shocked," wrote Mr. Fischer. The British commander simply denied responsibility. "The words of the British commander, as much as the acts of his men," wrote Mr. Fischer, "reinforced the American resolve to run their own war in a different spirit. . . . Washington ordered that Hessian captives would be treated as human beings with the same rights of humanity for which Americans were striving. The Hessians . . . were amazed to be treated with decency and even kindness. At first they could not understand it."

That Americans won their independence by choosing "a policy of humanity that aligned the conduct of the war with the values of the Revolution" was due to the essential Father of Our Country.

Also: see a President's Day meditation on GW.

Weekend highlights, lowlights

In the stead of this weekend's blank slate, here are last weekend's reviews. . .


Didn't care for Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words at BAM, perhaps due to my longstanding bafflement for all things theatrical. PWW has been well-reviewed (see here; scroll down a little to the second set of links), and it's easy to see why it's a crowd-pleaser: the show is extremely handsome—the sets and costumes are gorgeous—and smart, and very cinematic (the work is based on The Servant, a Joseph Losey film from 1963). [The link to the film takes one to the British Film Institute's very good "definitive guide to Britian's film and TV industry," and is well worth a visit.]


At the Whitney, thumbs up for

  • Ellen Gallagher's DeLuxe, a portfolio of sixty prints (in an edition of twenty at $175,000 per set, apparently already sold out—wow! that comes to $3.5m) hanging at the small ground floor gallery in the back. Her work is gritty and evocative, and is still employing wig ads and yearbook pages from the 1960s—however, the alterations are metastasized into something bigger and edgier than doll eyes. She's building an impressive body of work; and

  • Cy Twombly's drawings before the middle of the 1980s, especially those concerned with mythological figures, gods and goddesses often concerned with beauty and sensuality.

Thumbs down for

  • Cy Twombly's drawings after the middle-eighties: more decorative and undistinguished than the earlier works;
  • Tim Hawkinson's big fourth-floor survey: I don't care for his scientific aesthetics, except for a lovely and surprisingly delicate "bird egg" fabricated from fingernails; and
  • "Political Nature," a small collection of works that examine "the use of nature as a metaphor to reflect and comment on mankind." (I'm working on a short piece on political art, so more on this later.)

  • Lukewarm on Employment, debut disk from the Kaiser Chiefs, one of latest (and most polished) in the new crop of MTV-friendly British guitar band with eighties stylings. (Note boomlet for Great War imagery, with Jeunet, the Chiefs, and ol' Franz Ferdinand. More to be mined there!) They can play, and Ricky Wilson can sing, but only about half of the singles stick.

  • More from Sublime Frequencies: Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra Vol. 2 is terrific, better than the other 2005 releases I mentioned in previous dispatches, and infused with Arab rhythm and vocals, but leavened with folk music and instruments from the regional subcultures (including Bali). Beautiful and haunting in parts, but good-'n'-poppy. Less satisfying is Streets of Lhasa, a spare and folky entry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


An embarrassment of riches over at Coudal, as usual, but here's one that's kinda special: a collection of links to images of kanban, "Japanese retrospective" enamel signboards (although I'm not sure what "retrospective" refers to) from the 1930s to the 1970s.


Thursday, March 17, 2005


Over at Design Observer, Jessica Helfand is examining the culture of scrapbooking, providing anecdotal encounters with the history and practioners, lots of links, and thoughts about how the phenomenon sits next to professional graphic design practice. (I see lots of nice "dark matter" as well.)

Bonus Helfand link: see her fantastic Reinventing the Wheel (exhibition + cool catalogue from Princeton Architectural Press, 2002).

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

OMA, sweet OMA

In the March 14 issue of The New Yorker, an endless piece by Daniel Zalewski on architect Rem Koolhaas ("His rapid stride is a product of multiple factors: NBA-length legs, a daily swimming regimen, and an alarming intake of espresso.") and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture, or OMA. The drama at the center of the article involves Koolhaas pitching for OMA to poach a renovation that increases gallery space at the Hermitage,
One of the perversities of the Hermitage proposal--and OMA projects frequently combine severe logic with calculated folly--was that it called for most of the General Staff Building's [800] rooms to remain just as they are. . . . The Hermitage, he believed, was a fascinating artifact of Russian imperial glamour and Soviet bureaucratic neglect. Instead of erasing that history, why not highlight it? . . . The building's layout was bewildering: gilt-covered ballrooms with intricate parquet floors adjoined rubble-strewn rooms evoking Leningrad during the Siege.
OMA's principal is depicted as a persuasive fellow who knows how to think on his feet, wielding dilapidated architectural models as effective tools and tossing smart ideas over his shoulders:
A series of slides envisioned an exhibit in which a long row of rooms contained one masterpiece each. Or why not fill several rooms a year with art of the moment, thereby creating a corridor of time capsules.
One of the most interesting aspects to OMA's process is that it is deeply collaborative,
Another reason that OMA's buildings lack an obvious stylistic trademark is that they are the creations of a collective. Koolhaas often functions more as an editor than a designer: the only pen he uses is a Bic Cristal red ballpoint, which is well suited for marking up the sketches of others. . . . "The remarkable thing of which Rem is the author, explicitly, is the office's process. . . ."
P.S.: Koolhaas's Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping is one of my favorite architecture books ever.

“No boots in the shower”

In a world where hand-wringers believe that the world is getting less authentic,
a salvo from Grant McCracken's Culture by Commotion: Nike is branding by "curating" their ad campaigns. Bully! [via Marginal Revolution]

The Decembrist: "the best defense is a good offense"

Hey kids: Mark Schmidt is at it again, dispensing wisdom on the [missing] message that Dems would be wise to heed. Can we find a cabinet position for him yet?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Weekend bits

I'm not a big fan of documentaries--they're typically not cinematic enough for me; why not read instead?--but I really enjoyed Errol Morris's The Fog of War (the kick-ass website is website is worth checking out; click-on-through) over the weekend. Much of what one reads about the film is centered around Robert McNamara's alleged inability to admit guilt for his sins as Defense Secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. (This is truly the splitting of hairs: McNamara clearly states eleven "lessons" that amount to indictments against warmaking policies, and then affirms, just as clearly, that he supported those policies.)
What's striking thing about Fog of War is the frankness of a high-level politician admitting that the government screwed up, and that unilateralism and executive-branch politics (i.e., the job of SecDef is to implement the president's doctrine) are at the root of the problem.
Brothels of Nevada: Candid Views of America's Legal Sex Industry (Princeton Architectural Press, 2003) isn't what it sounds like: there's no nudity, rather, the book is chock full of architectural photographs from the rundown (and, in some cases, abandoned) workplaces for legalized prostitution in the Silver State.
A few years back, I purchased "The Gutenberg Press," a package of German fraktur blackletter fonts from the Walden Font Company of Massachusetts. Over the weekend, I discovered the perfect companion to the Gutenberg collection: Blackletter: Type and National Identity (Princeton Architectural Press, 1998), a project of the National Graphic Design Archives at Cooper Union. Handsome and informative.
Shonen Knife is touring in support of their new record plus a big batch of reissues from Oglio; from "Bear Up Bison," the first track on Pretty Little Baka Guy:
We're only making plans for/
Da da dirty dirty bison/
We don't like him so much/
'Cos he's very very ug ug ugly/
We're only making plans for/
Da da dark brown bison/
He has a right to live though he's/
Ill ill ill ill-shaped/
He's on the way to extinction/
We only want what's best for him
"He's ill-shaped": it's way better on the page then it is on disk!

Our greatest (and underappreciated) president

For last month's President's Day, the Gallup poll reported that Americans named Ronald Reagan the nation's greatest president, followed by Bill Clinton, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Whither the first president, the father of our country? The man famously euologized by Henry Lee as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen," places no higher than seventh: when asked to choose the greater president of the two, Americans favor Lincoln by a wide margin over George Washington.
David Levine drawing
GW signature

Historians rate him higher (although results are mixed); yet, perhaps, it is somehow fitting that Washington is neglected. Lincoln's story, to be sure, is an extraordinary one: intelligent, thoughtful, and religious; master politician, rhetorician, and orator; martyred at the height of his success. Washington, a man of action and not of words, has never been a favorite of intellectuals. Two recent books--George Washington Remembers: Reflections on the French and Indian War and His Excellency: George Washington--offered scholar Garry Wills a chance to reflect upon the man in the March 10 issue of the New York Review of Books. Wills observes that George Washington was the incarnation of John Wayne, a myth who lived up to our ideal of strength, maturity, judgment, borne of the American frontier ethos. And how do we understand guys like that in meritocratic times?

Consider Thomas Jefferson, whose own mythology as the founding fathers' renaissance man cuts a stark contrast to the unflappable, more stolid Washington. From Jefferson's 1814 letter to Dr. Walter Jones,

His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though, not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. . . . But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstance, he was slow in re-adjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York.

Jefferson, a thinking-man's favorite, slyly slights Washington's intellect. Wills focuses instead on a different sort of quickness, the man's physical strength--his nonpareil horsemanship was admired by all: one vivid story has Washington saving his mount from slipping on an icy hillside near the Delaware River by pulling the horse onto his feet by merely grabbing the mane and shifting his weight--but it is his superior judgment as well as his presence, his ability to inspire, in short, his leadership, that sets him apart from all others. Washington was able to defuse fights by his mere presence; he never returned to Mount Vernon for seven years during the Revolutionary War, as he knew the army would dissolve in his absence; hailing from a family whose men weren't long-lived, he was acutely aware of his mortality and, yet, physically courageous, even physically reckless (see equestrian skills). There is nothing so common as intelligence; the steady Washington, with his peerless presence, was the only man capable of forging the Union that Mr. Lincoln preserved.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Steven Heller, misunderestimated

From the comments section on Design Observer, in response to Michael Bierut's post entitled "I Hate ITC Garamond":

Forgive me for changing the the subject, but if George W. Bush were a typeface, he'd be ITC Garamond.

Posted by: steven Heller at October 2, 2004 03:31 PM


A lyrical piece from Verlyn Klinkenborg on the joys of Los Angeles--from today's NYT op-ed page, of all places--led me to typekut's great collection of vernacular photos from America's most-despised metropolis, as well as a beautiful, transfixing geegaw based on letterforms. The west coast is calling, y'all.

A visit to Other Music

Mind Fusion cover art
I'm a big fan of the Madlib, especially his nerdy (I initially typed 'nerfy,' and wonder if the automatic writing isn't more accurate) Quasimoto incarnation (adore The Unseen, and am psyched about the upcoming 'Further Adventures') and immediately snapped-up these two Mind Fusion mix-tape recordings: volume one is devoted to hip-hop (including a number of Madlib clients) and volume two is jazzy funk and breaks--"Madlib the listener," a nice turn from Jamin Warren of Pitchfork in his review. Many folk are agog at the Ocampo cover art, but it boils down to this: volume one is terrific, and volume two not so.
Dignity and Shame cover art
A friend of mine was aghast that I hadn't heard of Richard Bachmann's Crooked Fingers. I had actually seen an Archers of Loaf show from way back--and wasn't impressed--but CF's new Dignity and Shame is another thing altogether. To quote from an email exchange: "[Bachmann's] also let his inner Neil Diamond out a bit." (Dunno that I would have fingered Neil on first listen, but doggone if he isn't in there. More commonly cited, and much easier to discern, are Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.) Mark Hogan's hardboiled review for Pitchfork is pretty accurate, venturing that the record "teeters on the brink of the AAA abyss," but, to these decidedly non-folky ears, it'll do just fine.
Nolita cover art
Keren Ann makes pretty French records, perfect for a rainy day or for impressing a lady-friend. (Check out her disarming good looks on a Manhattan sidewalk, and Sasha Frere-Jones's review for the New Yorker here.) Nolita, her newest, is probably not too different from the others, but what's not to like? And those knee-socks (see right): mon dieu!
For those of you who regularly follow these writings, it will come as no surprise that I heartily recommend one of the latest releases from the sublime Sublime Fequencies: to wit, Radio Sumatra: The Indonesian FM Experience is one of their best releases to-date; included are 1970s-style station breaks, as well as "brief news reports, advertisements, prayers, and karaoke call-in shows." You'd swear that one selection is sung by the Sumatran Jon Spencer, at least until the bubbly chorus chimes in. Fantastic.
And--last but not least--I scored the first volume of Subliminal Sounds' Thai Beat a Go-Go, now with more surf guitar. I find only dream!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

From the St. Mark's Bookshop newsstand

In the March issue (#253) of the Wire, a fascinating interview of Daniel Dumile, AKA MF Doom, one of the most enigmatic musicians in pop music, never mind one of the elite rappers in the world of hiphop [last year's Madvillianry--Doom's project with turntable wizard Madlib--was among last year's best records]: Dumile's story is every bit as complex as his split musical personality--he records under numerous personae: Doom, King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn, Metalface, King Ghidra--starting out in the seminal KMD from Long Island, where he mixed with De La Soul, Boogie Down Productions, and others. (The mask is based on a design from Gladiator.)



In the Fall 2004 issue of Bidoun, a quarterly on "arts and culture from the Middle East," an article on the Atlas Group, a collective devoted to documenting contemporary Lebanese history, and particularly the history of Lebanon's civil war (1975-90): Walid Raad, a Cooper Union art professor and driving force behind the Atlas Group, imagined the project into existence in 1999 and fabricated an archives that include, amongst other documents, a notebook that traces the make and model of automobiles responsible for car bombings during the war years (see inset).

  • From the March 3-9 issue of the Village Voice: "An Elegy for the Bowery," a collection of pieces recapping the history of America's most storied skid row, and its impending conversion to millionaire's row.

Fjords magazine #13 ("Biography") is an exercise in fine production values, a Norse Interview populated with Aryan beauties in varying states of undress. There's an interesting piece on Hans Hamid Rasmussen--the half Norwegian and half Algerian embroidery artist--and a nice mini-photo-essay on Scandinavian interior design.


Lastly, there's a piece on architect Bernard Khoury in the March issue of Wallpaper*; the designer of Beirut's happening (and beautiful--have a glimpse at the snap in the article) music club B018 is tackling the renovation of what is considered one of Beirut's biggest eyesores: the Beirut City Centre Building, or BCCB, or the "dome," the "egg," the "blob," or the "bubble," a former theater that shows the scars of the Lebanese civil war [see inset, left].
Strangely, though, the photograph that accompanies Wallpaper*'s article--the image here, taken from's Real Estate Journal, doesn't do the structure justice--makes it look nothing short of handsome, lovingly focussing on the structure's character without showing its environs. (None of the Wallpaper*'s photos that accompany the piece are posted online; I encourage everyone to make a detour and check them out.) Khoury's vision [inset, right] may be smart, but at the expense of a beautiful accident.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Project Runway, The Bachelorette, &c.

I've had a big backlog of drafts sitting in my Blogger queue over the past fortnight--finally dissipating and, luckily, most posts aren't particularly time-sensitive--but the finale of "Project Runway" is now more than two weeks gone and already forgotten by fans of the show (much less by those who haven't even heard of Bravo and/or PR). Still, it's worth underlining that this cream-of-the-reality-TV-crop was a pleasure to watch throughout the entire season, from the easily lampooned hostess Heidi Klum--who knew that all Austrians sounded like Arnold?--and her stern "you either in oo you out," to eminence grise and Parsons fashion design chair Tim Gunn; from the clever and interesting assignments (redesign the postal carriers' uniforms, fashion a dress from materials available at the grocery store) to the bounty of the contestant-characters (Kara Saun as the brilliant student; eventual winner Jay McCarroll as the charismatic, small-town freak; Wendy Pepper as the evil stepmother; and Austin Scarlett as the homosexual fop). Browse the site for Fashion Week outtakes, and check out my favorite outfit from Jay's streetwise collection. I say buzz!


For those who think reality TV is rigged, I refer them to this season's "Bachelorette 3," where said bachelorette refused both finalists. I've always noted that there's an awful lot of, er, "reality" on display when folks are mating--the first spurned suitor is found muttering "how could she have chosen [us] as the two finalists when we're so different?": this is par for the course, where the last two standing almost always comprise the sexy one and the safe one. Go figure.


Postscript: See this interview with Jay by Corina Zappia from the Voice. [cws::09 Mar]

Marx, Strummer, and Jones

I'm not a big fan of Marxist crit, mostly because Marxist critics are not of the same world I live in: of course class can inform a critical understanding of cultural phenomena--it just seems that such analyses stop short, aren't consistent with individual human behavior, or are simply self-satisfied. (Exhibit "A" is Gregory Sholette's interesting discourse on "dark matter," the subject of Chris Gilbert's Cram Sessions 02 at the BMA: Sholette more or less accurately describes the role of amateur, fallen, and outsider artists, as well as hobbyists, craftspeople, and other unclassifiable creators on the margin--it's just that he fumbles from there, misreading the diverse motives of producers as well as consumers, and leading us to political interpretations that neither address nor explain the state of things.)

Enter Stephen Metcalf of the Nation, who looks at the storied rock 'n' roll songwriting duos--McCartney and Lennon, Jagger and Richards, Strummer and Jones--and first notes that each great team consisted of one middle-class (the former) and one working-class (the latter) member. He doesn't just stop there, either--next on the agenda is an examination of the changing relationship between the middle and working classes, and an interesting conjecture that explains the waning relevance of rock music today; read the whole thing.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Busy last weekend highlights (delivered late!)

Oscar broadcast: Chris Rock was tame but still better than the fogies who generally clutter up the stage; biggest misfire when he identified Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz as "four presenters." (An extended interview piece where he asked theatergoers at Magic Johnson's megaplex in South Central what their favorite films from 2004 was better.)

Best civilian gown went to costume design rockstar Sandy Powell (Orlando, Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven, et alia); best movie star was the luminous Kirsten Dunst, with nice dresses from Miss Hayek as well as Cate Blanchett (nice summation of the "State of the Red Carpet" from from Julia Turner at Slate).


  • Ray Johnson: Correspondences is a catalogue (Flammarion, 1999) and an exhibition edited/organized by Wexner curator Donna DeSalvo. Good selection of the artist's works and generally smart essays (although there seems to be a blind spot or lack of discussion on his troubled psyche). Available for $10 at Daedelus.

  • Peter Blake (Tate, 2003): A delightful monograph. His most famous work doesn't hint at his industriousness or importance; I didn't even know the designer of SPLHCB was a fine artist! Blake's unusual trajectory provides a great primer on the distinctions between British and American pop. (Also available at Daedalus.)

  • Gabriel Josipovici's On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion (Yale University Press, 1999): this surprisingly accessible book links the onset of suspicion of the arts with the rise of the individual; by pursuing the history of this idea, Josipovici finds both the roots of the affliction and its salve in the great works of the West. "The problem", the author says, "is how to keep suspicion from turning into cynicism and trust from turning into facileness."

Movies: In descending order of ludicrousness,

  • Only After Hours, Martin Scorcese's 1985 dark comedy, redeemed the weekend's video event. Its sheer eighties goodness has aged a little, but leads Griffin Dunne and Rosanna Arquette, plus a terrific supporting cast--especially Teri Garr and John Heard--carry the day.

  • The Day of the Jackal (Zinnemann, 1973): smart but dated, James Bond without the pyrotechnics; watchable if a bit on the dull side.

  • I'm a big fan of Hard Day's Night, so The Knack... and How to Get It (Richard Lester, 1965) was a bit of a disappointment. There are some brilliant moments--the opening scene is particularly good and striking, with dozens of mod, blonde-be-wigged maidens queuing on the stairs for the film's Lothario--but, ultimately, HDN is a more enduring document of swinging London.

  • Twin Falls Idaho (Polish, 1999) wants to be an out-there David Lynch film, but it's tedious and poorly acted. Stay away.

  • I'm happy to report that, in defiance of last week's fears, Underworld (Wiseman, 2003) had no additional voiceovers. But it was even more unwatchable than I'd imagined, not being able to muster the interest in following the impenetrable vampire-werewolf rules of engagement. Terrible, even with Kate Beckinsale.

The End of the Moon

Jon Gipe for the New York Times

I took in The End of the Moon--Laurie Anderson's performance piece with its genesis in her stint as NASA's artist-in-residence (the title derives from her discovery that governmental agents are eyeing the earth's largest satellite for military purposes)--on Saturday at BAM.

The show was a variation on her zen koan standup routine; the stage was set with an antique armchair, dozens-upon-dozens of candles set upon the floor, a dry-ice machine, and a small projection screen that (more often than not) displayed a video image of the moon's surface. Anderson is a storyteller, and her self-described narrative "jump-cuts" prescribe an up-and-down evening in her presence. But the highs are often wonderful--poetic impressions of empty, illuminated buses circulating a forlorn city at night; an impromptu duet with an owl, before Italians with "their enormous black eyes"; an image of an indecisive buzzard, hovering over her pet rat-terrier in the wilds of northern California (as well as the dog's reaction, followed by an elegant metaphor for contemporary political life); intimations of a midlife crisis. In some fundamental way, though, it's hard to get a critical handle on her oeuvre--I know plenty of folks who don't enjoy her work, and I understand why: I admire her, but don't think any individual piece is a great one.

Louis Menand examined Anderson's United States for Artforum in 1999 in an essay that's been extended and reprinted in his American Studies collection (FSG, 2002), and one that grasps the hallmarks of her work. Menand begins by noting that performance art is typically rooted in contingency, a condition shunned by LA, whose performances resemble concerts in a concert hall:

Contingency was banned for a reason: In two evenings' worth of songs and stories about how things tend to go wrong, nothing was supposed to go wrong. And the gamine persona was plainly designed to create a contrast: The more waiflike Anderson seemed, the more impressive the control she exerted. The show was wired, and there was a woman in a punk hairdo, not a faceless middle-aged guy in a white lab coat, throwing the switches.

Menand suggests a feminist subtext, but I'd like to get back to basics: LA is a Western woman, one who never questions the individual's significance. She notes in End that she's been seeking out non-goal-oriented projects, but surrounds those wishes with never-ending accounts of projects, travel, designs, and dreams.

There is a conscious accessibility, even glibness, that is borne of a heady artist who's emotionally-literate, but one for whom cognition trumps emotionality (the jokes! the projects! the connections!). Menand is particularly acute in discerning a yearning for this accessibility:

People like me, coming out of the '60s, once dreamed of a fusion between something like pop music and something like Conceptual art, of an expressive form that would integrate the urgency and excitement of a rock concert with the cool detachment of an art without illusions. We wished for energy and imagination without pretension, for entertainment that did not pander and art that was not antagonistic to commercialism, merely indifferent to it. I suppose we hoped to strike such a balance in our own lives. Glimpses of what that sensibility might have been like were pretty rare. United States was one of them.

I suspect that a guy like me connects with an artist like Anderson through an empathic similarity in personality, as more sober folk do not. The tip-off at the BAM Harvey Theater was a stray tear or two during the performance, a sign of recognition--imagined or otherwise--in some--which?--direction. In interviews, the 57-year-old artist has stated that her audience "is a sadder version of [herself] sitting in row 'K'"; during a passage in End of the Moon, Anderson avers that "the day you realize that your story can never be fully told is the day your life begins." It is this personal act of storytelling, one we all engage in, that connects this essential Western woman with her audience.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Art in the dark

Jason Urban is a young artist based in Philadelphia whose Night Light (Isometric Delight) was featured at last Saturday's spare room opening for the month of February. (He last graced Baltimore's walls last September, in a show with Jackie Milad at the Creative Alliance galleries.) Urban cites Tron as one of the piece's touchstones, and that's not hard to see, but the piece is far more expansive than its video-game associations: think James Turrell, who Urban also name-checks, and Turrell's "dark spaces": Night Light is a dark room; the sole light source derives from the Q*bert-esque op-art grid of undulating 2-(and-a-half!) D cubes.

Urban's installation offers an opportunity to write of a favorite piece of mine, Turrell's Jalito's Night, installed in LA's MoCA from 1985 through 1986 (then the Temporary Contemporary, now the Geffen Contemporary). The installation consisted of a large room with barely-perceptible ambient light illuminating the walls (plus an ell that housed a small light projection); a proctor was regulating the number of viewers in the piece at any given time, and there was a wait to enter. An expectant air encouraged the enqueued to speculate on what might be inside: I was unfamiliar with Turrell's work--indeed, I had never heard of the man at the time--and hung in line for more than an hour on the weekend day.

Moving from the sunlit gallery into Jalito's Night, one is blinded, and immediately aware of one's handicap: new entrants into the space loudly announce their arrival to the current residents, aware that violations of personal space might occur. Interestingly, those who have resided in the piece long enough--e.g., so that their eyes have adjusted--transition from the ranks of the "unsighted" to a sort of parental guide, assuring those who cannot see that everything will be all right, and that eyes will adjust in a short time. The lifecycle of the observer is thus delineated by social roles (the blind and the sighted, the helpless and the comforter) as well as by the nominal critical dimension.

Urban himself commented upon the parallels: he related that he found himself announcing to the (sometimes empty!) room that he was entering prior to periodic "charging" of Night Light's photoelectric cubes. His thoughtful and sober manner marks him as one to watch.