Friday, April 29, 2005

Cram Sessions 03: Sound Politics

I actually kind of like Chris Gilbert's enigmatic image—he's depicted in a City Paper profile as working in a bare office, save a framed portrait of "great Bolshevik" Nadezhda Krupskaya—but am unsure of his curatorial practice, which has steered him awry in Sound Politics, the third, and latest, CS excursion. Gilbert, a "Marxist of a fairly predictable variety," has mounted the Sessions in the hopes that they can serve as a launching pad, a coming-together place, a site for the forming of (political) fronts. And, by some measures, he has been successful: CS02, in particular, drew a lot of younger spectators and participants that have been scarce in the BMA's galleries. But the proliferation of eyeballs can't have led to the forming of fronts—the politics envisioned by the participants are less concerned with making a difference then they are with the mouthing of platitudes. Dont Rhine, founding member of Ultra-red , laments that "[p]olitics needs to be politicized" [from the transcript of a CS03 roundtable available at the museum, the source of this and all successive quotes].

This naïveté is rife in the rhetoric of the exhibition, where Ultra-red worries that AIDS activists have grown lax in their efforts to marshall support for fighting the disease: they long for the salad days of ACT UP where "radicalized, anarchistic formal strategies" were deployed in the trenches. Can real and constructive gains mean that activists have mistakenly used tactics on behalf of "the articulation of liberal demands"? (Rhine is less than rigorous, invoking the "proven" specter of sonic weapons as a motivation for the shopworn tactic of using sound to reclaim public space: I say that large demonstrations have lost their punch, having been effectively deployed by civil rights and antiwar activists in the 1960s, but to decaying effect since then.)

And then there's the continuing CS tradition of shambling installation (hailed by Gadi Dechter's review in the City Paper), which must frustrate hopes for front-forming: six of Renée Green's seven listening stations are outfitted with a single pair of headphones, not that the subjects' rambling pronouncements are focused enough to inspire (her defensive remarks on the topic of mixing the anti-globalization conversations with electronic music are way off the mark, too: the music highlights the lack of focus rather than competing with any message). Green claims that her piece "decenters Western thought" and opens up "diverse forms of pleasure and 'structures' of feeling." (Emphatically yes, and most definitely no.) The Red Crayola video piece wasn't operational during last Saturday's visit; program remarks illustrate that the Art and Language allies don't have an idea how to describe their work (and member Mayo Thompson seems to ascribe all cultural chaos from the 1970s to A&L's handiwork).

In the end, though, Gilbert and company can never come to terms with the primary paradox of the "potential" for the political uses of sound: while they note the characteristics of the medium's ease, low-cost, and "intellectual and affective investment," they shy away from pop music, its most powerful form. (To Gilbert's credit, he notes that Adorno was long flummoxed by the dynamics of pop.) And this—Henri Lefebvre is said to believe that "theorization is now part of and necessary accompaniment to listening"—is crippling, when "sound's customarily depoliticized condition" is characterized as "wallpaper or entertainment." Sigh.


SlideShow at the BMA

Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a sequence of 690 projected photographic images with recorded musical accompaniment, stands at the center of SlideShow, curator Darsie Alexander's exhibition currently on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through 15 May. This is due, in part, to Ballad's resemblance to that most accessible of slide shows, the family slide show, where the subject and the audience is coincident. Goldin's presentations, originally screened for her extended family of friends and acquaintances in New York's Lower East Side, function and are recognizable as these family rites, at their peak popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. Blake Gopnik, in his review for the Washington Post, notes that
The sheer quantity of information in the images on show seemed to compensate for a lack of quality in any single shot. In fact there is a sense that Goldin's quantity may put the whole idea of quality in doubt. . . . A slide show presents reality as full of undigested stuff, with our job being to somehow try to sort it out.
In fact, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency mirrors the structure of the exhibition as a whole: as individual pieces, they often fail to hold our interest, relying on conceptual hooks (and an expected "I get it" response), but the sheer magic of wondering about in the dark—and one is reminded of this often, as the beautifully-installed exhibition leads one about with slatted light patterns suggesting the carousel, spotlighted wall text, and a sense of discovery in following the labyrinthine path from gallery to gallery—packs an unexpected and integrated weight over the entire show.

Other pieces of interest include one of Jack Smith's slide performances, and Krzysztof Wodiczko's projected trompe l'oeil apartment. (A small complaint: the onerous wall text.)

F is for Fake

From Criterion,
Trickery. Deceit. Magic. In Orson Welles’s free-form documentary F for Fake, the legendary filmmaker (and self-described charlatan) gleefully engages the central preoccupation of his career—the tenuous line between truth and illusion, art and lies. Beginning with portraits of world-renowned art forger Elmyr de Hory and his equally devious biographer, Clifford Irving, Welles embarks on a dizzying cinematic journey that simultaneously exposes and revels in fakery and fakers of all stripes—not the least of whom is Welles himself. Charming and inventive, F is for Fake is an inspired prank and a searching examination of the essential duplicity of cinema.
[via Pullquote]
More later today, I promise.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Site back up!

ffactory was down for most of today (and maybe last night) because I had linked to a number of images from Artnet, which has been down for the same period—sorry for the inconvenience. I'll try and get the backlog up over the weekend.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mao Zedong is the red sun in our hearts!

Factory 798 (warning: extremely ill-behaved and not very informative website; highlights are this photo of the unimproved gallery space and this one of the finished lounge) was once a military electronics factory, built in the 1950s by East German advisors to the young PRC.
Factory 798 exhibition space detail
(Originally uploaded by Roy.)
It's now a Bauhaus white elephant—still sporting communist slogans, e.g., the titular mention—reborn as an arts center, yet running for its life from developers seduced by the 2008 Beijing olympiad.

[In the meantime, check out Gridskipper on Beijing travel and Hou Hai Lake, another hipster locus.]


The ideal woman

Nina Paley's Sita
Rama’s wife, daughter of the Earth,
incarnation of goddess Lakshmi,
embodiment of chastity and purity,
Perfect Woman, and doormat.

I've always meant to dig into the Ramayana, having looked at comic books, films, and a wide variety of texts, but here's an attractive way in: cartoonist Nina Paley has been fashioning Sita Sings the Blues, a remarkable animated treatment of the Ramayana set to lo-fi, scratchy jazz-era 78rpm recordings. The latest installment, "Hanuman Finds Sita" (available here), uses "Daddy Won't You Please Come Home?," a 1929 standard sung by Annette Hanshaw and composed by Sam Coslow for Josef von Sternberg's silent Thunderbolt (starring Fay Wray!) as accompaniment. Sita is a labor a love, a "self-animated, unfunded, destined-to-drive-me-to-the-poorhouse feature-in-progress."

[Via Turbanhead—another site which deserves your attention—which supplies a few screen caps (0 1 2) for those of you with slow connections, as well as an interesting meditation on Unawatuna, a Sri Lankan city featured in a recent Anthropologie catalogue.]

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Islamic graveyards

Don Milstead, my high school teacher in American history, used to explain how he always visited graveyards when travelling; now, I do the same—on my way to Maryland's eastern shore, or in Los Angeles, or Paris, and in the Muslim world, too.

Süleymaniye cemetery
Old Ottoman cemeteries—the grounds of the Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul—have headstones decorated with headgear that the man wore during his life on earth (in premodern times, at least): one frequently sees fezzes or turbans atop the tall, vertical pillars that mark the gravesite, or flowers and sea shells for the graves of women.

City of the Dead Cairo

The graveyards I have visited in north Africa and the middle east are exotic and often beautiful to my Western eyes, but none are as striking as the medieval cemetery in downtown Cairo known throughout the West as the City of the Dead. When I first laid eyes on the CotD, its monochromatic duskiness piqued my interest immediately; the "northern cemeteries"—once outside the city (as is traditional in Islamic societies) but long ago overtaken by nearly 20m residents—is a shantytown where living Cairenes coexist with the interred. It's a fascinating place with a culture all its own, and is as important to visit as the pyramids.

Excerpted images from two slide shows (here and here) on the City of the Dead may be found here (0 1 2) and here (0 1 2 3 4).

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Acoustic locators were deployed, between the world wars, to listen for noise from the engines of warplanes. Here, from the 1930s, a remarkable machine on trial in France [above; link to page with other outsized hearing aids]; each of the four assemblies carries thirty-six small hexagonal horns, arranged in six groups of six. [via Coudal]

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Monday, April 18, 2005

A visit to Greenmount cemetery

I seek out quiet, contemplative places in the city when I want to slow things down.
Jacob headstone Greenmount cemetery
Henry Jacob headstone; other photos
from Greenmount to be found here.

As time passes, places that were once conducive to solace stop working (the Baltimore Museum of Art was once a quiet place to visit, a bit off the beaten track, but it is no longer as cozy, a requirement for peace; Pimlico racetrack used to be a favored place as well, but all romance is gone). A few current favorites:
  • The pier southwest of Hendersons Wharf, on Fells Point: when the city is hot, so hot that it is impossible to get comfortable, I sit out on the harbor, away from the business side of the inn, to do a little bit of work, and catch the occasional breeze;

  • Saint Casimir church, on Canton square: the cathedral is especially beautiful during evening services in the wintertime, when the electric halo of Mary is lit, but it is also peaceful on hot summer days, cooled only by the whirr of electric fans;

Bodine's Greenmount cathedral
(Larger image to be found here.)
Perhaps my favorite place, however, is Greenmount cemetery, located in a troubled neighborhood in east Baltimore. Yet it's resolutely safe, peaceful, and beautiful; a wonderful place to walk, look, reflect, or read. I uploaded a few snaps from my visit on Saturday (I napped under a tree on the beautiful spring day), and include a few links to other pictures, including satellite imagery (plus directions!), courtesy of Google; A. Aubrey Bodine's exceptional photo of the gothic cathedral overlooking the graveyard [inset, right]; a second image of the cathedral in the snow from the Maryland Historical Society; and an 1848 print of the pastoral Green Mount cemetery gate and environs, number 182 of the Pratt's Cator Collection of Baltimore Views.

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Viral marketing

It began with the billboard in a rundown neighborhood on Greenmount Avenue
Constructivist billboard billboard, just north of 26th St.
on Greenmount Av. at the railroad overpass.
(For large image, click
here. )
[inset] and the moneyed website (the splash demands to know whether visitors are cow or human; Homo sapiens are admonished to exit immediately). Then, stationed in front of the Fells Point post office on Tax Day, a costumed Holstein-Friesian was doling out Milk Duds (in something that looked like the old box, no less) to puzzled passersby.

The handsome constructivist-inspired site doesn't divulge what's going on, but promises news on the 5th of May: stay tooned.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Unbuilt Moscow

From the 1930s to the early 1950s: Unrealised projects in Muscovite architecture; Aeroflot Building [above], D. Chechulin (1934). [via Design Observer]

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On manliness

Contrary to what you might first think, pragmatism is a philosophy, not the dismissal of philosophy. And Teddy Roosevelt was more a philosopher than he knew. His advocacy of manliness reflects the difficulties of pragmatism and tells us something about our situation today. We have abandoned—not reason for manliness like the pragmatists, nor manliness for reason like their tender-minded opponents—but both reason and manliness. We want progress without a rational justification and without the manliness needed to supply the lack of a justification.
From Harvey Mansfield's "The manliness of Theodore Roosevelt," in The New Criterion; his essay is excerpted from A Modest Defense of Manliness, forthcoming from the Yale University Press (2006).

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

House concurrent resolution No. 29

A visit to the National Gallery

Until yesterday's visit to the exhibition of Stuart portraits in the NGA's west building, the last time I spent as much time with a Gilbert Stuart portrait was in an elementary school classroom watched over by the stern visage of George Washington. In a pre-modernist time—the presidential portraits are largely from the early nineteenth century—the paintings do not reveal as much of the artist as we have come to expect: the works are about the man or woman sitting for the portraitist, resulting in a heightened verisimilitude for the painting's subject. This visual verisimilitude dovetails with the intimacy we feel for these historical figures, having grown up with their stories, learning and reading about them in history class, in our touristic endeavors, and in private scholarship; the effect of these visual and psychological echoes are reinforced further by the realization that these are recognizable American physiognomies (one can easily imagine James and Dolley Madison as a couple, and can ascribe a sort of effeteness to the man). They're cool and fun to sit with.

In addition, the paintings are far more vivid than I remembered (poor reproductions? colors faded from fluorescent lights?), and extremely well-done. The excellent portrait of Thomas Jefferson [inset] is posted to mark the 262nd anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth, today.

Andy Goldsworthy's Roof (2005) is terrific: installed on the terrace (and a little of the building's interior) on the left as one enters the NGA's east wing, I was transported back to the study of analytic geometry, where a plane intersects one of the conic sections (an hyperboloid? a paraboloid?): the plane of the window to the terrace cuts some of the domes in two; they are virtually continued on the other side. "Orderly and witty," notes the Post.

Rushed, I didn't have as much time as I'd have liked to visit with the Kertész photographs—the earliest ones (sample, but not one of the best) are but a few square inches in area—and recent acquistions from the print collection; they're worth a return visit.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Political art

Even good political art tends to be tedious (say, Hans Haacke, for instance): no matter how smart it is, I tend to want to repair to the bar. And, of course, most of what passes for political art is a simple declaration of one's beliefs—often pacifist, or anti-Bush—and that generally looks like a bumper sticker, or not really art at all.

Duchamp's Fountain
But the best political art illuminates the, ahem, power structure and how we relate to it: think Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917), a urinal that was submitted to frustrate the Society of Independent Artists—Duchamp himself was a member—a group whose slogan was "No juries, no awards." The artist magically transformed a simple, utilitarian object into a conundrum and a legendary artwork with the simple act of submitting the "fountain" with the required entrance fee: this elegant idea is a remarkable and art-historical twofer, elevating the ordinary and exploding the power structure of the artists' world itself.

ONT Franken
Julia Kim Smith, Francesca Danieli, and David Beaudouin have produced a short film with similar staying power: entitled One Nice Thing, it implores political partisans from the national party conventions of 2004 to "say one nice thing about" Republicans or Democrats, depending on your political allegiance, and "really mean it." The nine-minute-and-twenty-second short surveys the Democrats and asks them to be nice to Republicans, and vice versa.

The results are far from surprising: you get folks who flat-out refuse to make nice, and folks who say their opponents are potential converts to the cause. Some identify individuals in the opposing party whom they admire (Lincoln is a favorite). Another tack involves citing family members who do not share political affiliations with the interviewee, and so on. Thoughtful answers are rare and, as a result, surprising (the best one? probably from former congressman and knucklehead MSNBC conservative pundit Joe Scarborough!). What results is not so much a list of what's right about politicians and politics as it is an illumination of what's wrong with us, a meditation on why we personally can't find common ground with our political opponents, a laser-like focus on how political opinion attaches to each individual's identity.

What do our political leanings, our political speech say about us? About others? One Nice Thing suggests that we carve out a little bit of time to think about those questions, and that each partisan might profit from this redemptive place. The film was an official selection of the 2005 Sedona International Film Festival & Workshop, as well as for the upcoming 2005 Maryland Film Festival. ONT deserves your support and some quiet contemplation: say one nice thing about your opponents today!

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Dining inside (and around) the beltway

It's awfully hard getting a good meal in Baltimore (cue violins). But, thanks to Tyler Cowen, economist at George Mason University, proprietor of Marginal Revolution (the best economics blog for non-economists), and author of an annual Ethnic Dining Guide, we're only a short car ride to a reliable, delicious, and healthy meal.

On Saturday, Cindy and I made our way to Minerva, an Indian place in Dr. Cowen's backyard, located in a Fairfax strip mall in the shadow of GMU. The swanky, cavernous, and boisterous dining room was decorated with an oversized chandelier, and the food was delicious. The guide is worth printing out and consulting for your next trip south.

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City of God versus Sin City

stills from City of God

I watched Fernando Meirelles's City of God (2003) over the weekend and loved it, as just about everyone else who saw it at the time did. It's the story of semi-organized crime in a Rio de Janeiro slum (that goes by the titular 'City of God'), a shantytown district built by the government to segregate the poor away from the touristic city. Guns are everywhere; in a country that frets over the effect of violence in its teenage population, it is chastening to note that, in Cidade de Deus, these worries extend to pre-teens (and, really, pre-pre-teens). The film is beautiful, highly stylized, and plays on Brazil's eroticism.

A question: what is the difference between City of God and Sin City (reviewed, kind of, here)? SC is well-regarded, to be sure, but there is a great deal more hand-wringing about the fictional city's violence in comparison to that depicted in CoG. Some may lean on the pathos of the dead-enders in Rio, and they may have a point, but I think that the two films are closer then the Sin City's detractors admit.

Two other weekend movies: George Stevens's A Place in the Sun (1951) and Claude Chabrol's Fleur du mal (2003). The older film, a noirish melodrama based on Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, is notable for Liz Taylor's first adult performance; eighteen-year-old actress shimmers: it is impossible to avert your eyes when she is onscreen. Chabrol, the French Hitchcock, is going through the motions in his sixty-fifth (!) film: the intriguing plot about the intermarriage of two families across generations doesn't hang together in the end.

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Clockwise from top left:

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Monday, April 11, 2005


Darger detail
I share a birthday with really minor luminaries, including David Cassidy, Dave Letterman, and Claire Danes, but now I learn that I also was born on the same day as outsider artist, well-read pop culture hound, and possible serial killer Henry Darger. The American Folk Art Museum is celebrating the 113th anniversary of Darger's birth by reading from the last, unbound volume of his typewritten magnum opus, In the Realms of the Unreal. (Many large scans are available here.)

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Victoria Reynolds's meat paintings

Three findings on hotels

front desk at Casa Camper
It looks as if it’s time for a visit to Barcelona. Although my last visit there resulted in a picked pocket, I’m willing to risk a shameful visit to the local police station for a stay at Casa Camper (spectacular website, by the way), a design-y dream in the Catalan capitol’s El Raval district.
Adjacent to the hotel is FoodBall, the shoe manufacturer’s new health-food shop which features simple, reasonably priced natural rice balls (without additives, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetic manipulation) that come with condiments and are served in natural or biodegradable wrappers (see this nice overview in Food & Wine).

Hotel interiors were designed by architect Fernando Amat, owner of Vinçon, Spain's answer to Terence Conran. Foodball whimsy is due to Martí Guixé (slogan: "brilliantly simple and curiously serious") in collaboration with the Camper Innovation Centre Son Fortesa. And then, of course, there are always the shoes.
Invisible Hotel, a Greek conference and exhibition promises a little more than it can deliver, at least for those of us unable to attend the actual forum in Athens (from 19 through 23 April). The site, although a little obtuse, is worthy if only to take in the event's smart logo: portions of the letterforms are rendered invisible.

Next up: Project Fox, a collaborative effort to support and promote young artists and designers by marrying the talent to the developers, is celebrating its big launch of their Copenhagen hotel, club, and recording studio this month—for just about the entire month. From the website, "Project FOX brings together young artists, designers, cooks, hotel industry professionals and managers to develop and implement their own ideas." Check out the room thumbnails above, and then click through and gape. I never thought of visiting Denmark until now.

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Cathy Daley


Stumbled across this the other day at MoCo Loco, a really nice resource dedicated to modern contemporary design (and one I find especially useful for following the world of modernist pre-fab housing): they’ve branched out, after a fashion, and devote a little of their bandwidth to Art MoCo, tracking a little slice of the art world from a MoCo perspective.

Anyhow, they've introduced me to Cathy Daley, a Toronto-based artist who turns fifty this year, and whose oil-pastel on vellum drawings, based on feminine fashion forms, are extraordinary. The heaviness of the black gives them weight, but they're ethereal and sexy at the same time. Much of the writing on her work (“post-feminist ambivalence toward fashion”) is a load of bollocks: she’s a terrific artist, period. I’m posting a selection of thumbnails; do click through for greater detail.

Viktor & Rolf: Colors

Fashion designers Viktor Horsting & Rolf Snoeren (AKA Viktor & Rolf) are smart and successful. The duo began by walking the line between art and fashion, mounting high-concept runway shows—at once layering ten outfits on a single model, and slowly undressing her à la couture Matryoshka nesting dolls , or "launching" a perfume in a bottle that could not be opened—but they've proven able capitalists, branching out with prêt-à-porter lines since 2000. (I was astonished when I first saw their 2002 collection—spring RTW to be found here—video-projected as part of Skin Tight: The Sensibility of the Flesh at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art last summer: the beautiful and outlandish layering of collars in their couture line was particularly striking.)

V&R Mantua
Colors, their recent curatorial outing for the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, "examines relationships between colors, feelings and function in historical and contemporary costume" and is organized around rooms devoted to fashion of several colors or color combinations: black, blue, "multicolored," red and yellow, and white. Metropolis Tokyo considers the "blue room" in their review:
Often considered a noble color, blue, as the exhibition notes, has been linked to everyone who is anyone from the Virgin Mary to the French royal family. An 18th-century blue "Mantua" dress (the type often depicted in paintings of the time by Gainsborough), is typically Rococo, its delicate silver braiding highlighted against the soft, light tone of the fabric.
Luckily, the show will make a stop in NYC by year’s end (2 December 2005 through 9 April 2006) at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The exhibition is a collaboration with the Kyoto Costume Institute that draws upon KCI’s extensive collection of 11,000 objects—be sure to file away their way-cool digital archive, a collection primarily consisting of Western costume and related materials (such as underwear and accessories) from the eighteenth century to the present.

Postscript: The current issue of Index features an interview with V&R (unfortunately, not available on the web, but buy a $15 subscription instead).

Friday, April 08, 2005

Baby portraits

From Flickr; see all of these crazy photos
by clicking through.

Shamelessly filched from BoingBoing (under "Moment of random Flickr zen"), this contemporary portrait looks so much like ones from my youth that it's eerie.

More babies from the Library of Congress, Veer, Marilyn Sholin's "avant-garde" portraits, and Jack Hand.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Amateur design

8th Weather Squadron AAF

When I was a kid, it was generally easy to happen upon embroidered patches from U.S. military uniforms, either when visiting relatives (nearly all of my uncles had served in the armed forces, most in the USN) or at surplus stores. Via Coudal comes the WWII Squadron Patch website, which makes a great deal of Disney and Warner Brothers participation in the design of aircraft nose art, some of which migrated into individual squadron insignias. More interesting, however, is rampant evidence of amateur contributions to the designs: there are hundreds of patches and logos documented throughout this home-grown site, across two Army Air Force pages (here and here); Navy and Marine Corps aviation; plus Flying Tigers, allies, and others.