Friday, July 31, 2009

More on Jane Bennett, from thingtheory blog:

"it would be interesting to compare Bennett’s perception of the trash-assemblage with Thoreau’s famous description of the thawing sand-bank at the end of Walden (in the chapter “Spring”, see paragraph [6]: Both are visions of the dense web of material forces and flows that entangle the human and the non-human. And both are highly aestheticized. But the aesthetic discourse structuring Thoreau’s visual perception is obviously vastly different from Bennett’s. I doubt very much that Thoreau would see in a pile of garbage what she does."

"This might be a long way of going about asking a more general question about how central a certain aesthetic sensibility is for a “theory of things.” Is this how academics animate the inanimate? What are the consequences of aestheticizing things in different manners? Bill Brown is explicit in harkening back to the revolutionary aesthetics of the historical avant-garde. Gell on the other hand, with his theory of “captivation”, seems to see things more through the “Sunday painter” aesthetics of the bourgeois dilettante."

"Beyond visual art, we might also think about the role of writing and literature in our engagement with “things.” Bennett writes that, “like Thoreau, I hope to enhance my receptivity to thing-power by writing about it, by giving an account of the thing-ness of things that might enable me to feel it more intensely” (349)"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

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I rediscovered Jane Bennett recently, and ordered her book 'The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics':

"As Bennett describes it, enchantment is a sense of openness to the unusual, the captivating, and the disturbing in everyday life. She guides us through a wide and often surprising range of sources of enchantment, showing that we can still find enchantment in nature, for example, but also in such unexpected places as modern technology, advertising, and even bureaucracy. She then explains how everyday moments of enchantment can be cultivated to build an ethics of generosity, stimulating the emotional energy and honing the perceptual refinement necessary to follow moral codes. Throughout, Bennett draws on thinkers and writers as diverse as Kant, Schiller, Thoreau, Kafka, Marx, Weber, Adorno, and Deleuze. With its range and daring, The Enchantment of Modern Life is a provocative challenge to the centuries-old ''narrative of disenchantment,'' one that presents a new ''alter-tale'' that discloses our profound attachment to the human and nonhuman world."

Bennett lectured at a 3-part symposium on 'The Sublime' at the Tate alongside other thinkers and artists who spoke about "the ecological sublime, experiencing the sublime, sublime bodies, and the sublime and the politics of terror"; Bennett's lecture can be heard here.

This lecture relates to many of Vivian Sobchak's poetic writing on the gaze of the inanimate, as well as her phenomenological readings of film, photography, writing, and other modes of expression, particularly her essay on Krzysztof Kieślowski's Decalogue' films. Bennett's idea of "thing-power" and Sobchak's mention of a "practio-inert" and Lacan's story of the sardine can also link back to Tuesday's finding of Annie Carey.
found: Katy Moran, Nigel Cooke, Matthew Monahan

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

you will be mine


Just now I made a typo in the title line, saying "you will be mind", and in fact I want the mind of Annie Carey, who wrote 'Autobiographies of a Lump of Coal; A Grain of Salt; A Drop of Water; A Bit of Old Iron; and A Piece of Old Flint", as revealed to me in a found review:

"...The Autobiography of a Lump of Coal is something different. It is neither satirical nor reverent; it is not a promotional gimmick...Carey was up to something a little subtler than her fellow authors. Like Natural Theology and the Transcendentalism that had appeared in its wake, Carey’s concern was to get us to reflect upon the divinity of all creation, to understand everyday wonders unjustly made contemptible by their familiarity. What better way than by giving voice to the voiceless?"
found: Sarah Pickering

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found: Lou Beach, Glenn Sorensen, Allison Schulnik

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

found (again): Dick Tracy comics supporting cast (source)

Thanks to a reissuing of thick volumes of Dick Tracy comics in the late 80s, I remember my pre-teens being filled with these characters, their razor-sharp features and queasy capacity for violence.
found: The Figural at Standpoint Gallery:

(Nick Carrick)

"Surface – Image - Event presents painters working with emergent figuration – whose primary engagement is with the act of painting, out of which a subject emerges; paintings where representation is an event rather than an illustration. The figural (opposed by Deleuze to the figurative) captures the ‘sensation’ of the object, which to succeed must retain its indeterminacy and openness. Conceptually and formally, these five painters continually address the boundaries between abstraction and representation, materiality and illusion." (source)

Roland Barthes in 'Pleasure of the Text':

“Figuration is the way in which the erotic body appears (to whatever degree and in whatever form that may be) in the profile of the text. . . . Representation, on the other hand, is embarrassed figuration, encumbered with other meanings than that of desire: a space of alibis (reality, morality, likelihood, readability, truth, etc.).”

(Andy Putland)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

found: unknown, Peter Fischli/David Weiss, Gerhard Richter

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beth Gibbons is one of my favorite people. I've listened before to this only audio interview I can find, and since she's "known" (whatever that means) to not want to be interviewed, there is that level of patient prodding from the interviewer despite Beth's exterior layer of flippant evasions. When she does talk about herself, she says speaking is difficult and frustratingly slippery to the point of being basically useless (my elaboration). Her tactic is not to be vacantly charming in the face of generalizing questions, but to throw out the bare, basic language like dumping a pile at someone's feet - you asked for it so here you go. Waiting for room and time to say something worth more, but first this dumping, the basic stuff you have to get through in the interview machine. She refuses to use much energy (in voice tone and elaboration) on that basic stuff because its too basic (meaning no real investment in open conversation has been proven or shown by the interviewer). The interview content itself is not that interesting, but to me, thinking about how much time I've spent with Beth's voice, and hearing her nervousness and truncated way of speaking gives her performances even more tension.

I particularly like what she says about limitless communication:

"There's not only emotion in the way you sing but also in what you sing. That way I can compensate it. When I was twenty I did that in a very extreme way: I was a big fan of the Cocteau Twins and especially of singer Liz Fraser who used non-existing words in her lyrics. Just like Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance still does. I thought that was fantastic: searching for the ultimate emotion, not bothered by something as limiting as vocabulary! So I've had a wordless phase and that's still not entirely over: what I sing is not always literally meant that way and you can hear that in the way it is sung." (Beth Gibbons in a text interview)

There is a thorough review of the latest Portishead record 'Third' at The New Yorker.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Direct Line to youtube Heaven through Nina Hagen

The very first time I watched anything on youtube, I followed a link from a friend during the pre-facebook days of myspace, and it led to the video for Nina Hagen's '1985 Ekstacy drive'. Petite yet angular, all pointed toes and twisting fingers and long legs, Nina is a 1980s sci-fi villain-vixen. Hot-pink hair in 1960s Rocker style, high-winged eye-liner from a 1950s alien race, a T-shirt, polka-dotted leggings, a bright-green frilly bikini bottom riding deliberately high, a cheap fanny pack, and a ghetto-blaster. Nina dances around without much effort, as if faking it to make it, but her electric appearance overrides any idea of dance quality judgement. Somehow the song itself reminds me of music from John Carpenter's 'Big Trouble In Little China'.

I'd witnessed Nina Hagen only twice before this particular sighting, and for the same video: the first time on Canadian music video show 'The Wedge' with Sook-Yin Lee, and the second time on 'Beavis & Butthead', wherein their incredulousness and comments nailed the video's crappy horror-film editing, dying electronic voice effects, and lack of purpose. The video was for "Herman" and features Nina's heart-shaped, silent-film-era features staring like Medusa in a costume mixing Wonder Woman with a bit of 'Rocky Horror'. To me the highlights include Nina flashing her unshaved armpits, and the point where the song stops, a closeup of Nina’s face superimposed cheaply with a skull, while inverted toy guns hang from her earlobes. Her voice becomes the electronic drone of some cheesy cult-horror broadcast-brainwash.

A friend once described Nina's voice, saying simply "it blows". Despite that one-dimensional analysis, it does, but in multi-dimensional ways, making it function purposefully rather than lie flat and bloated, and don't forget Nina's training in Opera. Nina uses her voice in a way I've always thought of as related closely to horror-film slapstick (think an 'Evil Dead' tone imbued upon the final girl of 'The Descent'), ignoring the siren voices of the 80s icons and using her iconic potential to place her voice and image through an experience not unlike the kind of cliche horror film where the cute heroine comes out the other side (or the other "end") exhausted, drenched, makeup and hair melted and limp, shocked eyes smeared with ruined liner and mascara. Nina-icon is continually on that other side, and her incredibly comedic and trashy looks and sounds over the years are an archive of the potentiality of her voice and body. In her native German, her voice plunges into theatrical textures, which she punctuates by high-octives and creaturely sounds, sticking out her tongue in an belch-like expletive which transcends the dull limitations of the cliche rock goddess. She pushes her cat-like features into ghoulish, rubbery expressions and speak-sings in demonic growls, ruining any complacent labeling of her as icy punk goddess or uber-cute German Cyndi Lauper. Her quick, sharp, gouging eyes bulge in hypnotized shock, mirroring back our stares with exaggerated reclaims to the Nina-image.

In her performance of 'Auf'm bahnhof zoo', a song with bizarrely pop-70s tones, her vocal powers seem at their highest and are more hypnotizing in their harshness and climactic shrieks and inverse-sublimity.

Her version of 'Ziggy Stardust' is one of the funniest shipwrecks of 80s concert footage, yet with the same odd attractiveness and alien timing as her best Gorgon theatrics.

Sing It This Time Please - Elaine Stritch's recording of "The Ladies Who Lunch" (1970)

In my pre-teens I'd really started to cultivate a love of being an accidental fan of late-night/garage sale/library bin cast-offs, as the electrical charge of unwittingly initiating, experiencing, and archiving them gave a sense of personal agency galaxies away from the passive feeling of popular TV and anticlimactic video new releases. Wee hour old movies on TV were so sluggish in tone and so dryly funny that I became helplessly hypnotized. Of movies of the 60s and 70s, the problems in tone and narrative which I used to arrogantly dismiss a few years ago became entire worlds of affect, threaded together with all manner of failed hipness, lagging filler, and dazzling sleaze.

The finding of a record in the public library which included popular songs from well-known musicals (mainly recorded in the 70s and 80s) turned into my introduction to 'Wilkommen', 'Send in the Clowns', ‘What I Did For Love’, and most vividly, 'The Ladies Who Lunch' from the musical 'Company'. There is a particular delicacy and sincerity to the orchestral sweep and cheapened harpsichord sound of 1970s theatrical music. Combined with the sweet, croaking and creaking voice of Elaine Stritch and you have an abrasive and catchy hybrid. Think of the theme to Disney's 'Candleshoe' mixed with 'Don't Sleep In The Subway', but without the angelic singing voice of Petula Clark. 'The Ladies Who Lunch' has an everyday sadness, exhaustion, and swooping climax which becomes cathartic. And as the first-listening brain muddles words and lyrics towards an interesting collection of voice and word textures and their odd associations, the lyrics "another long exhausting day" combines with "Mahlers" but the meaning attaches to "molars", making the Stritch-maw a toothy-yawn; "brilliant zinger" combines with "not to move" and "stinger" and also "singer", placing Stritch in the aggressive role of a songstress paralyzer, and she gives a great arched-arc of squawk, like a canopy of heart-monitor/musical-bar lines/veins simultaneously fuelled and filled with alcohol-tinged venim; and the end of the song, as she hauls up each corny horn-voice bleat of "rise!", her voice becomes more and more gravelly as if sticking it to the platitudes of theatrical finales. Stritch's squawk is filled with emotion. Little did I know then, that this recording originated from its own marathon of exhaustion and dread of failure.

A recent youtube search for Stritch's rendition of 'The Ladies' came up with scenes from a 1970 documentary of the recording of 'Company'. The recording of 'The Ladies' begins with a voiceover introducing the poignant mood of 'The Ladies' with footage of Stritch in a recording studio, resembling Joanne Woodward as the drunken mother in 'Gamma Ray Effects in Man in the Moon Marigolds' (my first stab at locating the blond, frazzled, sometimes drunken, maternal type who turned up often, at least to my then-knowledge, in both musicals, sitcoms and late-night movies). Stritch sweeps her arms as if sculpting the size of the voice she is singing, and the voiceover says "and if you had used the rehearsal versions, none of that strength would have been displayed".

In the documentary, the power of Stritch's odd voice stuffed into the broadway musical genre is called "flacid", among other insults, incredibly, by the director Thom Shepard, as it becomes clear that Stritch had to do multiple takes to get the final, abrasvie beauty of 'The Ladies'. Stritch and others include voiceovers as the clip progresses, speaking incredulously at the relentlessness of direction alongside the growing exhaustion of Stritch's voice and patience. As the recording staff and director melt and slump more and more into black pits with every take, Stritch describes her horrified awareness and humiliation at failing. "What, does it stink or something?!" She finally outright asks for an ultimatum, a tactic belonging to the space created by frustration and impasse, a point where no longer knowing one's place and purpose is forced to scramble for lost position, demanding 'ok where do I stand?' Stritch tries to describe the feeling of not being able to explain herself, her efforts, her willingness to be directed, and during a playback she is so exhausted and embarrassed that she sings and yells along to herself in a squawk-scream in that point where self-disgust trumps the dread of the criticism to follow. It's an incredibly effective scene of the feeling of losing control when control is what you thought you needed to pull something off, and where coming apart at the seams is so immediately harrowing and personal in such a public way, even while others won't necessarily empathize with the same extremes. "I know they're right, and I can't do it." As the takes continue to fail, Stritch's voiceover says gently "you just can't quit halfway there". As the director finally suggests, as diplomatically as possible, that Elaine try again in a day or two, you can feel, smell, and breathe the exhaustion of everyone in that room.

As the clip moves towards the next day, here we see the director nodding and slowly smiling as Stritch nails the song. The clip ends with a voiceover explaining intense feelings for Stritch's accomplishments and her role in strengthening the emotion of the entire documentary, and I feel as if I've been watching something that has subtly and quietly deflated and defused any swan-song/Cindarella story of false starts and overtired tantrums and nerve-wracking performances swimming around the most viewed online universe today.

'Solid Potato Salad' aka 'your skin looks kind of pallid' (1944)


In this clip, three actresses called The Ross Sisters sing a bouncy, jaunty song about potato salad, their voices congealed within that specific 1940s style of singing that sounds underwater, organ-like, syrupy and rubber. They're wearing short-shorts (like tight pink bandages) and cropped tops, their hair in pigtails, giving them that hollywood music farm-girl-modeling-underwear look. Then they finish their song and begin their acrobatics. I start to think of 'The Red Shoes' technicolor garishness combined with the deleted 'Exorcist' scene of Regan crawling down the stairs with her body flipped backwards, both insect-like and through a slowness of special effects, appearing as though she is moving down the steps like fingers across piano keys. Although The Ross Sisters make this Regan scene look clunky and fake.

There is an immediate sense that the limbs and torsos of The Ross Sisters' bodies are moving on their own, with a separate consciousness while their heads smile, swing back and forth, and wait. That these women can fold themselves over in so many ways that they literally become spectators to multiple views of their own body is a superhuman feat and concrete fantasy of proprioception. Through these movements, their bodies appear so strange that they resemble insects, snakes, and even squids, bringing to mind the glimpsed and the serpentine in H.P. Lovecraft's 'Dagon'. At one point, one of the Ross Sisters bends over backwards like a worm to crawl in and out of a green box, and later, picks up an apple in her mouth, then stretches back up. These scenes feel so unrelated and alien to the hokey nature of the clip's world that they break some kind of "fourth wall".

The way in which these contortion routines break this "fourth wall" is very specific, attached to the 1940s style of hollywood musical machinery, otherwise the routines would not be that remarkable within today's film effects and choreographed seamlessness. As soon as the Ross Sisters begin to perform, the world within the video is threatened, and any learned meaning ascribed to the tone, genre, music, and images of 1940s musicals otherwise sealed in sleepy earlier access is also threatened. These breaks also allow new encounters with the 1940s musical, tied to desires, anxieties, and preoccupations like dreams do.
found: Annie Hémond Hotte, Silvia B., Tommy Forbes

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marianne Faithful in 'Made in the USA'. (see my earlier mention of Marianne)

from Erich Kuersten:

"For example, the very same second you realize that the hot blond waif sitting in the background at the bar looks a bit like a really young Marianne Faithful, she suddenly starts singing "As Tears Go By" - not lip syncing, but singing right there, a capella, trilling her voice in that way Faithfull does, gently living and feeling every word of the song, expressing some longing situation we have no idea about (relationship troubles with Mick, perhaps?) but the mood of wistful sadness spreads out in all directions and the bar quiets down, only to resume babbling about nonsense a few seconds before she finishes. Compared to this bit of brilliant emotionalism from a rising starlet of British rock royalty, Karina and Godard's wordplay schitck suddenly seems tired, yesterday's model, trying on being a bitchy diva (the host instead of the contestant on Europe's Next Top Model) for size."

Also, here's my favorite theme song of all time, from 'The Girl on a Motorcycle', starring Marianne:

found: Nick van Woert, 'the thing', unknown

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

'Merge 2' reviewed by Andrea Williamson

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Andrea Williamson's article on my group show with Tia Halliday and Erik Olson - 'Merge 2' - appeared this morning in FFWD magazine! You can read the article here.

More images from 'Merge 2'.