Thursday, January 10, 2013
I have decided to re-dedicate this blog to music videos, so it may seem incongruous that I'm beginning with a feature film review. However, seeing "Black Narcissus" in all its Technicolor glory last night at Film Forum definitely inspired my inner music video director. From its expressionistic cinematography to its otherworldly production design and meticulous costuming, it's an eye candy lover's dream. And, according to Film Forum's page for the film, this was "experiment in 'composed film' — the 10-12 minutes leading up to the finale were shot, stop-watch in hand, to a pre-composed score," so parts of it are like a long-form music video. I was first introduced to this film a few years ago when my Art Direction teacher at NYU showed us a clip. I always remembered how striking one of the shots was of looking down a Himalayan cliff. This film was made in 1947, entirely on Hollywood film sets and in England, so the effect was created simply by using a painting. As a big fan of practical effects, I much prefer painted backdrops and models over CGI, and they certainly fit well within the beautifully artificial world of directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (aka The Archers). The melodramatic plotline and period acting can come across as silly and outdated. But I recommend drinking Black Narcissus' Kool Aid and immersing yourself in its richly sensuous world. It's a shame not to view DP Jack Cardiff's Oscar-winning cinematography on the big screen, but perhaps watching it on Youtube will inspire you to seek it out in another form.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Over the past week, I have gotten very well acquainted with the work of art pioneer and rebel Fred Forest. Forest is an artist in residence at Residency Unlimited, where I intern. It is fair to say that if I wasn't working where I am, I probably never would have heard of him. This surprised me at first because a lot of his work was on the cutting edge of what would become mainstream in postmodern art. For example, Forest began using a video camera to create art in 1067, before they were used widely in homes. He explored video as a sociological tool, recording the everyday events and rituals of his neighborhood. Throughout his career, he strove to overturn the traditional media power structure. Using media as an instrument to facilitate social interaction, Forest attempted to make television and newspapers participatory. His work has also encompassed institutional critique, focusing in recent years on trying to force museums to be more transparent about purchases. He has earned a reputation as agitator, often critiquing institutions of which he is a part. I suspect that this habit of biting the hand that feeds him is a large part of why I had never heard of him before.
Last week, I participated in Forest's performance at the MoMA, "Invisible Square Meter." This piece was a continuation of his work "The Artistic Square Meter," in which he compared the art market to the real estate market by taking out a fake real estate ad. This work was an homage to the art critic Pierre Restany (a supporter of Forest's) and to the artist Ian Wilson. Forest feels Wilson's work anticipated that of Tino Seghal, but Seghal's work is the one in the MoMA. Forest proposes that the reason why Wilson's work is not recognized is because he lacks the insider status that Seghal has in the art world. "Invisible Square Meter" was not an official, MoMA-sanctioned work and Forest was told by security guard that if he performed inside the museum, they would call the police. So, outside the front doors, in the rain, three other volunteers and I formed a square three times, which Forest would measure and then declare, "The invisible square meter is born!" Creating conceptual art isn't such a bad way to spend a rainy Friday afternoon.
Monday, September 12, 2011
If I could sum up MoMA's "Talk to Me" exhibit in one phrase, it would be that on the above placard. The theme was supposed to be interactive art, but it mainly consisted of finished products behind glass or processes that ended in other places (such as BakerTweet). I expected to feel like a kid in a candy store with this exhibit, but instead I felt like a kid in a china shop. My museum-going buddy described it as "frustrating," and I couldn't agree more. I did enjoy playing with Doodlebuzz, an experimental news feed interface, and listening to the inner thoughts of trees in Tree Listening. And seeing the Metrocard machine in a museum context made me notice for the first time that there is a scrolling "If you see something, say something" LED sign above each and every one (file under: disturbing). Overall though, I would say this exhibit was a big ol' flop. In contrast to the inaccessibility of "Talk To Me," Carlito Carvalhosa's "Sum of Days" is a truly participatory installation in The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium. Its ethereal beauty is what initially lured us in, but the intriguing system of microphones and speakers is what continued to lead us through labyrinth. The microphones record "accidental noise inherent in everyday experience" of visitors walking through the installation, and each day a layer of sound from the day before to create a multi-textured soundscape. In addition to these everyday sounds, musicians will be performing inside the installation periodically and this will be recorded and integrated as well. Ironically, MoMA announces the performance times each day through its Twitter account. It seems that "Sum of Days" is a more compelling and use-friendly interactive experience.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
All the Irene hype made me think of Rihanna's megahit from 2007, "Umbrella." I don't think I've watched the full video since then, but since I'm stuck inside with nothing else to do I've been hitting up You Tube for entertainment. I was struck by how much this video seems to have been influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe (starting at 2:24). I'm not sure whether this was intentional or just a product of the fact that artists have always loved to create abstract forms from the human body. However, the silvery gradation and geometric framing and poses in the video definitely call to mind Mapplethorpe's classically beautiful black and white portraits of Lisa Lyons and other body builders.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Pioneering modern dancer Isadora Duncan once said, "No, I can't explain the dance to you. If I could say it -- I wouldn't have to dance it!" I often think about this quotation and the subtext that goes with it. I think Isadora's quotation carries with it a strong whiff of many artists' disdain towards intellectual analysis of art. In my experience, there seems to be a strong trend (I'm saying a lot, not all) of the artistic world clearly separating itself from critics, scholars, etc. The dominant view seems to be that artists are the ones who suck the marrow out of life, while intellectuals and appreciators are on the sidelines, critiquing things they can never fully understand. And never the twain shall meet!
The fact is, in today's reality, artists have to be able to articulate what their art means in words (or pay someone else to do it). Whether trying to convince investors that a film will bring a return or a cultural council that a site-specific performance piece deserves a grant, artists have to be able to express what their art is about and why it has value in order to get the funding to make it happen. Maybe this is part of the issue - artists see their art as something sacred (as they should), and they don't want to degrade it by associating it with financial transactions. However, mystifying the art-making process and adopting a martyr complex can only go so far. Maintaining the myth of the long-suffering, "starving artist" may promote a feeling of camaraderie through an "us versus them" mentality, but it ultimately does artists and their art a disservice. If you truly believe your art has value, you should put some effort into allowing the world to understand it. Challenging does not have to mean inaccessible. Obfuscating the intent and process behind a work does not add a layer of meaning.
To paraphrase another giant of modern dance, Twyla Tharp, making great art is about showing up to work every day because you never know when the divine nectar will fall. It is true that art has moments of transcendence that can't be expressed in words - that's why we love it. But, in my experience, you can't have those moments without a strong foundation of discipline and dedication. And that is very easy to grasp.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
"Objects made of space substance may be looked upon as things/projections of the (invisible) inner self into the visible world, intuitively perceived/sensed as a manifest phenomenon, real! When the invisible (not yet emerged, inside unknown) becomes visible - seen and perceived - theater magic! This is the fertile ground of the poet, the artist, the seeker."
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Last.fm, one of my favorite tools of procrastination, is littered with comments denouncing certain musical acts for ripping off others. This raises an issue that has intrigued me for a while: the questions of when imitation is acceptable in the arts and when it isn't. I've noticed that in certain art forms, such as film, giving a knowing tip of the hat to another artist is considered okay. It's an homage! And it shows you have good taste. Visual artists have often used obvious "copying" of preceding artists in a subversive and illuminating way. In these mediums, visual references are something that those who are "in the know" hunt for and feel gratified to find. It makes you feel that you are a member of a club and it enhances your understanding of a piece. In pop music however, it seems that most of the time, this sort of behavior is frowned upon. I wonder why. If one of you favorite bands is no longer together, shouldn't it be exciting to have the opportunity to see a similar-sounding band play live? Almost as good as the real thing, right? Apparently most people don't think so. It seems to be considered a sin against rock n roll to "steal" the sound of an older or more obscure musical act. Which is strange because rock n roll is all about stealing -- it began by stealing from the blues, jazz, and other African American musical traditions. Rock artists continue to steal riffs and chord progressions from each other. As Picasso (might have) said, "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal." And as T. S. Eliot pointed out in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," tradition is an essential component to change. Most importantly, if you like something, why worry about it? Rock n roll is best when it's carefree and fun, not putting on airs. It's interesting to learn about influences and important to respect groundbreaking artists. But why should that ruin your enjoyment of another?