Monday, May 30, 2011

Bag, by Hendrik Kerstens

This is a photo. Kerstens has a series of awesome photos of this model, who is his daughter (and judging from his portfolio, a remarkably patient woman). The modern iterations of old Dutch costume are continuously witty and evoke '60s fashion and photography at the same time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"We create because we gather together."

Speaking frankly, I create because I'm sort of a chauvinist loner. Sure, I have created in teams, when I'm forced to, like group projects or orchestra or something. But participating in a group for its own sake never felt exciting. Some people get into a group and share ideas and they're like "OMFG WE'RE IN A GROUP SHARING IDEAS WE ARE AWESOME." And then they call a school assembly or a company-wide meeting to form an even bigger group and tell everyone how awesome their group experience was and SHARE SHARE SHARE. And I was always the loner in the back row clapping politely and thinking in my head "wtf is your deal?" I had an asshole-ish running commentary in my mind about the speakers that was difficult to shut off even as my better self tried to pay attention to the speaker. I'm sure if I had shared my asshole-ish thoughts more often I would have found a like-minded group of other assholes and we would have shared and stuff too, but I didn't and I ended up in a circle of friends who were more absurdist than snarky. This is why, even though I don't fear public speaking, it is still annoying when people try to reassure me that the audience is rooting for me, the speaker, to succeed, because I know that that simply isn't true. Transitioning into a reasonable adult who actually does root for the person on stage and empathize with their efforts has taken time but has mostly been a success, and I found myself able to test this progress at last night's Pecha Kucha. As I was very much PMS-ing last night (sorry, TMI) this progress was REALLY put to the test.

They started doing these Pecha Kucha nights in Tokyo. The name is Japanese for something like, "come together and share," or something. Then someone brought it to Charleston. There's a gathering, you pay to get in, and there are about 10 speakers who give 6.5-minute presentations about a topic very loosely related to creativity. I'm unclear on if they're asked to speak or if they volunteer. They project a slide show while they speak and during intermission you can buy doughnuts and beer. (I went over for an ice-cream-doughnut sandwich and they were all out, which is probably for the best). Unfortunately I didn't stay for the last several speakers because, while I was enjoying the presentations, I began to feel extremely sorry for myself as always happens on that particular day of the month.

After we spent about 2 hours of milling around a field, boozing and people-watching, listening to DJ's Cassidy & the Kid (fun), the sun finally set and the slides began.

The first speaker was Karalee Nielsen, a resturanteur who started a group that operates Poe’s Tavern, two Taco Boy locations, Monza, and Closed for Business. She focused on the creative, constructive part of running and opening a restaurant and explained how her team worked. It was cool to see some of the faces and processes behind the restaurants, since I go out to eat as much for food as for entertainment. Now I've got more to visualize. Nielsen spent lots of time graciously thanking her crew, which made me feel good, though I'd have been interested to hear more about some of the problems they solved and what it's like to run a restaurant.

Next up was Ethan Jackson. Let me explain: back in high school when I took the Spanish AP test there were numbered categories of how good your written essay section was: excellent (5), good (4) and so on. But there was one category beneath "poor (2)" which was, inexplicably, "nonsense poetry (1)." I have always remembered that phrase and wondered, first, why it was beyond bad and second, what the examples of this could possibly look like. I must have missed some critical information (I couldn't hear everything) because as Ethan Jackson got going and the words he was saying failed to mesh into coherence I thought, "this is it. This is nonsense poetry." But I enjoyed what I saw. The introductory blurb he gave the MC was basically about what a terrible person he was-- I enjoyed that and very much identified with it-- then he lanked onto the stage (if that isn't a verb it should be) and proceeded to have fun in front of a slide show of surfers, motorcycles, hip hop stars, RunDMC Adidas, Kathryn Hepburn on a skateboard, and finally his coworkers in a time-lapse stop-motion video, also having fun. Going back and reading his bio today on the Parliament site it's starting to make more sense. He has worked in advertising for a bunch of companies in NY and Spain, then moved back to Colombia, SC and works at a firm called Lunch + Recess, while serving on the boards of several organizations including the Indie Grits Film Festival (see my post on Toro y Moi). I think his presentation was all stuff that inspires him. Again, it was difficult to hear everything he was saying.

Then Kate and Lindsay Nevin talked about opening a creative "commons" building at 1600 Meeting Street. I've driven past it dozens of times and wondered about it sitting empty. I always assumed it was condemned or something but they showed photos of the inside and it is quite lovely. They want to put architects and designers and people in offices in there, so it's probably something I could never afford or use but it sounds neat. They talked about how there is a "creative corridor" running up Meeting/East Bay area and showed a map highlighting places like Santi's, Taco Boy, Tatooed Moose and some galleries and design places on mid-lower Meeting. I understand gentrification and what it takes to make an area a good investment. Yes, it made sense. But in the back of my mind the map read like outposts of where white kids like to hang out in the middle of a predominantly black area of town, being shown to a predominantly white audience in a predominantly white part of town. Like we were plotting a takeover or something. I hope that as the "creative corridor" idea takes off investors and enthusiasts are able to appreciate what is already there in the neighborhood and that it is revitalized for everyone in it. Of course the 1600 Meeting project sounds exciting and I'm certain that's not at all what they intended the map to be. They also mentioned that the idea was formed several Pecha Kucha's ago, which was cool.

Hailey Wist, whose documentary film The Garden Summer is soon to be released, talked about how she and a group of five other young people started a farm in Arkansas (I think) as a response to the food-crisis feeling after watching such films as Food, Inc. They grew crops sustainably, sold them at a farmer's market, and used the money to buy and eat locally. She showed slides of them on the farm and a teaser for the film. It looked, honestly, like heaven.

Mary Mac McFadden identified herself as a designer, even though she has a degree in architecture. My dad is an architect and has a real problem with interior designers and people who aren't architects referring to themselves as architects and doing an architect's work, mainly because of the qualification issues. So I'm familiar with architectural anti-designer rants. That's why it was novel and enlightening to see McFadden identify herself as a designer and discuss design as a creative process that spans many professions.

Then Yve Assad and Will Fulford, who founded TheFastandDirty.com, an online flat-track motorcycle racing magazine, explained the history of flat-track racing while three riders drove around the perimeter of the park and entered the stage area with a puff of dry ice. They showed film of people racing in the '20s on hand-laid wooden tracks with no brakes, no throttle (just "off" and "full speed go") and no protective gear save leather "helmets." When they crashed, if the collision didn't kill them, they'd get so many deep splinters from the track that they'd die of infection, because it was the freaking 1920s. So they moved racing to flat dirt tracks instead. Plus, the wooden tracks were a pain in the ass to build.

I left while Carolyn Evans, author of Forty Beads; The Simple Sexy Secret for Transforming Your Marriage, was speaking. She probably has awesome advice, though once I heard the name of the book I couldn't stop thinking about anal beads. "Dang, that's a lot of anal beads," I thought. She was in fact referring to her birthday gift to her husband of 40 beautiful antique glass Venician beads, along with the promise of daily sex for 40 days (which she promised drunkenly and then thought "oh crap I cannot do this" the next morning). In the anecdote her husband asks, "What am I supposed to do with these beads?" Evans left this teaser as a mystery so we'd read the book, but in my mind I immediately answered, "Put them in your butt." Since this book and method is so popular, though, I am guessing that is not the correct answer. Plus you don't really use loose artisanal glass beads for that. And is it just me, or would 40 straight days of sex not really be that scary? The only problem I see, assuming you could just do oral some days and give your genitals a rest, would be getting extremely pissed/annoyed at your SO one (or more) of those days and still somehow delivering on the sex. In movies when couples start fighting it's sexy-fighting where all of a sudden they stop yelling and slam themselves, smooshed together kissing, into a wall. Whereas when I fight it's because I'm irritated, petty or angry, and it doesn't lead anywhere except maybe a crying fit or food binge.

And that, for me, concludes Pecha Kucha. I liked it, and even though I was PMS-ing I found that watching presentations as an adult is very different from in high school in terms of mental snark. I felt sort of community-y, a little excited, and more informed about what people in Charleston do, enjoy, hope for, and create. I think I will do it again next time if I can get my ticket before they sell out.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Authenticity, hipsters, copycats

There's a post about authenticity at Thread for Thought that links lots of topics-- hipsters, Native Americans who reclaim imagery, drag queens, Marie Antoinette, the ongoing hip-hop baggy-pants legislative battles, French ladies' hats during German occupation.

Much has been written about dominant cultures appropriating oppressed cultures. Fashion trends like the current "tribal" and "ikat" trends take various cultural elements and re-sell them to Westerners with no context of meaning or history, flippantly turning those idioms into Western ones. Some Native Americans, for instance, reclaim images of old Hollywood cowboys & Indians like feathered headdresses because those images have been appropriated and twisted by an oppressive dominant culture. To put it another way, hip hop culture has also been appropriated to some extent by powerful corporations and white pop culture. Dance moves, phrases, beats and clothes "borrowed from," (but never returned to) hip hop street style have left a sour taste for many people of color who consider themselves a part of that culture.

I think this is a small part of why so many people are angry with hipsters. Hipsters appropriate from everywhere. They're in hot water with cultural studies departments right now for wearing feathered headdresses, championing "ironic racism," and for fetishizing oppressive masculinity. I think part of the reason they do it stems from simple retro styles being back in. The '70s are in, and in the '70s the dominant culture appropriated massively from Native Americans and other cultures.

But hipsters also appropriate from dominant cultures. Anchorman mustaches; unwieldy glasses which, still today, can be seen on white-collar workers and nerds alike; a nostalgia for the '80s that was popularized by Gen-X-ers who glorified their own childhood, but is now seen from people born in the '90s. Lodge/sportsclub decorations and aesthetics, European bicycle culture, white "trailor trash"-y styles. The implication is, all those cultures exist for hipsters to play around with. It implies that those dominant cultures don't know any better because they're older and stodgier, but hipsters are young and playful so they're doing it ironically. For many people from dominant cultures in the U.S., this is the first time they've experienced having their culture appropriated and twisted.

I definitely don't want to compare appropriation of cultures by their oppressors to dominant cultural appropriation by hipsters. First off, hipsters aren't dominant. It's not like aging geeks and good-ole-boy hunting clubs don't have a mouthpiece with which to object. Second, I don't think it's really hurting anyone, just sort of mystifying them and pissing them off. I bring it up because I want to note that the attitude has changed and expanded about what's up for grabs, and that's a new feeling for a lot of people.

What does this have to do with portraiture? Mmmm-- something, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Ladin's Dead... hmm.

This has nothing to do with art, but...
So they finally got Osama bin Laden last night. Not just "got," but killed, shot in the face, and buried unceremoniously at sea with no Muslim rites of burial. I sure don't feel sorry for him, but my first instantaneous thought was, "they didn't have to do it that way. How many people will die, be injured and be raped because we had to show off?" I mean, bin Laden was just a man. Radical Islamist militancy, though, is a movement that will keep growing and I shudder to think of how he was so thoroughly made a martyr and how this is a beginning rather than an end. Ugh.
It is true that in some cases one person's 'terrorist' is another person's 'freedom fighter,' but Bin Laden was just a monster: cult leader, bloodthirsty militant, and power-hungry opportunist. But I learned something incredibly important from him. Watching the videos he released I was floored by how gentle he seemed, so charismatic and thoughtful and spiritual. He had a very empathetic face and it was simply unearthly to look into his face and realize he wanted me dead, that he delighted in death and suffering. It was an important lesson in what evil looks like.

For instance people are always so surprised when a child molester or domestic abuser is proven guilty because, "he's such a nice guy/girl!" My mother and I both experienced blatant sexism from bosses who were well-loved and very friendly. Over the years I have unfortunately become acquainted with more than one sociopath, and while I cannot call those people themselves evil, the effect on those around them is a bitter pill to swallow if you want to believe in humanity. Bad guys don't look like they do in movies: most racists don't look like Colonel Sanders in a white hood; most sexists don't look like the rich guy from Titanic, most killers don't look like Hannibal Lector and that's the problem. They can be likeable people.

I truly hope the world will be a more peaceful place after Osama bin Laden is gone but the skeptic in me is... well, skeptical.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Adele: Rolling in the Deep

I am in love with this singer. Seriously:

I wouldn't call this video "entertaining," so much as "enthralling." And even though I'm sure it wasn't cheap, it is simple. The director, Sam Brown, made a great choice to keep the focus on Adele's actual performance, the voice leaving her body and her facial expression (and she's very good at acting while singing). It's an old-fashioned magical aspect of watching live music and has been largely missing from pop music. I'm tired of female musicians being forced into a convenient box and having their creative talent limited by marketing, so it's nice to see it done right.

My husband remarked the other night, "It's shit that the edgy art you see in Charleston was cutting edge in NY about fifteen years ago." I opened my mouth to join in the complaint-- I was ready!-- but then realized where really contemporary art can be seen in Charleston: interior design. Design has consistently echoed contemporary art about ten years later: in the early sixties, the simple unadorned shapes mimicked the abstract expressionism of Lee Krasner and Alexander Calder from the early fifties. Layouts and wall treatments felt like an upscale gallery: a big white box. In the eighties, everything was supposed to be "sculptural," echoing the pure colors, geometric shapes and industrial feel of seventies minimalists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Frank Stella. Trendy layouts were more like artists' lofts and guerrilla art spaces in "up and coming" New York. Now upscale hipster nests and trendy King Street furniture stores resemble '90s gallery installations. Loose hanging light bulbs; stark, careless-looking furniture layouts that seem to have been culled from here and there (a la struggling artist finding supplies), vignettes culled from "found objects;" artwork casually leaning against a wall, everything "reclaimed." There aren't too many visual arts exhibits that look like this in Charleston (even though it's hard to find one that doesn't in big cities) but the look is very prevalent in interiors.

So, to get back to the video, I noticed that the scenery looked like guerrilla art "happenings" and generally like a series of art exhibits in a trendy gallery. The director knows Adele's audience well: young, interested in the art scene, probably female (as are about 70% of art school applicants) interested in something with depth but probably not willing to sit through a Bruce Nauman-style ordeal.

Of course the whole reason this slung-together installation look was developed in the seventies and eighties was to avoid being an aesthetic. Conceptual artists were rebelling against the art market's iron-fisted control over artists, so they made art that wasn't exactly an object (installation) or wasn't made to be sold (not traditionally beautiful or cool). Those artists are probably super-pissed about how trendy and commodified the look is now, but I think it's kind of funny. Maybe that makes me a capitalist tool? To continue in that vein I'm glad the 50s/60s acoustic "wall of sound" is trendy again. Sure it was co-opted by major labels from musicians seeking to rebel against pop trends but it's still nice to hear it on the radio once in a while.