Monday, March 26, 2012

Hunger Games

[!!!!!!!V E R Y    M I L D    S P O I L E R   A L E R T!!!!!!!!] 

I saw Hunger Games with my friend who is involved in both Twilight and HG fandom. So when he invited me I guess I was expecting another Twilight. I knew next to nothing about the books except that middle-schoolers liked them a lot and it took place in an imaginary world and somehow involved gladiator-children. I don't like horror movies (mostly), I don't like sci-fi or fantasy genres (unless Harrison Ford, Andre the Giant or Stanley Kubrick is involved) and I'd like to see nothing less than children fighting each other to the death. Basically I wasn't expecting much.

The posters for Hunger Games. I loved how the advertising was so in sync with the film, not working against the idea like that stupid topless Dragon Tattoo poster. The characters are presented just as the kids are presented to the wealthy crowds in the movie: as fighters with a score rather than people. [Image: a collection of 8 similar posters, each with a black background featuring a character's head and shoulders in profile, lit from the side so you only see a sliver of them, like a waning moon. In the black space where their ear would be is the movie logo. Each faces left with the exception of the main character.]

OMG y'all, it was AWESOME. It's a Hollywood movie, to be sure. It's got all that good stuff like action, romance, classic hero plot and production value that makes a movie... easy and dazzling, I guess. But it was unabashedly political too-- and not in a remotely hidden or apologetic way. I left the movie feeling revolted with consumer culture, angry with the rich/poor divide, with a visceral aversion to luxury goods and lifestyles that has lingered, so far, two days after leaving the theater. It is the perfect time for this movie, with Occupy Wall Street, the rising popularity of the derogatory term, "the 1%," the recent spotlight on poverty and labor abuses in the production of luxury Apple products, and rioting from London to Egypt.

An official event where tributes (kids age 12-18) are chosen to participate in the Hunger Games. They're being shown a patriotic film while they wait to see who among them will be sentenced to battle for their life and probably die. The glamorous hostess is so breathlessly pleased, her attitude reminded me of the headmistress at my old school whenever we had groundbreaking type ceremonies honoring a wealthy donor. Only this woman is surrounded by the collective dread of children yet is completely unaffected, coming off as clueless and cruelly indifferent. The attitudes of the rich regarding the poor were so. well. done. [Image: view from about 50 feet above and behind the audience showing the stage flanked by guards and a humongous monitor to the right, with a big grey deco building as backdrop and a red official flag hanging above the stage while the audience stands. It looks like Walker Evans' Appalachian poor showed up in their Sunday best to a Nazi rally.]

It addressed so clearly and simply so many things: how marginalized people instinctively understand that when those in charge say citizens, peace, freedom, our country, they are implicitly excluded, and that their exclusion simply does not occur to the dominant class (what people in social justice call being aware of "privilege." It doesn't mean being a spoiled brat, it refers to the advantages one has because of belonging to any dominant class [white, male, straight, rich, able-bodied, etc] even though one never asked for those advantages and one is usually completely unaware that they have those advantages at all. For example, having access to a computer. Or walking through a parking lot without the thought occurring to take precautions against rape. Or Hollywood always catering to your demographic. It's one of the most difficult social justice issues to explain, point out and accept, and Hunger Games did it effortlessly.) Husband remarked that when we left the theater the movie made real life seem more real.

Stanley Tucci as talk show personality Caesar Flickerman who hosts the pre-Hunger Games fanfare, sort of a cross between Regis Philbin and Oprah. Here he is in a fake ad for Smile Away toothpaste. If you think you're never seen this actor you're wrong. He's been in everything and is so amazing you don't even know it's him. The film used his character's TV show (or whatever it is in the future) to explore the way celebrity and glamor is used to distract, oppress and tell lies. It's a simulacrum in full sail (only MORE SO!!) and something that makes this movie much more modern and relatable than, say, 1984 or other classic socio-political dystopian sci-fi. [Image: a glamorous slick advertisement featuring the head and shoulders of a white man with blue pompadour in a frilly cravat and suit smiling a cheesy bright-white smile in front of a sparkling blue background that suggests flashbulbs or stage lights. Beside his head text reads, DAZZLING! DAZZLING! DAZZLING! and underneath is the photo of a toothbrush with the words Smile Away: Caesar Flickerman. There's more text but it's too small to read.]

*Can't wait to see what other ppl write about re: Hunger Games and racism, sexism, etc.

Edited a week later to add: Other people have, of course, written awesome stuff about Hunger Games. Here's some of what I couldn't wait to read about: s.e. smith's take at TigerBeatDown and Arturo R. García at Racialicious
I'm a little surprised that these writers who highlighted race and disability--and many other bloggers-- ignored the military implications of the movie. Sacrificing our teenagers to keep the entrenched hierarchies secure and treating war like entertainment we can all rally behind seems an obvious parallel. It made me think back to the Liz Miller piece I wrote and my ultimate conclusion about her Picturesque Evacuation Ploy installation (if you can make it that far into the post). Maybe everyone's just sick of writing about war?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Portrait March 20

This portrait is for a client so I'm only posting a detail. [Image: realistic black & white charcoal drawing of a dog showing only its eyes and pointed, perky ears].

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Not A Gallery: #OccupyMuseums

For those unfamiliar with my other posts pointing out alternatives to the gallery system and generally griping about the art market, this guy will fill you in. His granddaughter recently found his lecture notes in a suitcase and published them, and Murdock Pemberton's complaints from the 1920s sound depressingly contemporary.

Because of the art market capitalism on display last week in NY, the Occupy Museums people decided to protest the New York Armory Show by inviting all NY artists to show up outside the Armory and exchange artwork with other artists, the Armory visitors and the public. They requested that artists eschew profit in order to trade or give away artworks. They posted a few videos of the embarrassing public nuisance event on their site [note to Trumpet Guy: you are not helping!]. I do enjoy an equitable artistic trade but it's often not worth the social risk, in terms of rejecting an offer of my own piece for a, frankly, far inferior piece of someone else's. Also bartering is still treating art as a physical commodity. Why not simply exhibit the work?

Mierle Laderman Ukeles performs "maintenance art" at a museum, 1973. [Image: black & white photo of a young white woman cleaning a glass case with a cloth.]

GAH.... I really want to be excited about #OccupyMuseums but they need to get their shit together and provide, or at least propose, some real alternatives to the for-profit gallery system. I mean really, they want me-- a broke artist-- to produce art at my own expense (time and money, no matter how you slice it), then show up on a cold street-corner and hawk it to strangers who don't appear to want it anyway? I can do basically the same thing at a gallery, plus indoor heating and personal safety.

I think the thing that really irks me about the #OccupyMuseums people is that they don't pay their respects to the decades of art activists, cooperative galleries, critics, scholars and communities that have already been exploring this issue, the institutional critiques of feminist performance artists like Mierle Laderman Ukeles or curatorial artists such as Fred Wilson (Mining the Museum, 1992). No acknowledgement or building upon what has already been tried and suggested in terms of critiquing the gallery system. No only that but no critical, art historical recognition of art movements such as conceptual art that re-interpreted art as something other than a physical object to be traded or sold, or media such as video and computer-based or web-based art that are poised to operate completely outside the market of physical art objects. In fact the contemporary art world is bursting with artists, cooperatives, organizations and even gangs seeking to subvert, critique, re-invent, or obliterate the world of galleries, museums and the art market.

Detail of Fred Wilson's Mining the Museum (1992), showing "Metalwork: 1723--1880." [Image: photograph of a display of an ornate silver tea service with a pair of iron slave handcuffs.]

So after many of the greatest talents of the contemporary art world have devoted entire careers to the issue, why is #OccupyMuseums trying to reinvent the wheel? Because they are ignoring and dismissing the work already done, or because they never bothered to look into it in the first place before swooping in to rescue us all? Additionally, as Murdock Pemberton pointed out a century ago, artists tend to act individually while bristling at collective action, which makes the Occupy movement a particularly bad fit for the role of art intervention.

I would love to see #OccupyMuseums join with artists, connect the financial critiques of OWS with institutional critique, use their networks to educate and excite ordinary people and protesters about what artists are already doing today in this realm.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nude Debate

I received my invitation to the 2012 Re-Nude show benefiting Planned Parenthood, which will be Wednesday, March 21 6:00pm -10:30pm at REDUX. I wrote about it last year here, here and here, and I can't wait!
[Image: flier for Re/Nude event. Reads, "Re/Nude: Celebrate the Body / Support Charleston Planned Parenthood." To the right and underneath the text are the silhouettes of a thin woman with longer hair showing outlines of her head, upper arms, hips and calves, in purple/pink. Resting in front of her shins is a reclining thin male silhouette showing outlines of his feet and legs, torso, arms and head, in coral pink/orange.]

Around the time I received my invite I read this post by Twisty Faster. To sum up, a young Egyptian woman named Aliaa Magda Elmahdy posted nude photos of herself on her blog as a big old Fuck You to the Salafis, who are a strict fundamentalist Islamic party that seems to have come out on top following the Arab Spring. Her actions, and the considerable risk she's taking, have sparked attention and controversy a few months ago in Egypt, the Western media and feminist blogs internationally. To support Elmahdy a group of Canadian feminists assembled a nude calendar featuring a "nude revolutionary" each month with the proceeds benefiting something-or-other related to Elmahdy's cause.

Twisty compares and contrasts the contexts of Egyptian and Canadian female nudity and questions the efficacy of a feminist nude calendar within the Patriarchy. To those unfamiliar with Twisty's blog she advocates a hard-line radical feminist rejection of Patriarchy-- that is, the system of dominance, objectification and hierarchy embedded in every element of our global society: misogyny, racism, classism, and so on. (Spoiler: she finds the Canadian nude revolutionaries ineffective at challenging Patriarchy).

Drawing of Aliaa Magda Elmahdy by The Corpse Debutante.

So when I go see the artistic representations of nudity at Re-Nude this March they will be on display in the context of the Patriarchy.  I will be viewing them as a feminist and an individual person but I will also be taking into account the context of the Patriarchy. And here is where I'm torn.

Being realistic about the limitations of empowerment through nudity in a Patriarchy, refusing to gloss over capitulation to the Patriarchy, refusing to pretend a nude portrayal of a woman exists outside our tradition of oppression, pornification and objectification, is a feminist act. However valuing my own experience and POV as a woman, learning to think outside the confines of Patriarchy, and really listening to other women is also profoundly feminist. In the context of nude art created with at least some input from women and shown in a gallery for the general public, I am stuck. Ambivalent.