A blog of music reviews, movie reviews, politics that try to be but fail to be wingless, and assorted stuff. T'anks for reading. RSVP: regularsnipehunter@juno.com.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Art Gimmickry and Publicity Dept.

If you can't get people to throng around your artwork in either appreciation or in protest - millions can't - then consider enlisting the janitorial staff to help you put your name in the papers.

Some rules:
1. Make sure your medium is disposable, like actual garbage or something. Ripping up bills that you've incurred / paid-off would be EXCELLENT!
2. Be damn sure that your disposable medium(s) serve an exhibit tagline about the disposability of art. If you're going to insult your competitors in a profession of the imagination, don't raise your overhead. Just exemplify the exhibit's context.

Maybe Gustav Metzger didn't really get help from the Tate's custodians. But something like this is reported every few years. In a gallery in Germany, Joseph Beuys once exhibited a 'very dirty' bathtub that was scrubbed up by a gallery
employee. Seems to little ol' unconceptual me that a) the museums and galleries aren't thorough enough to coach their staff on how to distinguish 'trash' from trash; b) the artists are baiting the clean-up staff in hopes of a little publicity; c) it's about being compensated for uninspired art when inspired art isn't selling.

Other examples of custodial 'crimes' 'against' art are cited near the bottom of the BBC's press release...whoops, article. By now, these incidents begin to seem contrived. In 2001, sculptor Damien Hirst illustrated the accumulation of raw materials that infuse the artist's consciousness, a tray of coffee cups, beer bottles, and cigarettes whose nicotine content was sucked out as if through paper straws. Of course, these are the same raw materials that infuse the consciousness of college students, depressed people, late-working museum staff, PR firms, etc. None of them would've thrown in the wrapped chopsticks, though. That really was a nice touch. Hirst probably should've just taken a tip from Jasper John's bronzed paint cans and brushes and bronzed the entire tray. This would've been not just a clever artistic 'quote', but pratical as well: bet John's exhibits were never in danger from the janitors.

But what if I take Metzger and Hirst seriously, as intending this 'garbage' material to make truly serious statements? Their work would've been a nice statement about how the artist's lot runs on the same consumption as everyone else, if they hadn't been tossed out before such connections could be made.

At any rate, two paragraphs up I referred to 'uninspired art', and I find it easy to be cynical about these 'trashings'. The art in question generally offers only the corniest illustrations of themes you just have to roll your eyes at nowadays, like consumerism, disposibility, depersonalization. They were exciting ideas at one time, but they are so broad now, and few artists disprove anything with any of the lifestyles that have been made public. I mean besides
that Michael Landy dude. And I suppose the thing that bugs me the most is that artwork like this - and to me it's artwork - really mocks other artists. Not 'consumers',or 'corporate vultures', or the viewing public, but the aspirations of the other guys in the field. And themselves, as well. 'Once you gotta name', the tray of trash or the bag of refuse says, 'look what you can get away 'til you're inspired again'.

Metzger's rubbish bag was a perfect statement of this tactic, both cynical and politically correct - objects to be recycled. Since it was tossed, we can only hope that they were separated into their proper containers. But what if the Tate Museum doesn't have appropriate containers? Now there's a creative challange! Metzger ought to sculpt a few, just for..heh heh...show.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

August 23, 2004

Could a 'war criminal' be president?

The Swift Boat controversy is currently bringing out both Bush and Kerry's censorious sides. As far as I'm concerned, the fight is strictly between Kerry and his vets and the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth . and their supporters. All the talk from John Kerry's campaign about his Vietnam service, and all the attacks on his service and subsequent protests, are starting to sort of dovetail in my mind with the past year's many op-ed comparisons of the Iraq War with Vietnam.

But one thing still stands out at the moment: Kerry's admissions to Congress in 1971 and to Tim Russert in 2004, of his participation in 'atrocities', now recast as 'policies in place that were not acceptable according to the laws of warfare, and everybody knows that'. Maybe the whole cast of characters should just renact the Winter Soldier investigation.

Here's an excerpt from Kerry's 'Meet The Press' interview:

"MR. RUSSERT: Before we take a break, I want to talk about Vietnam. You are a decorated war hero of Vietnam, prominently used in your advertising. You first appeared on MEET THE PRESS back in 1971, your first appearance. I want to roll what you told the country then and come back and talk about it:

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, April 18, 1971):

MR. KERRY (Vietnam Veterans Against the War): There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: You committed atrocities.

SEN. KERRY: Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's a big question for me. You know, I
thought a lot, for a long time, about that period of time, the things we said, and I think the word is a bad word. I think it's an inappropriate word. I mean, if you wanted to ask me have you ever made mistakes in your life, sure. I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger. It was honest, but it was in anger, it was a little bit excessive.

MR. RUSSERT: You used the word "war criminals."

SEN. KERRY: Well, let me just finish. Let me must finish. It was, I think, a reflection of the kind of times we found ourselves in and I don't like it when I hear it today. I don't like it, but I want you to notice that at the end, I wasn't talking about the soldiers and the soldiers' blame, and my great regret is, I hope no soldier--I mean, I think some soldiers were angry at me for that, and I understand that and I regret that, because I love them. But the words were honest but on the other hand, they were a little bit over the top. And I think that there were breaches of the Geneva Conventions. There were policies in place that were not acceptable according to the laws of warfare, and everybody knows that. I mean, books have chronicled that, so I'm not going to walk away from that. But I wish I had found a way to say it in a less abrasive way."

So it's possible that a 'war criminal' / performer of unacceptable policies, who testified but never did time, can become a world-class leader! There an exclusive club for you - he could do schnapps with Kurt Waldheim.

There's a positive payoff of the Abu Ghraib exposure and trials. We'll probably have a presidential or vice-presidential candidate who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both, someday. He or she is going to be painted with a broad brush by association with these wars. You can bet that dabs of Abu Ghraib will appear on the tainting brush. Given how effectively the military establishment has reacted to the soldiers who performed the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses - relative to abuses of the Vietnam era, that is - a candidate who's an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran might find it easier to establish his credentials as a non-atrocitizer. For that reason alone (and there are others), the exposure of the chain of command that permitted these abuses is a good thing!

Even with the deal-making.

August 21, 2004

On Hussein's WMDs' and their insufficient discovered quantities.

This is just a thought that I've had since the discoveries of Hussein's mass graves: what if traces of his biological and chemical weaponry are found in the corpses that fill up those graves?

This scenario is actually pretty plausible, if the Iraqi official who talked a UN inspection group around 1995 is to be believed: he allegedly explained to the inspectors that VX and sarin toxins were eliminated, 'poured out on the ground'. Hans Blix addressed this possibility himself in his February 2003 report (find word 'poured') and again in a Time magazine interview . It's possible that if they were poured on the ground, from there they would've seeped into the water supplies near some villages. And maybe they caused massive, if gradual, poisonings.

Monday, August 16, 2004

August 16, 2004

Sunday night at the Compo-Improv. - Theramin night at the Eyedrum.

It's a privilege to attend such an event at such a venue in the Southeast. Where else around here can you kick back with pals seeking a strain of old-style avant-garde on a Sunday night, pop open a Pabst Blue Ribbon or a Foster's, and be regaled with the sound that helped define the horror and sci-fi flick soundtrack for years? A night of special effects for the ears isn't to be taken for granted. Last night the occasion was certainly right for special effects, since the Eyedrum honored the 108th birthday of inventor Leon Theramin with performances by several owners of the instruments. I feel kinda bad saying the evening was mostly about the expediency of the machine, but anyone who was there will likely admit that most of the players did their best to level the musical interaction to pure, unfelt sound stuff.

The best visual effects were from a short film by Mary Ross, who filmed her hubby Eric Ross at a Raleigh, NC museum, which another institution not to be taken for granted. Eric played a guitar outfitted with a theramin, and odd electronic bits, collected around him as if they were toys he was trying to sell. He sang / ranted over the maelstrom, and played brief interjections that sounded like the guitar synthesizer of Terjye Rypdal being doubled by a carillion. Most cool.

The second best visual was a guy who kneeled at the back of the performance space to work an 'optical theramin'. He played it with lit matches. His performance had the smell of gimmickry, and left that smell for moments after his finale. The thing is I just can't remember much of what he played.

That was true for the whole evening. Again and again, permutations of the same small group of theramin enthsiasts just stared intently at the instrument's electromagnetic 'wand' and made hand gestures. Who could blame 'em? Few instuments require such theatricality of gesture. It was all pretty humorless, despite all the synthetic flocks of seagulls and the horror movie noises and the horror movie soundtrack from James Whales' 'Frankenstein'. Seems like one of them could've
flipped off the wand, or shot their fist up until cut off by their other hand in the crook of their arms.

One time in the whole evening, a guy played a recognizable melody, and it wasn't 'Good Vibrations' either - the Star Trek theme, curiously opening with those first four creepy notes from the Night Gallery theme (both by the late Jerry Goldsmith). Too bad that some more recognizable melodies weren't tried. Every theramin player acknowledges the difficulty of both playing the thing and explaining how it works, but the pre-show music featured an acoustic piano tapping some romantic-era changes out beneath a surprisingly operatic alto, produced by a theramin. I didn't expect syncopated rhythm, y'know, but the musical input seemed as random as if the theramins had been randomly installed as car alarms and a group of kids were encouraged to chase each other around and jump up and down near the cars. Now that might've been pretty funny.

Following the 'Star Trek' cover, however, another guy made a sharp stab as something that at least tried to suggest structure. The man the MC called Zachary came up and told the audience 'if you recognize this piece....get a life!!'. With an intro like that, how wrong could he go? However, I never did recognize Zachary's piece, which exempts me from his requirement to get a life. So woohoo! Right on!

Seriously - Zachary started off on a small theramin made of green plastic, setting a sound effect only describable as 'waadadubwaadadubwaadadub' as a tonal center and - I guess - a rhythm source, then used a second theramin to conjure some nice droning textures that frequently lapsed into some sort of harmony, just barely enough that I actually would've taken this particular piece home and played it after 1 a.m. At the right volume (not necessarily a low volume) it would've made a nice fit with the steel cello grind of sculptor Robert Rutman's CD 'Music To Sleep By' (Tresor Records, 1997). This enthusiastic closing would mean that Zachary's compo-improv was a tonic.

Monday, August 09, 2004

August 9,2004

A brand new criminal defense!

Just what we've been missing for so many years. Now it's a crime committed in the interest of public education. Assuming this Benjamin Vanderford is treated as if he committed a crime, that is. He was a failed politician once. Bet this little jok...sorry, educational example...will give him some serious portfolio for his next San Francisco race.

Dull boy that I am, the only useful point Vanderford can make to me goes to the question of the Nick Berg and Paul Johnson videos: are they real? He's only offered a potential scenario. That isn't much like proof. Taking the man at his point - if those videos were faked, it'd be interesting to know why those zany fakers of the 'Berg'and 'Johnson' beheading videos aren't crowing about their art. What are they waiting for - for the 'victims' to take a turn on Conan O'Brien?

Albert R. Hunt's op-ed in Saturday's Wall Street Journal has a curious feel to it.

In chastising critics of Kerry's Vietnam service, Hunt seems a little behind the speed of the controversy. This is easy as hell for this to happen; for instance, just in reading this little screed you'll probably find I'm behind the times regarding the Swift Boat vets' ad, the Kerry legal team's letters to newspapers, McCain and Bush's dual criticism of that very ad, all that.

But what I'm writing won't seem remotely as expedient as Hunt's recall of Kerry's service, and his very weak-toned approval of the DNC crowd's approval of Kerry's military supporters. The writing seems downright nervous, not sentence by sentence but in effect. Sometimes, Hunt seems to adopt a "c'mon you guys...this is getting out of hand, guys" tone to a controversy that Kerry et al have encouraged as a sort of political trap, accepted as precisely that by the incumbent's supporters. Presumeably, thirty-five years worth of Kerry's double-mindedness about war will disappear behind his medals, while Bush will seem more callow even after presiding over two wars and two dictatorial step-downs...just because. Curiously, the DNC's complaints against the War address the Iraq campaign, almost completely. because the ongoing Afghanistan war is largely beyond criticism of motive if not methodology. Throw in the regime changes without war in Liberia and Haiti, and after all the convention's work Bush remains one up in the CIC contests. He has shown less respect for despotic heads of state than any Prez since Reagan.

In the matter of Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia, 1968.

Yawnsville. Roger Simon is mad about this. Right now, it doesn't matter to me if he lied this time out. His voting record - which I believe presents his most honest moments as a Senator - will twist his campaign up on its' own whenever the Bush campaign decides to address it. Surely, it isn't be possible that Kerry et al don't see this coming in the debates:

Kerry: (bleep). It! (pounds fist on podium). Stop. Tal. King. About. My. Vo. Ting. Record! I. On. Lee. Want. To. Talk. A. Bout. Our. War. Records. (pause) Pardon. Me. I. Mean. The. War. Record. (pause) Mine.

Audience cheers and boos.

Bush: Look, Mr. Kerry, you've been a soldier a lot longer than you've been a sena....whoops, I mean the other way around. Your voting record got'cha elected and reelected and so on. You seem to think that doesn't count for anything.

Audience laughter and boos.

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