26 December 2010


"...It took a while for me to realise that much of 'After the Fall' is about battlefields: just not the traditional war zones, rich with the screams of men and the smell of death, which have been recorded almost pathologically on screen and print. Instead, it directs its gaze to the ongoing environmental struggle taking place beyond the boundaries of our cities, where the urban zoning system begins to blur and unravel. I identify potential locations throughout the world using Google Maps and have become increasingly experienced at 'reading' the terrain from a bird's (or more accurately, a satellite's) perspective."

Photographs and text by Hin Chua, "After the Fall."

23 December 2010

Guest Blogging Elsewhere

Apparently at least one person over at "...And What Will Be Left of Them?" has reckoned me a worthy colleague and has asked me to come aboard as a contributor. In case you're unfamiliar, the blog is an recent enterprise by a number of writers and bloggers that I admire, and is devoted to scrutinizing the cultural and political shifts that were in the offing during the 1970s. File under: Cultural Studies. A few past highlights include Phil on Vietnam and anti-Unionism under Thatcher, Wayne on Marvin Gaye and the errant, unacknowledged parents of hip hop, and Carl discussing George Romero's oft-overlooked Martin.

I'm not sure, but I believe I might be (so far) the sole contributor who'll be chiming in with an American/non-U.K. perspective on such stuff. I don't intend to duplicate or recycle content here, so I'll probably just cross-link whenever I have anything over there that I think's of significant interest.

And it looks like some of the crew of contributors are starting a couple of companioning blogs, one similarly devoted to the 1980s and another to the 1990s. I've been asked to contribute to those, as well. Not sure what all I might be able to add on those topics, so we'll see.

22 December 2010

The Shape of Things What Were

Oddly enough, I recall stumbling on this film as a kid; it being shoved into some block of late-night programming to fill airtime, being run as a documentary or whatever. I remember watching just enough of it to be unnerved by the bit towards the beginning where you see the robot couple walking in the park, accompanied by a soundtrack of discordant electronic score.

What we have here is a promotional, merch-oriented film masquerading as a documentary. A faux doco, if you will; a precursor for your more contemporary infomercial. As it finally reveals, the product it's ultimately hawking is Alvin Toffler's 1970 "futurist" pop-sociology best-seller Future Shock. I can't make any claims for how prescient Toffler's book might've been, but -- in terms of market quantatives -- it certainly was timely. Society was changing rapidly, and there was a lot of residual dread and uncertainty in the air. After the mainstream success of Marshall McLuhan's books, a certain portion of the populace was looking to cultural theorists and explainers-in-residence who might be able to provide some sort of prognosis. Did a dystopic and "dehumanizing" future lie just around the corner? Future Shock's various chapter and section titles include: "The Throw-Away Society," "The Economics of Impermanence," "The Demise of Geography," "The New Ad-hocracy," "Training Children for Turnover," as well as the equally intriguing "Hippies, Incorporated," "Communes and Homosexual Daddies," "The Cyborgs Among Us," and "Subterranean Cities."

That font alone says it all.

At the very least, in Future Shock Toffler recognized that the big post-Fordist shift was well underway, and that we were heading into a "post-industrial" economy -- whatever that might entail.1 He's also been given credit for introducing the concept of "information overload."2

But as far as the film is concerned -- it's a dazzling plethora of newfound "age of anxiety" cliches; pitching its topic in the most sensationalist fashion, targeting the insecurity and paranoid and post-modernity malaise of its audience. Sub-nanotrends inflated to the scale of broad paradigm shifts and upheavals, a good many moments of unintentionally hilarious pseudo-profunditude, and the grand sales pitch at the end. And, most importantly, there's Orson Welles gliding through the whole thing -- always in motion from one destination to another, cigar smoke and ill-fitting library music trailing in his wake, his mercenary presence lending the whole thing an air of ponderous weight and dignity, even though he was doing little more than picking up another easy paycheck to help fund his next project (which, I'm guessing, at this point in his career would be the brilliant F for Fake).

The rest of the film: parts 2, 3, 4, and 5. Endlessly amusing, really.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

1. What he didn't foresee, apparently, was the huge financial cratering that follow during the 1970s. All of which would send Toffler off to spend the next decade retooling his thesis.

2. This, it turns out, wasn't such a new or novel idea. For example: In his 1892 fin de siècle tome Degeneration, Max Nordau had complained that (then-)modern men were already suffering from fatigue and cogntiive depletion due to the overbombardment of information that arrived in the form of daily newspapers.

17 December 2010

Leaving the Twentieth Century, Redux

Giocomo Balla, Fallimento (Bankruptcy), 1902, detail

Over at Hyperallergic, Jorge Martin offers a speculative history of the origins of street art. From Joseph Kyselak in 19th century Vienna and hobo markings, to state-sponsored graffiti in fascist Italy and the Situationist-inspired slogans during the Paris riots of May 1968, it's part one of a series.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Because It's All About You. The birth of psychoanalysis and the Freudian id, public relations and modern marketing, self-actualization through consumerism, and the alliance between the individual pursuit of happiness and the politics of control. Courtesy of an FYI from the blog of architect Lebbeus Woods, there's Adam Curtis's 2002 documentary The Century of the Self, which re-aired this past month on the BBC. As with all of Curtis's films, its staggering in scope and impact. Four hours in duration, and available in four one-hour clips via Google video. And as with several of Curtis's other films, it's also available as a free download via archive.org.

16 December 2010

Sounding Off

Sez woebot about this year's Turner:

"Just a bit of restraint required here because The Turner Prize Winner is always, unfortunately, the object of unbridled hatred. However one’s got to say that, in the main, the art world’s grasp of Sound as Art is light-years behind the sophistication of its manifestation at the cutting-edge of music. I mean, this lady’s ideas are OK, but truthfully they’re kind of old hat, and what’s more implicit in a huge swathe of music. One precedent that immediately springs to mind is Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening Band, which actually did this very same thing AND made it sound beautiful rather than pedestrian. Her voice, yikes. If I was being unkind I would suggest that the Turner Prize should stick to what they do best and leave this kind of thing to the pros to judge."

From the first sentence, I find myself in agreement. Yes, the winner of the Turner on any given year is going to be the object of incredulity and animus, regarded as nothing more than an example for the committee's esoteric and mandarin sensibilities. But this one strikes me as a belated, tokenistic bone-toss to sound art (or "ephemeral art" is general) by/for people who little knowledge of or experience with the same. Someone's a bit out of their league. As one of the YouTube commenters remarked: "'Justin Bieber played 800% slower'is miles better than this."

So does this make Philipsz's piece the Turner's equiv of Mark Zuckerberg? Dunno. But as far as such stuff goes, this seems to have been the hands-down favorite of this past year...

Of course, the artist here isn't British; so it's neither here nor there as far as the Turner's concerned. But at the very least, I think it demonstrates it proves that it's possible for something can have a lot of traction in the sound art community yet still have popular appeal.

13 December 2010

Always Negate

From "Advertisements for Architecture," Bernard Tschumi, 1976-1977.

06 December 2010

À rebours

Now this takes me back.

04 December 2010

Failures of Modernism

Speed, gravity, materiality, formalism, and high-volume traffic at the ACME® customer service center....

In other words, what the Coyote's fall spells out, beyond a nicely crystallized and over-literal 'rupturing of the picture plane', is the way in which such an instance -- a painting, a political moment -- may be structurally determined, and as such, deserves to be constant across time, yet which nevertheless is informed by the actions of those who watch those who have gone before, and in trying to repeat, to do the same thing, to assume that the breaking of the rules that have just occurred have therefore reset the rules, such that if one body passes into the painting, so too all others which follow.

That just because you broke with perspective, one can have perspective no longer. That the exceptional and inconstant happen only once per ruling order, and only in order to solidify the next order according to which things add up and paintings are either looked at or run into.

Brilliant. Easily the riff of the week...if not month. (Bonus points for the use of the Asger Jorn piece.)

02 December 2010

Brush Fires in the Social Landscape

Rimbaud in New York, 1977-1979

Untitled (Falling Buffalo), 1989

Fever, 1989

Untitled (Christ), 1988

Over two decades after his art was used by the American right wing to all but kill the National Endowment for the Arts, and 18 years after the artist's own death from HIV, the art of David Wojnarowicz once again serves as a political football in the Culture Wars.


All that time you felt you were only running in place, then you discover that the pavement is now moving under your feet and that you're actually moving backward.

The Anatomy and Architecture of Desire, 1986

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