26 April 2011

Yamma Yamma Yamma

I'm hardly the only one to say something like this, but: in the past year or so it like watching pieces of my (not-so-Germs-free) adolescence falling away, bit by bit.

Admittedly her presence has been pretty scarce over the years. And some might argue that the world already lost her once -- for a time -- when she up and joined the Harikrishnans. But hey, it's not every woman who can look adorable in braces and an army helmut. And when I hear the vocal on songs like "I am a Cliché" and "Obsessed with You," I still feel like -- even after all these years -- they're among the most dizzying and delightful things ever recorded.

19 April 2011

Some claim these things are only visible in hindsight...

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

When the task you were given involves walking door to door, you soon get a better sense of just how bad it is in certain places.*

Stats and figures. Foreclosures, vacancies, or those newly built and still sitting empty and inert in the market. As you make the rounds in the course of doing your work, you encounter your own -- more immediate, more tangible -- sets of numbers that corroborate or concretize the other enumerations that you've been hearing for months. And you find that these digits tell a slightly different story -- a story that's longer and more detailed, sometimes more grim, that makes you wonder.

The term "ghost town" never comes to mind at any point, but you do experience a certain feeling over and over again -- specifically, the sort of feeling you get from certain ominous silences, from ending up in places where it feels like much of the life has been siphoned away.

Usually there's a number of telltale signs to indicate that a residence is empty; that it's been empty for a good while, and that you might be wasting your time in trying to establish its status. Maybe the lawn hasn't been mowed in ages and now sports a variety of weeds that've grown to two or three feet in height. Or the driveway and walkway are thoroughly covered by a thick layer of pine straw, leaves and twigs. Likewise with the gutters and roof. Maybe there's a wasp's nest on the door, and you can tell by the size of the thing that it's been amassing for many months. Or -- more often -- there's a stack of phonebooks still sitting on the porch from the last routine delivery, still in the plastic bag that now has a layer of black mildew growing inside it from having sat out in the rain for the past three seasons.

Admittedly, these are also the sorts of signs that can in some cases be misleading. There's still the chance that someone lives there. And the job you've been given is to verify which places of residence are occupied; and part of that task involves establishing which ones -- beyond question -- aren't. In a few cases, it might be self-evident and clear enough. For example: The house where the front door had been kicked in off its hinges -- with the door now laying inside the foyer, and the living room's strewn with random items -- plastic dishes, a few toys, an old clock radio, a broken lamp -- and clothes (adult's size, as well as those for small children) laying about randomly, as if the prior occupants had had had to leave in a hurry -- if not flee, perhaps. And the whole place stinks from the rain coming in for how ever many months, and some vandals have entered the place and had their way with it. You can probably go ahead and cross that one off the list, but only after you've talked to a neighbor and confirmed your observations with an outside and knowledgeable party.

But, most times,  one way you can tell if the place is empty is by the sound of the knock. You knock on the door, and -- if you have a set of finely-attuned ears -- you can hear the way the sound carries through the interior of the house. It might carry an ever-so-slight echo as you listen to its rapport travel across bare floors, bouncing of the walls and windows. With no rugs or curtains or furniture to absorb or buffer the reverberations, the place sounds hollow. This is often a good indicator that suggests you might be wasting your time by doubling back and trying again at another time.

Fairly early in the gig, the dead-end streets are the ones that you begin to dread dealing with. Seems like that's where all the antisocial sorts have gathered in -- eccentric, suspicious, standoffish, if not paranoid and occasionally outright atavistic. The ones who enjoy giving you bogus information, the ones who must still cuss the day that they ever moved to "the city," the ones who only want any- and everybody to completely leave them alone. The ones that have a big mean dog, and lots of PRIVATE PROPERTY and NO TRESPASSING signs posted, maybe even a gun that they wouldn't think twice about reaching for. And then inevitably you hit the block's cul-de-sac, which is usually where most of the abandoned property's clustered -- sometimes upward to five, six in a row.

And there are the low-rent, disheveled apartment complexes where the parking lot's never more that one-third full and where you get very few responses from the addresses you've been given. You make the required number of attempts that you've been assigned, and once you've met that quota you go find the complex superintendent or someone at the management company and --  sure enough -- it turns out the entire place barely has a fifty percent occupancy ratio. And your assigned route also has you covering another community just a half-mile down the road, where you find yourself making the circuit of a high-end subdivision -- y'know, the sort that's lined with multileveled townhomes and condos that were recently built and targeted for the upper income brackets. There's a lot of signs indicating that a good many of the places are for sale, are between owners, stuck in mid-"flip," and once again you encounter (as with everywhere else) one empty residence after another. The place feels half deserted, and as you wander the blocks you keep hearing that same intermittent chirping sound -- the sound of a smoke alarm whose batteries are dying, pinging away inside some empty unit. There's always at least one within earshot at any given time, as the last one you passed diminishes behind you, you can hear another one coming up not too many doors ahead of you. Nobody's here....nobody's here...nobody's here...

You wonder, where'd they all go? In some cases you can answer, someplace else, away from here. But about half the time you conclude that "they" were never "there" to begin with.

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* Aside: I found it highly ironic that when I initially sent to watch the first video above, I had to first sit through a 15-second ad for Goldman Sachs.

17 April 2011

But We'll Always Have Café du Monde

Via New Orleans, the Hypothetical Development Organization has some tongue-in-cheek proposals for revitalizing derelict parts of the Crescent City...

The Hypothetical Development Organization, founded in 2010, is dedicated to the recognition and extension of a new form of urban storytelling.

Members of this organization begin the narrative process by examining city neighborhoods and commercial districts for compelling structures that appear to have fallen into disuse —“hidden gems” of the built environment. In varying states of repair, these buildings suggest only stories about the past, not the future.

As a public service, H.D.O. invents a hypothetical future for each selected structure. Unlike a traditional, reality-based developer, however, our organization is not bound by rules relating to commercial potential, practical materials, or physics. In our view, plausibility is a creative dead end. That is to say: We are not trying to fool anybody.

Some of their suggestions include The Museum of the Self, the Tin Can Telephone Company, a Loitering Centre, the Treme Authenticity Monument, Snooze Towers, and a Rubble Depot. Then there's the semi-brutalist Radtke Reading Room and Archive, whose local significance is explained thusly:

New Orleans anti-graffiti zealot Fred Radtke is (in)famous for paint-rolling gray splotches over street art, and if you spend any time in New Orleans you will see his work everywhere. Even Banksy has referenced him. (And Radkte himself has been arrested at least once — for obliterating a legal mural). On some level Radkte’s splotches are his de facto “tag.” Indeed, one could argue that he is the all-out king of New Orleans; he’s tagged up the entire parish. In tribute, this building could serve as the new center of his operations. It is time to recognize Radkte’s role as a citywide bomber: When he goes up over your tag, he really goes up over your tag. Respect.

New Orleans, however, operates by its own indigenous and anomalous logic. And for that reason I'm guessing that this project is (hopefully) deploying lots of locals-only irony; because there's too many reasons why this variety of yuppie "new urbanist" versioning is so wildly un-germane to the social fabric of the city -- not only in terms of its architecture, but also its general population and character. But hey, when you're faced with being colonized by yet another Trump Tower, I guess it's all relative.

Oddly, I see no suggestions for what to do with the Six Flags that's been sitting empty since Katrina...

More information at the HDO website, and via this article at Design Observer.

14 April 2011

The Red Menace

As with so many cult films of its sort, Shuji Terayama's Emperor Tomato Ketchup is these days more often viewed as little more than an aesthetic exercise -- a film that's shocking, outrageous, weird, excessive, and incomprehensibly "avant-garde" in both style and content. But over at Afterall, Thomas Dylan Eaton re-situates Terayama's film into the socio-political context of Japanese culture in 1970; not the least of which was the director's own animus for the reactionary politics of Yukio Mishima:

Japan emerged from the catastrophe of World War II as one of the most pragmatic and materialist societies in the world, and amidst this consensus Emperor Tomato Ketchup erupted deliriously, along with a string of acts of violent political contestation by leftist and nationalist factions -- hijackings, bank robberies and an attempted coup d'état-cumpublic suicide - that were upending Japan's post-War ideology of parliamentary democracy, domestic peace and economic expansion. The film depicts the anarchic scenario of children taking over, told through a series of burlesque theatrical tableaux and a collage of voiceover and found audio documents. The sheer sensationalism of the political exploits, much like the parody depicted in Terayama's film, brought politics close to a visceral form of popular dramatics - an analogy Terayama explored in the text 'Preface to a Theory of City Streets' (1976), in which he wrote: 'Theatres are neither buildings nor facilities. They are ideological "places" in which dramatic encounters are created. Any place can become a theatre, and any theatre is merely a part of the scenery of everyday life until a drama is created there.'

Article here.

09 April 2011

Art Decade

And this is what I was referring to earlier. If not the explanation for the recent zag of the past several posts here. A long and meandering piece for the '70s group blog, using David Bowie's "Berlin years" as a thematic springboard. Highly discursive, more concerned with sorting through myths than tucking into hardcore theoretics or anything like that. A bit of a monster as far as length goes, but there it is. Truth be told, I did actually rein myself a little, foregoing a number of further digressions. Meaning that I might have some sidenotes and afterthoughts for a future offshoot post or two. Not sure.

This Modern Life, II

Recent piece via e-flux on "Neo-materialism," a two-parter in which the author deals with "The Commodity and the Exhibition" and "The Unreadymade." Admittedly, I found it a bit disappointing in its execution and argumentation; given what the writer had to work with, where it could've been taken. The clumsy and heavy-handed mode of "Marxian" critique unfortunately doesn't help much, either. But still, it raises a number of interesting issues.

Firstly, I was unfamiliar with Guy Ben-Nur's "Stealing Beauty" -- a 2007 video piece in which the artist and a small set of actors play out a domestic drama on the "sets" of an Ikea showroom...

The concept very much reminds me of the "Leben mit Pop" ("Living with Pop") exhibition in Düsseldorf circa 1963, in which artists Konrad Lueg, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Manfred Kuttner staged their own "Capitalist Realism" exhibition in a department store, listing themselves and the showrooms' various furniture suites and appliances as contemporary sculpture...

There's a number of other articles posted at e-flux lately that connect with this overall theme, including stronger pieces by Sven Lütticken and Keti Chukhrov. All of which prompts the other thing that comes to my mind. That being: Considering that consumer object-oriented art has been an critical and curatorial trend for many years now, how long before it takes a revised and more contemporary turn with a responsive 2.0 version of arte povera? Might be high time.

08 April 2011

Trümmertanz, zwei

"The loudest noise you can get for nothing." Reduce, re-use, recycle...

Versus: Recup and rehab. Or, when Bataille shakes hands with Bob Vila. Tsk.

Anyway. Finally received my pre-ordered copy of Even Calder Williams's Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, which I'm looking forward to plowing through soon.1 Given the increased traction that apocalyptic themes have had in pop culture these past several years or so, it's a topical trend that's slightly intrigued me for some time.

At some point, someone proposed labeling this sort of aesthetic "no-go." Not sure where it originated, I just know that it never rose above obscurity it certainly never caught on. (No matter, the sound wasn't destined to be any sort of next-big or permanent thing, anyway.) As such, the label seemed most applicable to Bargeld & crew at the time. Admittedly, it was as if they'd taken 23 Skidoo's notion of "urban gamelan" literally, but instead replacing the gongs and marimbas with whatever discarded scraps were littering the landscape. Given the economic blight that had resulted from the slowdown and stasis of postwar industrial production, the music's clanging and decrepitude probably sounded like fairly loaded and ominous sonic signifiers.2

Yeah, it generally fell under the umbrella of early, first-gen "industrial" fare. Yet most of the other units that trafficked in mined that general vein (Throbbing Gristle, et al), never seemed to sonically suggest much more than a sense of decline.3 Yet looking back, I'd have to admit that Neubauten -- on their first couple of discs at least -- were about the only ones out of the lot who managed to sound genuinely apocalyptic. Considering the arc of West Germany's social and cultural evolution in the decades following WWII and its peculiar Cold War situation, the "no-go" moniker probably best encapsulates the racket and its catastrophic implications.4

But back to the matter of end times and such. Personally, as someone who had deep and extensive exposure to a variety of evangelical "if-the-Lord-tarries" dispensationalist eschatologies (i.e., the Book of Revelations interpreted in the most literal sense), the idea of apocalypse is far from new to me. Which is why over the past 5-10 years I've been watching the pop-culture proliferation of secular apocalypses with wry interest. Add to this that these formative years if mine fell in the decade of the 1970s, a time when many concerns with direct bearing on many of these recent scenarios (environmental degradation, unsustainable economic growth, increased oil scarcity, etc.) were first raised as pressing issues. But in the all-too-human course of such stuff, as soon as the economy recovered it was back to business as usual, with the "sky-is-falling" concerns of "alarmists" quickly shoved beyond the margins. In some ways, the whole matter may constitute our own modern equiv of the notion of an "Eternal Return."

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1. The bulk of which, I admit, is available in some form or other on the author's blog. But I never seem to get around to methodically sorting through the archives.
2. Not to mention serving as a thoroughly ironic, unromantic, and antithetical bookend to the Futurists' "Art of Noises" thesis.
3. I suppose the first couple of releases by SPK might come close to qualifying. But by the time Neubauten hit the scene, most of the first-wave industrial lot had either called it quits or were -- as was the case with SPK -- starting to descend into a morass of neo-tribal and "body music" clichés.
4. If there seems to be a recurring Germanic fixation afoot in some recent posts, it's on account of something I've been working on recently; something that's caused me to revisit certain sidealleys that I hadn't ventured down in a long while. All of which manifests itself in a number of tangents and spiraling-offs. About which, there'll be more here soon enough.

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