30 July 2011

The gloaming's brink

::   in be tween noise - meditation on the memory of a theme by purcell

29 July 2011

That which we have now, having never been

As some readers already know, before moving to my current locale, me and my wife lived in Chicago for many years. The last five of those spent in an apartment on the southside. Making the decision to vacate wasn't an easy one. My wife wanted to be closer to her family, which I definitely understand on account of them being such warm and wonderful people. I'd previously been very much averse to the idea of ever returning to the South; but in the wake of the grand financial meltdown of a few years ago, I was finding that there was no job market to keep me in the city I'd long considered "home."

And in the run-up to that meltdown, we'd been increasingly being priced out of most neighborhoods in the city. Ah well, I eventually shrugged, why not? The place had been losing some of its prior appeal for me anyway -- a couple of exceptionally long and punishing winters in a row, the homogenizing effects of the mayor's years-long "Giuliani Lite"/disneyfication of the city, the neglected infrastructure...there were a lot of factors in the equation in the end, far too many to list, but ultimately they amounted to a decision that perhaps it was time to move on, see how things fared elsewhere.

But most importantly we had to get out of the path of the bulldozers.

Y'see, our entire block was scheduled to be razed at the end of summer of 2010. The original reason for this had been to make way for a hospital expansion. But after the economy cratered, many institutions around the country had halted such projects as they watched their funds and endowments shrink. But supposedly the nearby university was looking for other ways to leverage the effort. Or that's how one story had it.1

The other story, one that began circulating in the community as the clear-out date approached, was that it had to do with the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics. The main stadium that the city had proposed building for the games was to go up in the park directly across the street from our building. So rumor had it that we were suddenly in a real estate hot spot, that developers were moving in with plans on what all could be done with properties in the area.2 So everyone get out right now -- no dawdling. At the time the city was pretty certain that the Olympic bid was in the bag. Within a few months of having left the city, news went out that the games were being awarded to Brazil instead. Which made me wonder: is there such a thing as a Schadenfreude Samba?

* * * * *

I only mention this because it connects with something that popped up today over at the Things Mag site, in which the editor muses over the mixed response to Iain Sinclair's latest effort, a quasi-psychogeographic tour of London as the city prepares and refurbished itself for the 2012 Olympic games.3 Things describes the book as "a sprawling trawl around the undeniably banal and venal regeneration surrounding the Olympics, haplessly mired in a stubborn nostalgia," further noting:

"Happily, we’re not alone. A recent Fantastic Journal post takes Sinclair to task: 'Like Marvin the Paranoid Android wandering Hackney Marshes, he suggests that all new building is pointless, all attempts at planning doomed and any development always the product of base venality.' ... What emerges from all this is more evidence of the steep valley that lies between history and nostalgia, wherein a penchant for the latter tends to shape one’s attitude and interpretation of the former."

From there, the author broadens the frame...

"The Internet exacerbates this condition, building up our perception of the past through the endless reproduction and celebration of past ephemera. The past is filtered through a lens of celebration, a perpetually art directed world, be it the gritty black and white world of life sold from a suitcase in these images of Brick Lane in the 80s, or Soviet ruins, or abandoned lunatic asylums, rusting machinery, filleted libraries, caches of Eastern European match box covers, esoteric ephemera from long-forgotten Olympic games, boring postcards, found photographs, passive aggressive notes left on refrigerator doors, weird LP records, shopping lists, ticket stubs, or even our own almost entirely context free Pelican Project.

Collectively, we've managed to make a fetish of the failed, forgotten and the marginal, mashing them together with the Utopian and the celebrated until the edges are blurred. Whether its the decline of manufacturing and urban centres or nuclear catastrophe or the collapse of the housing market is all rendered flat and equal by the vivid resonance of the image. This is where the overwhelming emotional content of a carefully filtered past meets our nostalgia for now ('...a mourning for the transience of a moment when you are still in that moment'), and the result is a state of being that appears to seek out the romantic past in every captured moment."

I suppose this "a fetish of the failed, forgotten and the marginal" has been a recurring theme here, if only because--it seems--it's been a fairly common fetish, of late. It takes different forms, and the reasons for this are numerous. Running a broad spectrum, some of it's fueled by the more mundane pursuits of collectors and enthusiasts, some of it is just the po-mo modus of cultural retro- appropriation siphoning out into a uncritical kitcshification of the past, while yet another variety of it it is the product with a certain aesthetic ennui with the present. But there's a portion of it that (I detect) that suggests by a deeper sociological narrative, springing from a sense of dread or impasse with where we've arrived in recent years.

* * * * *

Chicago is, as far as its population is concerned, a very Polish city. One cliché has it that in the years immediately following WWII, there were more Polish residents in the city of Chicago than there were in Warsaw. Owen Hatherley has apparently spent a good portion of this past year in Warsaw, and writes...

"The thing about Warsaw that everyone knows is that 85% of it was destroyed in 1944, and that it was then reconstructed to the letter after 1945. ...Accordingly, for a certain type of architectural critic or historian, Warsaw is irresistible. It is, for traditionalists, the road not travelled -- a city where, instead of modernism, we got a dignified reconstruction of the old world. In fact, neither of the statements is exactly true. Recent research makes clear that the 85% figure includes much that was more damaged than irretrievably destroyed, and it's also clear that the reconstructed city took frequently huge liberties with the historical fabric -- how could they not? And after some acquaintance with it... it's also clear that the modernist objection to the place -- as a Disneyfied simulacrum of interest only to tourists -- isn't quite right either."
The "road not traveled" theme is a recurrent topic in Hatherley's work, be it his defense of UK post-War neo-Brutalist architecture in his book Militant Modernism, or his more recent A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. About the core inspiration for the latter title, Hartherly remarked:

"The short explanation is that I have become intrigued by the fate of "urban regeneration" in the light of the financial crisis; what the speculative redevelopments of inner cities look like after the debts have been called in. They have become the new ruins of Great Britain. These places have ruination in abundance: partly because of the way they were invariably surrounded by the derelict and un-regenerated, whether rotting industrial remnants or the giant retail and entertainment sheds of the 80s and 90s; partly because they were often so badly built, with pieces of render and wood frequently flaking off within less than a year of completion; but partly because they were so often empty, in every sense. Empty of architectural inspiration, empty of social hope or idealism."

For the uninitiated, Hartherley's blog can be found here and his regular Guardian column here.

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

1. As it was, our end of the neighborhood -- the one facing demolition -- was home to an odd assortment of residents, not the least of which was a lot of pensioners and elderly (with fixed incomes and capped rents) that the University had moved there due to its prior expansions and displacements into other parts of the community over the years.

2. Add to all this that the neighborhood I'm talking talking about was also gaining a lot of media attention at the time on account of it being the home of the newly-elected POTUS. To see the news reports in national outlets, the community looked vibrant and idyllic. All of which was ironic, because during the 'Noughties we'd watched the neighborhood go into sharp decline because of politicians and developers inept and hapless attempts at making it attractive to potentially gentrifying northsiders. (For instance, over half the shops on the main drag being forced out of business by real estate speculation, and still sitting vacant some 18-24 months later.)

3. Admittedly, this isn't something I've followed, but I have on occasion bumped into the odd caustic bit about it over the past year.

26 July 2011

An American Fable

[1] He hailed from the city that is, everyone says, home to the worst drivers in the nation. Yes, the city that was the cradle of liberty (so deemed), original and Old World and colonial—reminder of how the nation itself began, an echo of that cradle rocked out of, a capitol of once-wasness. A good and historic "walking city," but always a fucking nightmare to drive in. That city with the illogic of its narrow streets that were not meant to harbor such traffic, not designed to aid vehicular progress. Successful navigation requires quick and aggressive reflexes, the sort that often frighten and confound non-natives. It's what's required if you're going to get where you want to go.

[2] And where did it eventually go? It all went west, as he himself eventually did, to the land's nether shore. West over the land once traversed by horse and wagontrain, and by railroad and telegraph, all of it part and parcel of progress, of expansion, of a fated and manifest destiny. All of it now much more easily flown over. To where—they said—it was now "at," the whereall to which everything led, the telos of pioneering and frontiering. To the ascendant domain of the now, the new seat of powers having shifted (and now able to boast that one of its own native sons was currently presiding over all). Modernity itself, its final destination: built for such things as cars and traffic, to fully accommodate its flow and—the theory had it—avoid the snarls and tangles and perpetual arterial clusterfuckage. Its skies and sun waiting all those ages to be finally tinted peripherally pink by a brume of ozone. Arrival.

[3] This culture—how unlike home, that place left behind, he realized. Maybe it was for this reason that he chose to play in traffic—to be a part of it, to disrupt it, highlighting its precarity and ontologic insecurity. Laying down on the blacktop amidst flares, only to have the cops arrive; or creating a lurid distraction in a shopwindow for passersby along a main drag. Having been volutarily shot and tortured and dangled and a number of other things, it was time he inserted himself into the city's bloodstream.

[4] And finally to an elevated and narrow stretch of coastal highway. There placing twin monuments—soaked in the very stuff that makes society go, what makes it all possible—in the paths of its to and fro, seeing to it none shall pass, neither comers nor goers, eastbound nor west. Ignite and vacate, leaving behind a pair of pyric glyphs—a blazing totem or emblem for the name and number of the century in which all of this, this modernity, came to be. Dual sentinels, their limbs splayed by way of alert or warning or reckoning, left there for the lonely latenight traveler who—finding his route obstructed and double crossed—could only stand in the torchlit road and wonder what on earth it their signaling could possibly mean.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

{ after Chris Burden's Dos Equis, Laguna Canyon Road, Los Angeles, 1972 }

25 July 2011

You Can't Go Home Again (Not Even If You'd Stayed There)

Finally getting around to reading Lucy Lippard's On The Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place. It's more or least an extension of her prior book The Lure of the Local, ultimately having more to do with sociology that with art criticism or art history. Representation, myth and mediated encounters, space and place, the "disneyfication" of certain cities and "false unities" of how town or locations present themselves for outsiders, plus many of the economic and sociological issues that arise from all of these things. Quite refreshing, really.* And yielding (no pun intended) plenty of points of interest, including these passaged from the book's first chapter "The Tourist at Home":

"Viewed from the perspective of the places 'visited,' even in those disaster areas that are victims of downsizing and deindustrialization exacerbated by NAFTA and GATT, tourism is a mixed blessing -- sometimes economically positive, usually culturally negative, and always resource-depleting. ...Tourism leads to summer people leads to year-round newcomers leads to dispossession and a kind of internal colonialism. As an increasing amount of the world's acreage is 'opened up,' the search for the 'unspoiled' intensifies, exposing the most inaccessible places to commercial amenities and barbarities, from vandalism to jet-skis."

A few paragraphs later [emphasis added]...

"One of the obvious contradictions in tourism concerns what is being escaped from and to. Absence (sometimes) makes the heart grow fonder. If we live away from native ground and then go home to visit, we can see the place anew, with fresh eyes. Some return to their hometowns to find the mines and factories they escaped now glorified as museums. ...Long popular in socialist countries, industrial tourism is catching on again in the United States. And edifying example is the themification of the history of tumultuous labor relations in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and in Lowell, where the first national park devoted to industry has caught on. Are the visitors simply the curious, the history buffs? Are they those whose worked in factories or remember their parents' and grandparents' experiences? Are they lefties looking for landmarks of rebellion? The ways in which places and their histories are hidden, veiled, preserved, displayed, and perceived provide acute measures of the social unconscious. Yet their relationships to broader economic issues seldom surface overtly in daily lives. We live in a state of denial officially fostered by State denial.

Such grand-scale abdication from the present does not bode well for the future. One can only wonder what our hometowns will look like when the fad passes. Will the ghosts of fake ghost towns haunt the twenty-first century? Or will our places be ghosts smothered in new bodies we would never recognize as home?"

How like hauntology, that last part.

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

* I say that because each of these books appeared in the late 1990s, and seem (in retrospect) prescient of certain economic trends that would kick in hyperdrive in the decade that followed. Also, it was a welcome break from all the "viva Las Vegas" nonsense of the '80s and '90s -- from the celebrations of "colloquial" architecture so common in doctrinaire post-mod architecture circles, to the blinkered "analysis" of Dave Hickey, Baudrillard, et al.

24 July 2011

Listen, Little Man

Re, profiling:

"In any case; I would rather have preferred a Ruger Mini 30, but I already own a 7.62 bolt rifle and it is likely that the police wouldn’t grant me a similar caliber. On the application form I stated: 'hunting deer'. It would have been tempting to just write the truth; 'executing category A and B cultural Marxists/multiculturalist traitors' just to see their reaction.:P"

Not that I make it a habit of reading the diaries and manifestos of assassins and terrorists, but I have read a few over the years. And it seems that invariably you're likely to encounter a passage like this in each one.

23 July 2011

You Can't Blame This on 'Formalism'

"As bad as art can get"? Dunno, I can always think of worse things. At the very least, it's a reminder of some of the reason I was recently ready to bid farewell to Chicago.

"Public art is all about creating a dialogue. When you can get people talking, in particular if they're not saying the same thing to one another and they have differing views, that's an exciting thing. That's something that people who are interested in placing public art are happy to see happen."

But really, the sculpture above isn't that different from a number of works by Jeff Koons, is it? The difference having to do with a post-modern irony and self-awareness in relation to the matter of "kitsch" and its place in the broader culture.

About 15 years ago I had a class under the critic Jerry Saltz. At one point, in a group discussion we briefly kicked around the topic of why does so much public art suck? We couldn't reach any sort of solid consensus on the matter. But by Jerry's estimation, about 90% of public art was guilty of sucking. Personally, I felt that that was too generous a number, and that the ratio falls more in the area of 95 or so. And so long as cities and organizations continue to shell out funds for projects like this, the remaining bracket incrementally shrinks with each passing year.

And it's all a little too common -- bad decisions, errors in judgement, etc. Take, for instance, Chicago's public sculpture commemorating the Haymarket Affair. After decades of protests from the law enforcement community, the city finally commissioned and installed one roughly a decade ago. And this is what they got for their money:

This Moment in Labor History has been brought to you by Playmobil®!

22 July 2011

'Not Funny. Not Clever. Not Your Girlfriend.'

(An aside about no one in particular)

Sure, maybe it was cute once upon a time -- like back when Abbie Hoffman or one of those Yippies did it. But that was ages ago, wasn't it? So in this day and age what does throwing a pie in someone's face ultimately achieve, besides:

  • Giving the target the chance to claim victimhood and file assault charges, and
  • in this case, making his hitherto low-profile wife a household name, and
  • giving all the tabloids and the papers and the blogs and the broadcasters something OMFG to chatter about, all of which
  • effectively eclipses anything the target might've said during his two-and-a-half hours of public testimony, thereby
  • handing the vacuous, enfeebled, sorry excuse for a media -- the very state of affairs that the target helped kick into hyperdrive, and which the perp was apparently "protesting" -- the very thing it needed to carry on in its usual deplorable fashion by providing them the excuse they were looking for to not cover the actual story at hand?


Oh, and maybe: also making a certain someone the top candidate for Tosser Of The Year. Yeah — brilliant move, dickhead.

21 July 2011

...Versus Getting Away from It (Some Afterthoughts on the Prior Post)

And there are a lot reasons why cinematic treatments of art are often so terrible. One is that seems that the people who write these films don't understand their subject matter, or grossly misjudge how to get it across on film. Usually you get some naively starry-eyed romanticization of it all, or some pathetically misfired attempt at satirizing the artworld and how it supposedly operates. (Or in some instances, a deeply confused combination of the two.) The video above somewhat follows in this latter mould, but unlike most art-related films I can think of, it's actually somewhat enjoyable to watch.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The parodic gist of the Modeselektor video brings to mind the recent craze for art fairs, since that's obviously what helped inspire the thing. I went to a few art fairs back in the mid-to-late 1990s, and soon decided that I'd be better off avoiding them as much as possible in the future. Little did I know at the time that they were about to become the "wave of the future." And in recent years, a lot of critics and artists and various artworld people have decried the rise of the art fair. Reputedly a lot of gallerists hate them too, but feel that they're a "necessary evil" in keeping their businesses operating and economically afloat.

Whatever You Can Get Away With

Honestly, I've always felt that cinematic depictions of "the life of an artist," if not of the artworld in general, are invariably awful -- if not often hilariously so. Very few exceptions come to mind. This awfulness plagues the entire spectrum -- be it your standard bio pic, or films that just happen to fold something to do with art (usually by way of a specific character) into the storyline.

The video above is from a project by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, which they did with photographer Max Pinckers, executed in response to an idea given to them by artist Setareh Shahbazi. Curious to see what the artists used in this project, because naturally a number of other films come to mind that weren't included. Perhaps it could've used something from the film Backbeat -- preferably the ridiculous scene where the character of Stuart Sutcliffe and his girlfriend are torridly making love in his studio while smearing each other with his oil paints? (I'm sure the necessary post-coital turpentine bath was even sexier.) No matter, the artists seem to have deliberately passed on a number of options for the sake of perversely featuring Hershell Gordon Lewis's Color Me Blood Red instead.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Collings weighed in on the matter or art and artists in film with one of his "Art Diary" columns for Modern Painters some time last year, making a few choice observations in the process. Speaking of vintage artist biopics like Lust for Life, The Agony and the Ecstacy, and John Houston's Moulin Rouge, he comments:

"The films have the limitations of melodrama, but they're rather fascinating today because they're about something society doesn't have any more: the automatic expectation that art should be sincere. It's like the attraction of the TV series Mad Men, which shows us a lost sense of moral restraint, impossible for anyone to escape 50 years ago but impossible now for anyone to take seriously."

Right. Were we ever so young?

And later, bringing things closer to the present:

"The unreal feeling that art has for noninitiates slips easily into a feeling that perhaps evil lies behind -- or is somehow let in by -- art's increasing obscurity. Or maybe it's just that all art values were defeated in the '80s by the value of money. The hero of Wall Street knows he's successful because he can afford a Julian Schnabel plate painting. [...] On a whole other level, Wall Street is fun because it's entertaining to contemplate the semiotics of utter bullshit. ...Art in the movie stands for moral ambiguity. It can be flipped at auction for enormous undeserved profits, a fact that the audience knows because the corporate raider casually boasts that he did just that only the other day with a Picasso that still hangs in his office. The audience isn't sure if it's the painting that's evil or the money."

All of which seems to compliment the clip above very nicely, in one way or another.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

But back to Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin...

"April to August, 1993." From the People in Trouble
Pushed to the Ground
series, 2011.

"Work and No Play #4," 2008.

Collage from the series Afterlife, 2009.

"June 10," from the series The Day 
Nobody Died, 2008.

From the Prestige of Terror series,  2010.

"Chicago #3," 2006

"Mini-Israel #7," from the series Chicago, 2006.

"Mario, Psychiatric Hospital, Cuba."
 From the series Ghetto, 2003.

"Photojournalism cannot be radical because it has to work within familiar patterns," Adam Broomberg recently commented, "It is politically ineffectual." By turned the lens to the periphery of the "action," Broomberg and Chanarin try to disrupt or circumvent the standardized narratives in which such images usually circulate. You can get a clearer idea of their intent from the artists' statement "Unconcerned but not Indifferent" from a few years ago, and see more of their work at their website.

19 July 2011


In the course of Simon's NYT yarn this past weekend on the topic of "atemporality" in contempo pop, he mentions something that reminded me of something that I recently stumbled across, and which touches -- somewhat tangentially -- on a matter I was riffing on earlier. Simon mentions the matter of "dead media," a term that he attributes to Bruce Sterling, who originally proposed the compiling of a collaborative Dead Media Handbook back in the latter half of the 1990s.

Which probably explains this item I encountered a few months ago: the Dead Media Archive, a wiki created in conjunction with a class taught at NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communications.

Even with its list of criterial qualifiers, the archive sports an odd array of entries, with a broad and almost random sampling of topics falling under its thematic canopy. As such, it makes for interesting reading. Sure, 8-tracks and Smell-O-Vision and town criers are all there, as well as a number of other obvious entries. For instance, I was previously unfamiliar with roentgenizdat dubplates (or "bone records") of post-WWII Soviet vintage. Of the more literal hauntological persuasion, there's an article on EVP, which provides a some deep background information about the Spiritualist Movement, "spirit photography," research into paranormal phenomenon, before finally winding down with a citation of Slayer's Hell Awaits. There's a long article on "dirty media," where the author very pointedly refutes the idea of "immaterial labor" and lengthily discusses the ecological side-effects of e-waste. There's a truly odd (as in esoterically incongruous) art history piece on "absorption" in 18th-century painting a la Michael Fried's writings on the topic, one of underground missile silos as relics of the Cold War, as well as a theoretical post-mortem on the concept of "terra incognita."

There are no shortage of gadgets and such that turn up on the thing, from the Tamagotchi to the Nintendo Virtual Boy. Of course, this is straying on well-trodden turf since there are numerous sites elsewhere for such stuff -- for outdated computer systems, video games, and vintage recording technology or whatever, usually collected and compiled by enthusiasts. More rewarding, perhaps, are the dossiers that venture into more conceptual and theoretical terrain. And there's a listing for proposed dossiers, which includes such random and speculative entries as: barcodes, canon, depondent verbs [sic], elevator attendants, errata, myriorama, the photographic gun, the subjunctive mood, truth, and the 8-hour work day.

The archive appears to be a salvage job from the original Dead Media Project mailing list, supplemented by student entries. The field notes from the original project are extensive, but focus primarily of a literal application of Sterling's idea, never venturing off into more theoretical or conceptual arcs. Between the versions, its intriguing to think of where such a project could go if it had some editorial guidance and a strong and varied set of contributors.

* * * * * * * * *

Having just tapped out the above, another belated connection comes to mind. The author Ander Monson wrote one of my favorite books of recent years, Other Electricities. Based on Monson's own childhood years growing up in a samll town in the uppermost frozen reaches of Michigan's Upper Penisula, it's a very bleak yet beautiful book that harbors its share of ghosts (technological and otherwise). At any rate, the town where Monson grew up had previously built around copper mining, but when the price of copper declined so much that it wasn't worth the expense of extraction, the mining companies abandoned the place and the town reputedly became a dim shadow of its former self. Perhaps its for this reason that Monson carries a lifelong fascination with the discarded, the diminished, and the obsolete; since these are the things that have provided topics for a number of his essays and poems. Monson's prose poem/essay "Failure: Another Iteration" mentioned Sterling's Dead Media Project, as well as the online Museum of E-Failure (which seems to have, ironically enough, been offline for some years now). Then there's his essay "Solipsism," which more or less deals with the technological relic of the typewriter (as well as pointed toward his more recently obsession with the "unstable I" of the first-person narrative and the contempo boom in "memoir lit").

12 July 2011

Beneath or between the sky

::  Jasper van't Hof - 'Poobli'

California über alles

Photos from the series Suburbia, Bill Owens, 1972-1973.

More about here, here, and here.

10 July 2011

Natural Histories of Destruction

Picking up on the occasional recurring theme of "bunker archeology" and the like...

Perhaps it's a little ironic that this historical article on the "Sound Mirrors" of the English coastline appears in a German publication, but for those who've seen the pictures but have missed the backstory, have at it.

07 July 2011


As with so many other things, the public gets the news media it deserves.

And it seems like over the past week or so, the UK has had its share of media-related clamors. first there was the twofold irreality of the "Miliband loop," then there was The Trouble with Hari, and this week there's been the whole NotW hacking scandal, which has been interesting to follow as it's snowballed by the hour over the past two days.

My friend and associate Wayne, blogging from Manchester, yesterday offered a brilliant walk-through of how it's shaping up and what it all means, via a very incisive list of bulleted points. Among my favorites from the lot...

  • Tabloid journalism - its modus operandi relentlessly pursued by Murdoch's media in particular - has always foregrounded the personalised and emotional over any systematic analysis. Much of the outrage at News Corp's actions is due to the abuse of their victims' very personal tragedies (I found it upsetting for that very reason, and I'm as cynical as fuck about the press). Now all eyes are pointing towards the systematic aspects of the scandal. [...]
  • If Cameron sticks by Murdoch he loses all credibility. If he turns on him, his propaganda apparatus is seriously damaged. Either way, he's toast in the eyes of his hang'n'flog voters. To wriggle out of this with cheap smears and moral panics is impossible. To exchange staff, funds, information and business agendas to this extent is to be incorporated with News Corp. Ask yourself this: Who's firing who? [...]
  • Murdoch's vile methods have made so many enemies worldwide since the 1970s (doubtlessly kept in check by by the huge vault of dirt he could dish), that previously-frightened enemies or competitors will be relishing the chance to destroy the Satanic bastard with extreme prejudice. Attacking News Corp will enhance their market share and/or protect their fragile reputations. There's moolah to make, power to keep, and marriages to save, after all.
  • The 'slow news week' of British media's traditional 'silly season' has now become open season. News Corp are/were the hungry hounds preferring a tired fox. Their competitors play by the same rules, and learned to get nastier following the example set by Murdoch. With little to talk about (according to media mores anyway), there's little to bury this news under. Therefore, we now have a very fast news week for this time of year. They don't even need much manpower or resources to report it either. It's all there on a silver platter.

And yes, I know I know, a lot of this is all mired in political details that are specific to Another Shore. Still, as Wayne points out, it has deeper and far more general implications, and after all we are talking about a global media entity, here. In the UK there are probably many who'll be pleased to hear that NotW's Gobshite Express will be reaching the end of its line this Sunday, as well plenty other folks there and elsewhere who're experiencing some degree of schadenfreude as the shock waves ripple through Murdoch's media empire. And yes, that empire's footprint here is significant and is renowned for its tactics; but hey, it isn't like they pioneered such stuff or traffic in it exclusively. In some form or another, it's the heart of what they do, what fuels their efforts to remain competitive in the markets, what shapes the abusive dynamic they've created toward their audiences. And ultimately it's about how two different systems, possessing overlapping powers of influence over the public, operate with mutually beneficial symbiosis.

At any rate, the other day Mark K-Punk popped up with his first lengthy and substantial post in a while to comment on the scandals, at one point breaking the systemics down like so...

A manageable level of cynicism about the media actually serves the capitalist realist media system well. Since the media stands in for the public sphere, if journalists and politicians are perceived to be 'all liars', as they widely are, then there is no hope to be had in public life at all. Hack expulpations appeal to a market Hobbesianism: they are giving people what they want but what they won't admit to liking. When, pickled in the jouissance of self-loathing and their other stimulants of choice, the hacks style themselves as 'princes of darkness', they see themselves as reflecting the public's own disavowed cynicism back to it. ...Similarly, Glenn Mulcaire whines that the NOTW put him under pressure for results, this isn't only an excuse - what we're seeing here is in part the consequence of the intense competitive pressures at work in print media as its market share declines. Negative solidarity again: a race to depths so infernally pressurised that only alcohol-breathing subhuman crustaceans can survive there. ... As one by one those who played their part are dragged into the light, the old bullying sneers become familiar plaints: that's reality, we couldn't help it, that's how things are now. But we must hear their excuses as indictments of a system,...

Adding in his conclusion:

...The function of corporate media has been to isolate people, to make them distrust their discontent with a world controlled by business interests. What has combated this is the production of new collectivities of dissent, both online and in the streets. What we're seeing in this extraordinary moment of transition is a reality management system imploding from within at the same time as it is being undermined from outside.

Personally, there's nothing I loathe more than someone else trying to manipulate me, attempting to push my buttons. Not sure who actually does. But the most repugnant variety of that sort of thing is the sort that waves a clucking morality around with one hand, and with the other gratuitously dangles the very thing it decries in front of you, if only because it knows that's how to get and keep your attention. It is, I think, why I deeply hated (with only one exception) every Brian De Palma film I've ever watched. As well as being the main reason I haven't watched television news for nearly twenty years.

For those of you who are keeping score at home: The tagwords for all of the above are cynicism, Hobbesian, and sytematic.

06 July 2011

The Past Called. It Wants Its Everything Back.

The sound of summer. Or at least of my summer so far, judging by the way things have been shaping up.

First the new recent full-length jawns from FaltyDL, Boxcutter, and SBTRKT; all three of which, to varying but significant degrees, sport a particular throwback flavor to them. That being: two-step garage that harkens back to early house and techno, with a few moments of fusion-y soul-jazz, hints of 'mutant disco' of the sort that people like Lovefingers et al. were heavily trafficking in a few years ago, and with -- much like with the James Blake album of earlier this year -- the ghost of Arthur Russell registering ever-so-faintly at the periphery. And now there's this one (above), which caps the whole precession off very fittingly.

Can't help but find it all a little appropriate, coinciding as it does with the publication of Simon's Retromania. Also, because this type of sound is never too far from earshot for me anyway, seeing how there's a community radio station on this part of town where a number of the DJs are insistent on keeping this sort of groove going. (In fact, the overall style of the MCDE mix mirrors some of their format very closely.)

Anyway, had a mix of mine in the works a few weeks ago, featuring a lot of tracks and favorite t'ings that I'd been listening to lately. But the inclination or enthusiasm for pulling it all together dissipated somewhere along the way. Perhaps it's time to rally toward the finish line with the thing and finally get the soundfiles off my desktop.

05 July 2011

Figure-Ground Relationship, II (Cryptologist)

"In his own particular way, Twombly tells us that the essence of writing is neither form nor usage but simply gesture -- the gesture that produces it by allowing it to happen: a garble, almost a smudge, a negligence. ...The essence of an object has something to do with the way it turns into trash. It is not necessarily what remains after the object has been used, it’s rather what is thrown away in use. And so it is with Twombly’s writings. They are the fragments of an indolence, and this makes them extremely elegant; it’s as though the only thing left after the strongly erotic act of writing were the languid fatigue of love: a garment cast aside into a corner of the page."
- Roland Barthes

R.I.P. Cy Twombly

Apocalyptic Wallpaper and the Conviction of Doubt

Artist Amy Sillman in the summer edition of Artforum, dismissing the tiresome, reductivist "just a buncha guys painting with their dicks" verdict on Abstract Expressionism...

"Meanwhile, AbEx's legacy presents us with a tangle of still more gender clichés, a strange terrain inhabited by fake-dude-women like Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell, wielding their paint sticks like cowboys; and Pollock and de Kooning operating as phallic she-males, working from their innermost intuitive feelings, a 'feminization' that introduces another twist in this essentialist logic.

I thought we were past simple butch and femme role-playing by now. ...But with AbEx, it's always the same old, same old. This kind of simplification wipes away the possibility of looking at all the really interesting vagaries and conflicts within AbEx, ...I'm still gung ho about looking at their work and finding in it tenderness, tragedy, contingency, and inverted color schemes; I'm still inspired by the rhetorical position of speaking from the gut, Walt Whitman style, by the AbExers' work with reimagined relations between the parts and between forces, Gertrude Stein style, but in an anti-Platonic improvisational, real-time mode of production."

Sillman begins with T.J. Clark's 1994 essay "In Defense of Abstract Expressionism," using its championing of an aesthetics of "vulgarity" (re, "tenderness, tragedy, contingency," etc.) to delve into Susan Sontag's celebration of the same in "Notes on Camp" -- especially the latter's postulate that, "In naive, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails."

It's an interesting and enjoyable read, but not without its occasion problems. For instance, shortly after stating the above, Sillman makes reaches her analogy about disco, attributing the popular backlash against disco as chiefly the product of "punk" and of racism and homophobia. Which in terms of circumnavigating clichéd polemics, reminded me of watching a skater gracefully avoid an open manhole cover, only to see them immediately spin around and smack face-first into a lamppost. Still, it's a good essay, if not one of the stronger of the batch presented for the issue's theme -- reframing and revising the recent (American) critical assessment of what the post-war "New York School" was all about.

Favorite quote in the Sillman piece: "Poor old jazz, it’s going through the same thing, but AbEx seems to have suffered a fate worse than jazz: jazz with money."

Now if someone would finally correct and retire that imbecilic meme about how the whole thing was just some propaganda front for C.I.A. Cold-War ops, we'd finally be getting somewhere.

04 July 2011

Born to Win (Cost-Benefit Analysis with Gestalt Experiments)


Art & Language - "Portrait of V.I. Lenin with Cap in the Style of Jackson Pollock, No. 3"

Ilya Repin - "They Did Not Expect Him," Yarbus schematic

Thomas Kinkade, with mean of Phidias overlay

03 July 2011

Figure-Ground Relationship

A few peripheral thoughts to crossed my mind while writing that prior post...

Inasmuch as the work of Philip Jeck and Christian Marclay involves specific technology and the products of a particular era, in the end it continues an aesthetic that dates back to the earlier part of the previous century. It can be traced back through a series of artworks made from junk and discarded material -- from Rauschenberg's "combines" to the décollages of Jacques Villeglé -- to a certain aestehetic sensibility that many would peg as distinctly Dadaist in origin.

I'm thinking specifically of Kurt Schwitters' series of Merz collages and assemblages, his paste-ups of detritus gathered from the streets of Hanover in the years after WWI. Tram tickets, old invoices, scraps of newspapers and advert posters, miscellaneous rubbish and bits of smashed or broken furniture -- each element a signifier of the structure and material workings of quotidian modern urban life. Yes, these works connect with Cubist notions of collage as a merging of art (the picture plane, the plasticity of paint, etc.) with items from everyday life, as well as with the Dadaist use of chance, randomness and the arbitrary in the creative process. That they were composed from waste and residuum additionally connotes the exchanges and the political economy that shape that modernity. It's of no small ironic significance that Schwitters' title for this series of work was derived from a random fragment of printed material that he used in an early collage -- Merz, truncated from kommerz (or from Commerzbank, depending on which account you trust).1

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Dadaist ideas have reemerged repeatedly throughout the past sixty years of art history, most notably making a grand re-emergence with the "Neo-Dada" work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the years immediately following the Second World War. Rauschenberg's "Erased de Kooning Drawing" of 1953 is widely regarded as a consumate Oedipal coup de grâce, the palimpsest for a new generation of emerging artists turning their backs on Abstract Expression -- saying "no thanks" to its romanticism and subjectivity, its agonistic interiority, its swaggering masculinity, etc.

All of which would make a perfect sense if Rauschenberg had bought the de Kooning drawing at auction before trying to destroy it.2 But instead he approached Willem de Kooning directly, told of him what he was aiming to do, and more or less asked him to collaborate on or contribute to the project. De Kooning agreed, selecting for the young artist a drawing that he guaranteed would require a lot of work to un-do. Several weeks and dozens of erasers later, Rauschenberg emerged with the finished product -- a sheet of paper on which a few smudges and markings from the original artwork remain faintly visible. But perhaps better to let Bob explain his actions for himself...

Some might describe the concept behind the work as being very "zen," but it was also one that firmly hinged on romantic faith in the nature of the creative act and artistic intent.3

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On the American Breakbeat compilation from back around the turn of this century, the short-lived, laptops-are-the-instruments-for-the-new-folk-music duo of Alejandra & Underwood turned up to supply the outing's most incongruous (and rewarding) track, "Erased Aphex Twin, After Rauschenberg." The track was an as-promised affair -- four minutes and fifty-one seconds of silence, occasionally interrupted by murky, fleeting peek-a-boo granules of melodic IDM. (The source material may've been "Xtal," if memory serves). The random, sporadic fragments of sound become more teasingly frequent as the track progresses, coalescing into something graspable or recognizable in the final few seconds -- just in time for the the original tune's denouement, with the fade-out/wind-down remaining more- or less intact.

In some ways, the track is the opposite of the Rauschenberg's from which it takes it premise. Whether it meant as a pugnacious defacement of a widely-hailed (or perhaps overrated, depending on your point of view) artist of the day, I have my doubts. If anything, it was more of an agnostic response to all the inflated talk in the 1990s about "future music" and the supposed fidelity and permanence of digital media. Files get corrupted, data gets lost, and art -- often fueled by the desire to surprise and intrigue -- can't be so easily prescribed.

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

1. This is merely one way to read the work. By some accounts, Schwitters was an aesthete to the core. So much so that his efforts to network with the Berlin Dadaists were spurned early on, with (reputedly) Richard Huelsenbeck later commenting that he couldn't stand the sight of Schwitters' "bourgeois face." For Schwitters, the Merz work was as much about liberating the varied fragments from their original context, thus permitting them to transcend their intended purpose/use-value and operate as purely visual elements.

2. In this respect, I'd argue that the work is one of the most commonly misread works of 20th century art, perhaps only second to Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q..

3. Somewhat similar to Rauschenberg's comments about his own ideas behind "Erased de Kooning": During my undergrad days, I had a painting instructor who -- when discussing the presence of "graffiti"-like elements in work I was doing -- said that he'd sometimes entertained the hypothetical question about whether it was possible for an artists to "vandalize his/her own work." I didn't have the heart to point out to him that such a thing begs all sorts of brambly aesthetic questions about the nature of "authorial intention," but that it was theoretically impossible due to the way that it ultimately involves the issue of property.

01 July 2011

The Pop Universe, in the Shape of a Doughnut

On a somewhat lighter note of what I was going on about previously...

Simon Reynolds, offered a temporary venue at Bruce Sterling's Wired blog, tangentially riffing on some on Retromania's content, with some comments on the topic of mash-ups, plunderphonics, and pop eating itself. A bit delighted to see that he, as I did some time back, fit The Residents' Third Reich'n'Roll into this continuum; but when he ups the ante by stacking another of my old-skool favorites atop that by citing Bernard Parmegiani's Pop'eclectic, fuck me if I'm not about ready to start doling out hugs.

But seriously. The No. 1 Astronaut/WNCL "Instant Digest" mix (via modyfier) he mentions had previously escaped my notice. The Nick Edwards testimonial sums the thing it very precisely...

"In this age of the super information highway, the problem is no longer how to access information, it is how to absorb it. The Instant Digest offers the perfect solution: sonic information compressed into short, sharp efficient byte-size chunks. After all, download culture has already removed 75% of extraneous audio information from our musical experience, so why not go the whole hog and reduce the actual duration too? Cut out all the boring bits, just give us the salient points, please. Instant Digest reduces the musical experience to the condition of Blipvert."

Simon also nods to Osymyso's "Intro Inspection" in the course of the piece. aBut while reading it, I had a couple of other related items leap to mind. Firstly, DJ Food/Strictly Kev's "Raiding the 20th Century" mix of about 7 years ago. The expanded two-point-oh version of the thing is a somewhat different beast from the usual mash-up mix, thanks to Kev's bring in Paul Morley for a bit of spoken-word narration. Apparently Kev was amazed by Morley's book Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City and how it paralleled a lot the ideas he had in doing the mix the first time around, and asked Morley to help him with the remix. And Morley's book is a very playful and unorthodox outing, hardly your standard work of music criticism/writing/historicism.

But the Astronaut No. 1 mix brought something else to memory, a similar exercise from years ago that turned up via the site for the plunderphonics outfit Evolution Control Committee. Their site hosted a pair of MP3s taken from a mysterious tape entitled "Chart Sweep," a mix that featured every Billboard pop-chart #1 hit from between the years of 1954 and 1992, all of 'em stacked end-to-end in short snippets and presented in chronological order. As I double back to relocate the post, it appears that the ECC guys and their associates eventually tracked down the tape's creator.

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In Words and Music, Morley goes on a riff on the Now That's What I Call Music! compilation series. Which reminds me...

Before the days of "oldies" stations and the digitally-enabled culture of endless reissues, we got by however they could. Options were limited, but people did have options.

File under: Wedding DJ's "crate savers."

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ECC, some might recall, first came to attention back in 1994 with their Whipped Cream Mixes 7", in which the guys cheekily matched the vocals from a pair of Public Enemy tracks to songs by the Tijuana Brass. Which reminds reminds of this item that I bumped into while writing the previous post, in which The Wire mag gets Christian Marclay to contribute to their regular "Inner Sleeve" feature, so Marclay weighs in on the era-defining libidinal icon that was Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream & Other Delights.

Funny how a number of things fall together sometimes.

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