Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

American Hardcore’s Cameo Appearance

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

american hardcore

A few nights ago I watched American Hardcore, a documentary film about the hardcore scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I didn’t ever consider myself a hardcore fan but did listen to the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and especially Bad Brains. I just didn’t know they were a scene, or what it was about – I listened to it after it was over. The film is good, and gives a nationwide perspective on the nuanced scene – from San Diego to New York and Boston to Washington. It even credits Vancouverites for coining the term “Hardcore” – go Canada!

Somewhere along the line was a 6-second or less spot featuring artist Matthew Barney as himself, who as far as I can tell was not in the hardcore scene (he was 16 when it pretty much fizzled out in 1983). He is given billing as one of the film’s stars, and his reason for being in the film is strangely not explained via Lower Thirds. Band members, their friends, promoters, journalists, and a photographer who documented the scene all figure prominently. Barney seems plopped in without any context. He grew up in Idaho, a state which didn’t figure prominently in Hardcore, and the scene’s violence and angst seem at odds with Barney’s public profile of football player – turned J. Crew model – turned sculptor. As far as I can tell, his only relationshp with it is from Cremaster 3‘s scene in which 2 hardcore bands battle while Barney climbs through the Guggenheim. Frankly his entrance into the film was so distracting that I didn’t pay attention to the next few minutes while I waited to comprehend what had just happened. Once a star, always a star.

Speaking of Matthew Barney, New York artist Eric Doeringer has a funny mock fan site called Cremaster Fanatic which I always secretly want to call “Cremaster Fantastic”.

Bloody / Blood

Friday, June 27th, 2008


Review of a video game (unplayed):

Petri Purho is a computer science student in Helsinki who writes a game every month. Bloody Zombies is one of them, where your goal is to rescue Barbara from the zombies. Conceptually, a very low resolution horror themed game is at both humourous (“is that an axe or are you happy to see me?”) and utterly ridiculous (“is that blood on your head or is that your hat?”). Exercise caution or you might find yourself executing the lovely Barbara instead of a hideous zombie. It is this precise combination of hilarity and absurdity that piques my interest.

From the Kloonigames website where Purho archives his efforts, Bloody Zombies is “the goriest game ever made in glorious 128 x 96 resolution! Fight zombies with your lawn mower! Solve levels with your opponents blood!”

Sadly Bloody is only available for PC and/or XBox. Download it if you have one of those systems. Other games include Planet of the Jellies and Crayon Physics – even their titles are delightful.


In related news, Guthrie Lonergan, a young artist from L.A., invites you to cover any Youtube video in blood – thus creating a horror film from any old clip. The screen shot above is one of my videos, Screen Kiss, raining blood.

[An aside: Screen Kiss is on Youtube without my consent, but that is another story.]

My Goodness, My Jillian

Monday, June 23rd, 2008


Made with an online slogan generator.

Say Something Meaningful

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

1944 new yorkers

I don’t expect all advertisements to be truthful or even transparent – no ma’am. I am not easily fooled by animated cars that are made of skin, reflect the landscape, chase down wildcats, and fold into my pocket. Fooled – never; enchanted – absolutely. Jeanne Randolph in Ethics of Luxury: Materialism and Imagination points out smartly that in advertising, “reasoning is assailed by unique rhetorical charms: Cherry, Strawberry, Grape. Three reasons to buy Froot-Loops” (pp 9 – 10).

But who does the MTA think they are kidding? 1,944 people saw something and said something, meaning 1,944 incidents – some percentage of which were non-incidents – were reported and processed and counted. It’s reassuring that there are people watching out for us, or at least themselves, here in the Big Apple. But cradled in this false assurance are only more questions – how many saw and said something the year before this snitch campaign urged commuters to remain ever vigilant? Did any of those sightings and sayings avert disaster, or do we simply have a tiny army (1,944 is not that many in this city) of slightly paranoid individuals who reported suspiciously abandoned plastic bags and soda cans to the already harassed MTA workers? [An asside: I assume they are harassed since they are so nearly impossible to locate when I am lost and need answers to why the L, G, and 7 trains are simultaneously not running, and how I can get home from my stranded position. Far be it from me to criticize the MTA - I know their employees are very hard at work strategically posting informative signs about transit changes in the most clever hiding spots.]

“If you have nothing useful to say, say nothing at all!” – That’s my proposal for next year’s campaign.

Speaking of advertisements, I am mesmerized by the animated ads for the current roster of anxiety drugs – the animations are so inert and relaxing as to lull me into a dreamy state where I do not hear the speedily spoken list of side-effects including death, stroke, and heart attack. I feel the drugged sleep of poppies coming on, à la Dorothy en route to Emerald City. I feel myself slowly curling up on the train tracks with a speeding train hurtling towards me – i’m…just…so….sleepy……
sometimes it is all I can do to change the channel before I start to drool and mumble incoherently.

Artist Justine Cooper, whom I blogged about before, has a great piece called Havidol which is itself an ad campaign for a fictional drug using the methodology, language, and gentle imagery favoured by the pharmaceutical industry. Also check out this group who wants to end such pseudo-educational drug campaigns.

Chicago Dreaming

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

dream is over

Since I hate alarms more than most things I have to live with, The Dream is Over by Caleb Jones Lyon terrifies me. It was in Chicago at ThreeWalls this past March – the standout in his solo show. That is a stack of outdated clock radios – you can imagine the horror.

Title This

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

better living through reality tv

The title Better Living Through Reality TV, by Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, drips of sarcasm in the ears of those like myself who inherently harbour suspicion of the media, especially TV and advertising.

I am not a fan of Reality TV programming, but I am interested in the enormous fan base and the genre as an example of expanded (though controlled) participatory viewing – the new model of media entertainment. I am also fascinated by the compulsion to participate in the game of voting, and the more complex game of contestant-hood, where the stakes are high and the 4th wall increasingly thin. The variety and discomfiture is enormous in Beauty and the Geek, Joe Millionaire, Tila Tequila, The Biggest Loser, and The Swan – to name just a fraction of Reality TV’s offerings, each upping the ante on the next.

Beyond voyeuristic impulses, viewers have long desired to participate, to be the star of TV drama – however tawdry and brief. Talk shows like Oprah and Phil Donahue in the 80s and 90s aired a nation’s laundry, never wanting for guests with dirty secrets and viewers with eager appetites. Artist Bjorn Melhus’s operatic installation, Primetime from 2001 dissects this drama brilliantly and with uneasy humour.


The book, which I have only just begun, delves head first into the political, educational (yes educational), economic, social, and ideological affects of the phenomenon that is Reality TV. TV as a privatized and homogenizing body now purports to speak to the public good. The TV shows and their agendas essentially become a replacement for the government’s interest in social programming, providing entertainment and a resource for self-improvement, albeit with the hefty price of commercial endorsements. In the introduction the authors write, “It is a sign of the times that, in the absence of public welfare programs, hundreds of thousands of people now apply directly to reality TV programs for housing, affordable health care, and other forms of assistance”. Sign of the times? Sounds like high time to petition the government and vote in a candidate who truly stands for public good before the poor are washed away in the next natural disaster -slash- act of god. I’m not sure that a designer wardrobe, liposuction, jaw implants, and dental veneers (a modest example of The Swan contestants’ prizes) are going to help the public good.

House makeovers, the perfect mate, and extreme elective surgery are not beyond the reach of the disenfranchised, but only the precious few are awarded a chance at the prizes. American Idol was for a time America’s #1 TV show in the ratings – the prize there a recording contract awarded for the performance of unoriginal music. Anyone can do it!

Reality TV is presided over by moderators, consultants, and experts – the authors argue that they are patronizing yes but empowering too. These roles champion an active, self-possessed, and entrepreneurial citizenry – “at a time when privatization, personal responsibility, and consumer choice are promoted as the best way to govern liberal capitalist democracies, reality TV shows us how to conduct and “empower” ourselves as enterprising citizens”. TV has become “the quintessential technology of advanced or “neo” liberal citizenship” (17). The authors weave In Foucault’s view of government and the self-governing model. TV takes governance into the home through a hard-hitting educational stance – but there is no place in this model for individuals who wish to reject femininity or masculinity as presented on screen, or who prefer a subcultural lifestyle (p 116).

Some shows speak to the political process – your vote counts. Polled by Pursuant Research, Inc, 35% of American Idol voters in 2006 believed their vote counted as much or more than their vote for the president (p 215), and an Idol moderator claimed that the 2006 winner received more votes than any president in history. Maybe the government should take notes – this is what the people want – voting at home, popular (generic) music, and big self-improvement prizes. The media pays attention – fans are the customers.


Another TV genre that lets contestants dream big, financially if not cosmetically, is the game show. In related news, Mark Kostabi’s latest vanity project, Title This. For those unfamiliar with Mark Kostabi, he is a New York artist whose Kostabi World factory workers churn out endless dime-a-dozen paintings. He’s infamous for this factory approach to art making (not unlike artstar giants Jeff Koons or Damian Hirst), lack of originality, selling works on eBay, and his media persona.


Said Kostabi, “My paintings are actually more interesting than the conceptual hijinks [which he is famous for], but you’d have to be a painter to understand that. It’s much easier to be entertained by anti-establishment intellectual slapstick than it is to understand what’s going on in a painting.” Unfashionable championing of painters as the pinnacle of fine artists aside, Kostabi’s Public Access variety TV show, Title This, is in my opinion, the most interesting thing he does.

To the tune of his own piano playing, he invites celebrity and artworld friends to title his paintings, rewarding them with $25 for successful titles. I have some ideas for the (untitled) image above.

Obsolescence on my Mind

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

halifax duncan cove jillian mcdonald
halifax duncan cove jillian mcdonald

This week I was a participant in a conference titled Obsolescence and the Culture of Human Invention, organized by Halifax researchers Robert Bean and Ilan Sandler, at The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Other participants and artists in an accompanying exhibition titled “txt” at Anna Leowens Gallery included David Clark of Halifax, Michelle Gay and Michael Maranda from Toronto, and Luke Murphy and Marcin Ramocki from NYC. California-based keynote speaker Katherine Hayles joined us at the end of the week to discuss code, language, hyperattention and deep attention, and her recent critical writing on transhumanism in science fiction. The transhumanists advocate taking any means necessary, including plastic surgery and sexual selection, to stave off death, disease, gender, undesireable characteristics, and other unpleasant human afflictions. This futurist belief system is championed in novels such as the very strange Mr. Boy.

My interest in obsolescence is in the rise of Free Culture proponents in the face of ever tightening copyright laws, and the obsolescence of past film and television viewing in favour of a more expanded digital cinema and participation-based viewing. I’ll post more on that when I get back to New York.

Although most of the conference daytime was spent indoors in near darkness watching presentations and discussing obsolescence, we took a magical field trip to chilly Duncan’s Cove where Robert cautioned us to stay clear of the ocean’s edge lest a rogue wave sneak up and claim us. Really. We found sponges, urchins, crabs, and mussels washed up along the rocks, some of which we had eaten earlier in the week.

~photos of the expedition by Michael Maranda

Hudson Haunting

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

sparkling jillian mcdonald

Last weekend I installed The Sparkling, an interactive video installation, in an abandoned antique shop in rainy Hudson, NY. Being alone in the space with the piece, which I was for the days and nights of installation, gave me the creeps.

sparkling jillian mcdonald

This, in a back room corridor, didn’t help. Okay I set it up but still:


The project featuring several artists in storefronts and outdoor lots, Plugged In, is curated by Hudson’s Melissa Stafford. Plugged In also features a wonderful installation in an outdoor used furniture lot titled Everything’s Rosie by my good friend Christine Sciulli, and a video piece called Plain Text above and in the windows of a furniture design shop by the quirky and fascinating Fernando Orellana.

All’s quiet

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The Descent

I came across a post about the use of silence in the film The Descent as a defensive weapon in direct opposition to screaming, on Ben Woodard’s Blog, Naught Thought. The Descent is a British film about a group of friends, all female, who go spelunking in The Appalachians, and find themselves battling a cave full of blind cannibalistic creatures. They soon figure out that though the hungry monsters can’t see, their hearing is extra sensitive, so their utter silence is the only thing that can save them. (Spoiler!!) But it doesn’t do much good in the end, there’s neither a happy nor a cliff hanger ending here.

This interests me in relation to The Screaming, my recent video work, in which I scream in order to scare away or destroy various onscreen horrors.

Wack at P.S.1 and Body Beautiful

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I made it to WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution – a massive traveling exhibition that is amazingly the “first comprehensive historical survey of feminist activism and art-making” from the late 1960s through the 1970s – on the last day of the show. It was good, if awkward and painful, to see work by the likes of Carolee Schneeman and Yoko Ono which inspired me in my early 20′s. My highlights are three works which seem, in 2008, less dated.

ana mendieta

Ana Mendieta’s People Looking at Blood Moffitt (1973), is a set of documentary slides featuring people’s curious glances at blood stains on a sidewalk. This public intervention is fascinating and more subtly provocative than Mendieta’s earth-body art. Strange, however, is the installation at P.S.1 in which slides are viewable on a light table, rather than projected.

Marta Minujin and Richard Squires’ Soft Gallery from 1973 but recreated for this exhibition is a stunning and functional piece, and was full of lounging gallery goers when I arrived.

beauty knows no pain

Martha Rosler’s series of collages, Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows no Pain from 1966-1972 are funny and disturbing, a notable accomplishment. Her Bringing the War Home series are equally good (she’s recently updated the series using contemporary wartime imagery). Pictured above, Cargo Cult. Unfortunately this looks less dated because, after all, the beauty industry still has a healthy stranglehold on our wallets and collective consciousness.


Speaking of which, on my favourite new radio program, Q, I listened to an interview with Michael Salzhauer, plastic surgeon and author of My Beautiful Mommy. If you’re wondering why post-surgery mommy looks like a Disney femme-bot, the book designer worked for Disney. In the book, written so young children, particularly girls, may “understand” why mommy needs to beautify herself under the knife (I doubt it explains that culturally loaded question), mommy only gets a new nose, breasts, and tummy. She doesn’t get the butterfly wings pictured on the website. They might befit the spotlight sprinkling of pain-free Tinkerbell dust.