Archive for the Theatre Category

The Endless Slug Will Sleep a While

Posted in Art, Dance, Film, Games (other), Leisure, Literature, Pop-culture, Social Science, Theatre, Uncategorized with tags , , , on 23 November, 2010 by endlessslug

Well, gentle readers, it appears the slug must unfortunately slumber for a while during a potentially very long winter.  In a week or so, I will be taking my blog down, or at least limiting access to it for an indeterminate time.  It’s not that I want to, there is a bit of external pressure to do so for the time being.  I have much more to say, much more to do, and lots of interest in doing it, but for now, the slug absolutely must find a quiet stone to slime his way under and rest, just rest.

But don’t worry, the slug is endless and will return.  Wish my sleep well everyone.

Bejart Vs. Tori Amos: War of Postmodernisms

Posted in Contemorary Art, Criticism, Dance, Modernists, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technique, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12 December, 2009 by endlessslug

Did you like what I did there?  I’m using a postmodern style of titling to set up a discourse on postmodernism in the contemporary arts.  I even used the word “discourse” in the previous sentence – very postmodern.  In fact, this manner of writing, whereby I talk directly to you, the reader, is exactly one of the many problems with the postmodern movement: a lack of consistency and structure, and a shift in attachment to works from a universal general detachment to a directly personal, seemingly identity-building attachment between artist and reader with the work forming only a momentary adhesive.  Some readers, you perhaps, will find the way I am writing right now to be invasive, irritating, and downright insulting.  Other readers, you perhaps (which you?), will find the way I am writing right now to be caring, direct, connecting, and unpretentious – a place where you too can speak with me, not against or under me.  Writers, painters, choreographers, dancers, actors, sculptors, and so on, work in this direct style now for a number of reasons, one of which we’ll highlight here:  Fear in a consumerist production society.

Tori Amos performed a live Facebook concert Friday afternoon.  It was amazing.  I am only going to discuss the postmodernisms within her work though, not the concert itself.  I was alerted to the finite differences between Tori’s older music, newer music, and newest music by a colleague of mine who is a much bigger fan of Tori’s ensemble than I.  But I agree – Tori’s music has always been exactly what postmodernism is supposed to be: a break from tradition (such as modernism), with a firm base of tradition (structure), with an attempt to create new things for a mass audience but at a personal level for individual audience members (postmodernism).  Postmodernism, then, is not simply a movement, but a dialogue still continuing from what the modernists were doing.  The postmodernist ought to struggle to discover new ways of doing old things in a way which is meaningful and not simply done to do it, or not in an anti-meaning sort of way (cf Beatniks).  In a contemporary, globalizing, mass-media, consumerist sort of world, we strive to find things which have lasting meaning to us, but we ought to find those things which could have meaning to others as well.  My grandmother’s freezer has been working fantastically since the 1940s.  It’s not really an antique, but people today would classify it as old or antique anyway.  Instead of taking the freezer one day, most of my family will probably just want to throw it out and get a new one or sell it.  This is unfortunate as the freezer is huge and works like a charm.  There’s no need to replace the thing and lots of people in my family have memories attached to it.  In fact, I would claim that if any family had a freezer like this (a huge trunk-type freezer you could fit a small cow in whole), you would also have memories and meaning instantly created.  This need to replace with the new is a salient cultural feature of suburban Americans, but where does this behavior lead?  An inability to ascribe meaning to things due to the fleeting feelings attached to purchased consumer goods.  Essentially, if the thing does not strike a personal chord with me, there’s no point in the thing’s existence.  We’ve reversed meaning!  We are our own Emperors and Empresses needing our decrees to be followed by the rest; self-made monarchies of absolutism.  It’s no wonder personal prosperity theologies are so dangerously dominant here…

I’ve been watching OVAT lately again.  This past week and all next week they’re doing a “Battle of the Nutcrackers” fan-choice contest.  The whole idea that contests allow fans to vote is ridiculous anyway.  Fans vote on what they’re given, and what they’re given dictates what the fans will enjoy, so having a fan-choice is simply a reaffirmation for the creators of the pop-culture non-sense.  Always remember, they care nothing for you, only your money.  Anyway, the week started off well with the Bolshoi Ballet classical production of the Nutcracker.  Critically speaking, there were some small faults that I blame on postmodern dancers, but all in all it was fantastic.  Last night was the Bejart Nutcracker.  I was excited for another rendition of the ballet, so I sat patiently and waited.  I was instantly punched in the nuts.  Apparently, Bejart used the Nutcracker (or selected aspects of it) to tell his own life story consisting of an estranged pseudo-sexual relationship with his mother, his own sex and gender identity problems, and his genius-ness of dance choreography.  Directly, this is utter bullshit.  This is what we tend to find as postmodernism today: entirely self-interested diarrhea of word and art, self-aggrandizing – making our personal monarchy public.  Bejart himself even appears in the ballet on a giant black and white monitor over the stage, narrating his life as the dancers dance parts of the Nutcracker.  Bejart has taken a classical work – which works quite well still, see the Bolshoi – and turned it into a tool and medium to talk about himself in a grandiose way.  What an asshole!  My criticism: Had this nutjob simply used some of his contemporary symbolism to add a modern depth or alteration to the ballet, it could be tolerated, possibly enjoyed.  Less is more!  Who was the audience for this? I can only guess 1,500 community college students believing that this is somehow fine art.  Did we forget what that “fine” part of fine art is for?  Refinement!  After a few millennia of dance, you would think this wouldn’t be a problem, but there it is.  When did we, as a world-wide culture, begin to care one bit about one person’s struggle of life?  That statement might make me sound heartless, but as an artist, I can say nothing else.  Mr. Bejart, art isn’t about you, no one cares.  You need to produce art that is about my experience, his experience, her experience – something which folks can relate to.  Having dance-sex with your mother, supported by two drag-queen Faustian angel-fairies on a public stage is art only as a criticism attacking other post-modern art which tries to do the same thing but less well.  If the point of Bejart’s work is to criticize postmodernism, then it is brilliant although needs to be more clear that this is the intent.  Thus, I believe the guy is serious and therefore fails.  I was ashamed for the dancers while watching this mess.  I can’t blame the dancers, they need jobs, but I’d like to know how many went home later and cried.

Due to my crap training in writing, I can’t help but to write also in a rant-style postmodern method.  Although I do know it when I see it.  Luckily, this blog was never designed as a completely professional publication so I can break my structure a bit and rant.  At least I know when I can and can not.  Tori, do a Nutcracker.

Bottom-feeders of the Art World

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Artists, Contemorary Art, Criticism, Film, Gallery Talk, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 17 November, 2009 by endlessslug

I often check ARTINFO‘s website for new gallery exhibition calls, jobs, and news.  It’s a hip site.  Today, I happened upon this:

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tactileBOSCH Gallery & Studio, Cardiff, Cardiff, United Kingdom

Call For Submissions – Reduplication of the Real
An exhibition of photographic Performance Art documentation
Deadline: 1st December 2009

During the last decade a curatorial style has arisen that gives greater significance to the soiled, worn, damaged and defaced props left at the conclusion of a Live Art performance. Often these objects are considered Art in its own right and have been showcased in various stand-alone exhibitions. Yet the other significant permanent Live Art by-product: photographic documentation is often simply understood as a prosaic method of documenting the act for future reference and so its strengths as a stand-alone Art form has yet to be fully tested.
However, the photographic documentation of a performance is often fascinating, poignant and even humorous in its own right. It is a montage of esoterically linked everyday objects juxtaposed with a performer, focused in their entirety on a single, ultimately pointless, action; all frozen in a single frame. The photographs, with their distorted quotidian actions and objects, can come across as a scene anywhere between an uncanny distortion of the everyday and a gross and disturbing dream-like sequence
Reduplication of the Real will showcase a diversity of photographs that document Live Art Actions by both established and emerging artists from both national and international backgrounds. Some images will stand-alone while others will form small sets covering an individual performance. The exhibition will highlight the strengths of performance Art documentation and will lead the way towards further dialogue about the images as standalone works.

The exhibition aims to showcase a broad and diverse selection of images and as such, will work on an open submission basis. The curator will review all submitted work and choose a selection of work based upon their strength as standalone images. In order to keep the exhibitions presentation clear and cohesive the curator will request an electronic copy of all selected images which will be printed in sizes to compliment the galleries layout and mounted in a uniform manner.

Images will be valued at a price that will be discussed with selected artists and sold at 30% commission. All unsold work can be brought by the person who submitted it at the price of its creation.

<snip>

Seriously?  I was reading this and asked myself, “where do I begin?”  Not only is Live Art a massive waste of anyone’s time (please learn from the DaDa movement), but to profit on and exhibit the leftovers from such performances as art itself?  Have we gone to such a pseudo-refined degree that what we produce from a pre-planned arts demonstrative performance is in itself some sort of communication?  What exactly is this particular form of trash telling an audience that the trash after my last Stop Making Sense party did not?  Yes, “something happened,” I get it, but who cares?

There is a sense of archaeology about such a processual art display.  I keep using the word “art,” by the by, but I hesitate greatly to use it.  I once created a 35 minute powerpoint mini-movie on the archaeology of trash receptacles around my college campus for a contemporary archaeology course – so I do know a few things about trash and leftovers and how people generally feel about it.  People care little for it.  There is no good art-style “shock” about “what remains”.  Few people really care at all.  As the exhibition description says above, these are wastes of time.  Folks that travel the Live Art scene may pick up something from the leftovers and sometimes can swap stories, but what we have here is something more pedantic and certainly post-modernly selfish.  We have forcibly created storytelling among a very small imagined community for the purpose, I believe, in maintaining the ties and ideology – namely the life – of that small group.  People who have been to the performances can see references to what they saw, what they didn’t see but what other’s must have seen, and things no one should see.  We don’t have art for art’s sake, not art for artist’s sake, but art for ‘this guy”s sake.  What have we become?

I read a number of published theses from the grad students of the Art Institute of Chicago.  A number of them claimed that painting was dead and film was the murderer.  I’d say, rather, that painting is sleeping, and waiting for the confusion of the contemporary western art state to kill itself so that we may move on to making beautiful, mass-meaningful things again, and not waste our high-interest lease on time.

Ritual As Art

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Contemorary Art, Literature, Music, Social Science, Technique, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2 November, 2009 by endlessslug

This morning, the day after Halloween, I was sitting and staring at a gorgeous plate of chorizo and pork tacos at my favorite Mexican restaurant near my home.  The owner of the restaurant recently started this bi-monthly Sunday brunch buffet which I’ve been desperately trying to go to since the first one.  However, due to the holiday the night before, the owner could not prepare the normal buffet meals and could not do the brunch.  Instead, he gave us the buffet deal anyway and said we could just keep ordering food as an all-you-can eat festival.   I love this place.

Originally, I wanted to go in to the restaurant to make some sketches of folks at the buffet.  These days in our world of pre-packaged, mass-produced meals, it is a rare treat to have an open bar of food, especially Mexican food cooked fresh and from scratch.  The whole local community showed up at the first buffet thrown and it was pretty amazing.  Lot’s of people, live music, great food, and a wait-staff and owner who come around and chat with everyone as if this were all extended family.

I’d like to paint this.  Why? Because here is a series of complex emotions and epiphanies which cannot be communicated to others in any other way.  But then, even the painting falls short.  What we have here is participation in a ritual.  Ritual itself is a form of fine art, refined over thousands of years to be a collective and festive event which helps us as humans to achieve a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.  It already is a painting, just a painting which you may only experience by being part of it and it lasts for maybe two hours every other Sunday at this restaurant.

As a painter, I realize this cannot and should not be painted as it is akin to plagiarism – I would be just copying someone else’s work, afterall.  No, instead what the painter does, it tries to pull from the millions of life experiences he or she has had and select a series of symbolic references which help to construct a similar series of feelings to a more diverse audience.  I sit, I think, I try to break down the feelings of that restaurant into it’s smaller parts and develop a concept of how the ritual functions and works for all involved.  Then I can transpose it to another medium.  If I painted the scene at the restaurant, it would appear as maybe Renoir’s party at the frog pond, and that’s not exactly what I am looking for.  I also cannot simply slap down random paint blobs and “express” what I feel about the brunch, no one would care (see: all postmodern contemporary and student painters for examples of the latter).  The importance here though is the thinking and realizing that the scene I enjoyed and want to re-create cannot generally be recreated exactly or I end up communicating something else – either a narrative, an illustration, or poop on canvas.   I want to make the viewer a participant in an event of cultural exchange, public celebration, exploration, unexpected but delightful shock, and ridiculously awesome food, music, and dance (or maybe consummation?).  But this is too much for a painting – which is why ritual is a completely different form of art.  It is not easily painted, drawn, or written about, certainly not danced, sung, or played about, but can be re-enacted out.

I can’t wait for next Sunday.

Blog on the March

Posted in Art, Film, Gallery Talk, Literature, Music, Pop-culture, Social Science, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 15 September, 2009 by endlessslug

Just wanted a small update for the handful of dedicated readers out there – I have a number of posts coming up soon.  It’s been a little light this month in the posting world for the slug here due to working on stuff, general disillusionment with society again, and an overwhelming sense of futility every day I wake up.  But, I had the pleasure of getting my slug-ass up and going out to the gallery openings in Chicago over the weekend which inspired a number of topical ideas for blog posts as well as new paintings.  The work at the galleries were so amateurish and shit that I have been punched (slugged) in the face with an excitement for working rarely seen at the slug studios.  I also picked up a couple new books I’d like to review and comment on.  So, hopefully we’ll have a very post-heavy mid- and end-month.

Victory! (for me, sorta)

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Artists, Contemorary Art, Criticism, Film, Literature, Music, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technique, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 5 September, 2009 by endlessslug

I had an unexpected epiphany today: I was right, damnit.

About five years ago at an embassy dinner, I was put on-the-spot by a number of other Americans because, apparently, they were offended by a comment I had made to another person earlier that day. I had said, “[serious] painters should not work to sell, but should work to communicate.” This statement was made to a girl who had no idea about fine art as we were looking at some total street-crap local art being sold by some opportunistic ex-pat geared at selling at tourists. Of course, the statement was perverted by this idiot to “he said artists should never sell their work,” which was not only what I said, but it also suggests a plethora of other related meanings that make me sound like the idiot. Well, this all came up at this dinner at a table of about 20 intellectuals, made up mostly of excellent graduate students and some government officials. I was really very unprepared for an argument and was in the middle of marking down some field notes when all the sudden I was fighting for my artistic life. Partly, I couldn’t remember what I had said exactly, because I have stated that I don’t think artists should sell work – but at the student or amateur level as a means to make them think a bit more outside their little selfish boxes. The point when I lost the argument came when my attacker said, “So, you’re saying artists should not sell their work, then what about choreographers? They live only by hiring people and showing otherwise there’s no art…” I really didn’t have an answer to that and clearly had lost the argument by then. This has always annoyed me because I could never explain myself. But today I figured it out.

Choreographers are illustrators they are not painters.

Here’s some explanation: For years, I’ve followed the social science of Levi-strauss, Geertz, and Bourdieu, meaning structuralism (with a hint of functionalism), interpretivism, and very early post-structuralism. I, like these people and most other humans, polarize and categorize the world around me. One of the most misunderstood aspects of polarism is that the poles always represent the extremes which most people are not – most people fall somewhere in between and are made up of millions of interrelated polemics which affect one another – much like a gene structure. An early painting teacher turned me on to thinking of art in a polemic – there are painters and there are illustrators, with drawing students somewhere in the middle but more towards painting and watercolorists more toward illustration. The basic distinction is not the materials used because uneducated people believe that whenever you use paint in a painting that makes you a painter – this is untrue. The distinction is in the function of the work, is it having a conversation with me or is it simply telling me something? We converse with Van Gogh’s color and movement, Rothko’s panels, Degas’ atmospheres, Hemingway’s doomed protagonists, Maupassant’s surprises, Dante’s longing, Pavolva’s rending Dying Swan, and literally with the humor of Pak Edy’s Punakawan puppets (wayang kulit clowns). We are told what’s happening in comic books, mystery novels, children’s books, modern public murals, social-commentary art, computer-aided art, and musicals. This is not to set firm categories which are unchangeable, but to acknowledge that there are general categories. It’s called observational data (science!). We must also distinguish between the stuff we personally just ‘like’ vs. the stuff which everyone should be able to converse with at some time or another. Every male American should be able to understand and enjoy Hemingway at about 30 years old, if not, 40. Every college student should be able to understand and enjoy Shakespeare in most of his levels. I’ve noticed the aging artists tend to really enjoy ballet – I’m not a huge fan but I do respect it greatly and look forward to the experience. Yes, I am a master of sweeping generalizations, but then again, that’s what science and art are all about. The “fine” part of fine art is the refinement of the generalization in the attempt to develop something akin to scientific laws. We want the laws of art because we cannot always explain why certain works evoke a conversation or emotion and why other works do not. As we teach in my anthropology courses, fine art is the ability to communicate something efficiently, which is otherwise impossible or too complex for simple vocal conversation (words). The poet manipulates language for efficiency in emotion, the short story author gets to the point, the novelist takes us on a journey, the novella author – well, nevermind this, no one knows what a novella is anymore, the painter evokes feelings long lost, the dancer gives us hope, the musician makes us move – they invoke.

So, what does the choreographer do? In the modern world, the choreographer gets much of the ‘props,’ which is something I did not know when entering my argument years ago. Why? Because we live in a world where the people require immediate gratification and complete knowledge of every aspect of the show they’re going to see before, during, and after they see it. The dancer has been removed as the central point to the dance. It is now in the hands of the director, producer, lighting guy, stagehands even, everything except that person on the stage doing all the work. As an acting teacher of mine said many years ago: “[Dancers, like] actors are taught their parts. An actor is just portraying what they’re paid to do and only the best actor for a part is hired by the director. Thus, there are bad plays and bad directors, and thus there are no bad actors. However, there are great actors who go above and beyond the part, bringing it alive and communicating with the audience in front of them. Essentially, to be an actor you must play the part. To be a great actor, you must become the part.” This is how it was. Great movies and great plays still are defined greatly by the actors, although many film friends of mine might say differently. Really, a film, play, or dance, is created by all of it’s parts, there really is no ‘one thing’ which defines it, and I think this is where the public generally is. The public doesn’t know why the liked something, they don’t need to, but they want to, leading to millions of water-cooler conversations about aspects of movies the public thinks made it a ‘good one you should see, man’.

So here it is: The choreographer instructs the dancers on every aspect of the dance, the whens, hows, whys, wheres, and so on. It is their job to make sure that the show looks good to bring in future audiences. I would never claim these people are not artists, they surely are. But their art falls on that illustrator side of the pole. They are putting together a show to tell the audience something based on a script. They cannot create a communication as a lone dancer can. They can set the stage for it, literally, and hope it happens, but it stops there. Their job is to bring in the clients, by making art, yes, but they don’t do it for free. And this was my point in that argument five years ago. Fine artists who are creating something powerful, are often aware of it and create it to create it for themselves and others, not because they’re looking for a sale. “I’m painting this because I want to talk to you. ‘You’ being humans for the next 500 years.”

As a final note, here’s a quote from Anna Pavlova about her dancing: “What exactly is success? For me it is to be found not in applause, but in the satisfaction of feeling that one is realizing one’s ideal. When, a small child rambling over there by the fir trees, I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong. Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away.”

If you think everyone can be an artist, and that all artists are fine artists, you think as a child.  But this is fine, it simply means that there is much more for you to learn.

I win.
Nooge.