Art


It takes a unique confluence of ignorance, social pathology and artistic unfitness to get public art so wrong that it becomes deserving of our contempt. A public statue can invoke a ‘sense of place’, express a community’s values, inspire, memorialize, and engage the public at large with a sense of lasting grandeur–of the meaning of art in our lives.

A public statue can also frighten, disturb, confuse, ruin a person’s day, and perhaps even discourage a community from leaving the house in the first place.

The exemplary pinnacle of the latter type of statue is found in otherwise beautiful Santa Barbara, California.
I ask you to behold the horror that is “Generation Bridge.”

Look not long, lest you form an ocular ulcer or so sully your human soul that no penance can redeem you. 
This is your MindFlowers “Creepiest Statue” award winner and believe me it was not a close contest.

The statue “Generation Bridge” can be found near:
15 E. Figueroa St. in the ‘La Arcada.’
Despite it being in an open and heavily foot trafficked gallery, once you are there–there is no escape.

Here we see that the bent and leering Old Man is holding out some melty chocolate in his grimy, sweaty hands as one may hold to a dog a piece of hamburger with a euthanizing dose of tranquilizers hidden inside.
After the viewer decides to never again eat Hershey’s chocolate, they inevitably begin to try to remember the last time a piece of art prompted them to almost call the police.
 

Here we have the biblical picture of what destructive greed looks like. Note the consuming need for chocolate written across her face that is surely meant to serve as a Willy Wonka-esque commentary on how a ‘sweet tooth’ inevitably leads to children disappearing.
What clinched this statue as “world’s creepiest” is not just the theme and content of the statue, but the aesthetic ‘little touches’ that are indicative of an artist’s spiraling syphilitic madness. The choice to paint bronze is beside the point: marvel at the sickly pink pajamas that may or may not be made of asbestos.

At first glance, if you are a rational member of society you may think “Wow. The ol’ creepy-guy-with-candy trope. That’s disgusting.” But even then, you have not plumbed the depth of this statue’s depravity.  
Pictured below, you can see that this Creepy Old Man is certainly no ‘one trick pony’ when it comes to debauching children who happen to wander by his Shelob-like web.

Like a rabid St. Bernard, Ol’ Creepy stands guard between the girl and the safe re-capture of Dolly. 
As public art goes; deplorable. As strategy guide for dragons, terrorists, and Lex Luthor; brilliant.  

Below, the plaque honoring the creator of the Creepiest Statue, Seward Johnson. Kudos, dear sir.
Your art may not last long outside the walls of city dumps but your fiendish statements of ‘art’ will live on in our collective nightmares forever.

Does your city have a ‘runner-up?’ Drop us a line and a picture!

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM9RD7
http://www.sewardjohnson.com/site/index.html

While Santa Barbara excitedly waits for the Tsukioka Kogyo exhibit of Japanese prints (showing Feb 12-May 15 2011) there is still many works in Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s permanent collection to be introduced to or revisit.

Recently, I spent some time with Jules Bastien-Lepage’s (1848-1884) “Les Bles Murs, or The Ripened Wheat.”
An image of this work can be seen here:
http://allart.biz/photos/image-258.html

I’m struck that past the seemingly still and staid subjects of the work there is an undertow of change, of transition. This is accomplished through Bastien-Lapage’s placement of the green swath of field running across the frame above the golden ripened wheat.

The rhythms of growth are heard here, the respect and understanding of the patience of agricultural life.
That mature and responsive disposition is sensed also in the human subject here, a bent farmer with their back turned to the viewer with a reaping tool in hand.

The human subject invites us to question and explore their world. Bastien-Lapage’s choice of allowing the wheat gatherer to be turned from us on their knees with head bowed opens a door of repeated viewings to this art piece. Is the person repairing the tool? Are they injured? Why are they alone in their task and how do they experience this act of gathering in the wheat? Are they praying?

The person at their task with back turned toward artist can be approached from two directions: what it says of the subject, and what it says of Bastien-Lapage.

From the immortalized person depicted in the art, it speaks from them “I am not performing. I am fully engaged at the task at hand.”
Of Bastien-Lapage it speaks to the depicted, “I will respect you in your process.”

Of course, the discussion of ‘what it means to depict a subject with their back-turned’ can go down many interesting paths of
“when are we ever ‘not performing?'”
“just as in science, an observer always changes the observed”
“can we reach reality through art?…can we reach reality period?”

I found myself evolving with the painting. I wondered if the farmer was praying, if in their mind they were thinking of the scriptures portraying Christ as one who would reap humanity and separate the ‘wheat from the tares.’

Is the farmer’s point of rest at the golden wheat with the still green crop in the background a moment of repose to consider the enacting of a loaded Christian trope? The act of cutting wheat is an apt metaphor for difficult judgments or decisions as ‘decision’ is derived from the Latin “caedere” meaning ‘to cut.’

The point of decision has come for one rural laborer perhaps it is a profound moment of spiritual meaning and humility. Whatever the cause of the knelt posture, it is a depiction that tugs on this viewer’s heart to consider again their labor, decisions, and way of being.

Bastien-Lapage’s The Ripened Wheat and many other powerful works of art can be found at Santa Barbara’s Museum of Art. Find out more here:
http://www.sbmuseart.org/

One the great pleasures of Santa Barbara is the Museum of Art, located in the heart of downtown. The Museum has a lovely permanent collection of oil paintings and I was particularly struck today by Jules Breton’s “The Pardon.”

Below are a few introductory words about the work.
“The Pardon” can be viewed here:
http://www.artpoints.net/santa_barbara.html

Jules Breton was a French Realist painter whose work largely featured the life, labors, and religion of agricultural Brittany. One work that may be considered a ‘signature’ of his themes is “The Song of The Lark” whose subject is a farming woman in an enigmatic pose of reflection or attention.

Breton’s “The Pardon” is also dominated by the figure of a woman whose posture and appearance perhaps leave more questions than answers. The subject’s setting is a private area of a Cathedral where she appears to be semi-hidden to others by a stone column. Her purposes at the Cathedral appear to be private, signifying an inner and personal journey apart from the congregated worshipers in the darkened background.

Two clues as to the woman’s biography escaped me at first glance. The first is her wedding band on her left hand and second is the rough appearance of her right hand. In her right hand she holds a rosary and with inspection one can see that her fingers are stained dark from labor and under her fingernails are signs of soil or soot.

The painting’s title, I have decided, is more provocative than may be expected. At first I believed that this was a woman seeking pardon but after considering her face for some time I concluded that she is seeking not a pardon for herself but rather is seeking for the strength to forgive another. Her face is set as one aggrieved, not one in repentance. I conclude that this is not a portrait of a penitent but a strong and principled woman who is struggling to forgive one who ‘has trespassed against her’. Is her wedding band a clue as to the party at fault?

One subtle note that Breton includes is the shaft of gentle light, perhaps exterior light streaming into the otherwise dark interior, coming in from the upper left hand of the painting. From the woman’s current position she would be unable to see it, but presumably as she is to continue forward the column will no longer obstruct her view. It is a subtle use of light to suggest not only a hope for the woman, but also gives a sense of ‘time’ and ‘movement’ as we can imagine her travel and potential reactions as she sees the light.

Altogether, it is a fascinating oil painting and I suggest that you take a trip into the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to see Jules Breton’s “The Pardon” up close for yourself!

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art website:
http://www.sbmuseart.org/

I believe that it will be artists who will be on the leading edge on liberating you, your family, and friends from the categories that now constrain bodies.

What categories? Gender, size, sex, proportion, ‘wholeness’, ability…to name a few.

These often rigid categories give cause to a number of social ills–
Including but not limited to: transphobia, sexism, misogyny, heterosexism, anorexia, masculine stereotypes of being violent and emotionally aloof, homophobia, size discrimination…

The way we judge people by the shape of their skin is instable and
like other shaky but violently defended institutions, sex, gender and other body ‘norms’ will prove vulnerable to the artists of today and tomorrow.

The way we have ‘been doing gender’, thinking of abilities and ‘wholeness’ in America will be changing radically soon and it will be artists who open doors to new possibilities and a more just and safer culture.

I snapped the photo above while walking along Santa Barbara, California’s waterfront.
Its a great example of public art re-enforcing an idealized body. Like DiVinci’s Vitruvian Man, many murals, the art deco movement, oil painting traditions, and pop marketing, the picture above hands over an image of a heavily coded body–where proportion, gender, and ‘wholeness’ are unified in a standardization of ‘human body’.

But daily lived experiences for many reveal a world of more than standardized bodies. In fact, there is a consistent historical trend of folks pushing their bodies to be lived expressions of individuality–an art.

There are now artists who are pushing boundaries of how we think of bodies’ size, shape, ‘essence’, and gender. One of my favorites is Stelarc.

Stelarc states in an interview with Paolo Atzori and Kirk Woolford,
“Well of course one shouldn’t consider the body or the human species as possessing a kind of absolute nature…What it means to be human is being constantly redefined.”

Stelarc is perhaps most famous for hanging naked over cities by piercings in his back or the human ear he has grafted unto his arm, and has over decades declared the body a flexible platform for expression and redesigning.

As bio and nano technologies are improved more artists will be undertaking body art that will shatter conceptions of what human bodies are. Its exciting for me to see the work of the Church of Body Modification which couples spirituality and expressions of bodies’ liberation and the continued success of trans artists like Athens Boys Choir.

My favorite definition of art right now is ‘that which illuminates life’. What what is more in need of illuminating than the very bodies we live in and love with?

Stelarc. “Extended-Body: An Interview with Stelarc” Digital Delirium ed. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker
(New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1997)

Church of Body Modification
http://uscobm.com/

These here passages scuttled from the fern-green lovely “Lolita” are chosen almost at dart throw. Any Lolitian sentence reproduced by a million typing monkeys would be just as miraculous as the next.

“Actually, she was at least in her late twenties (I never established her exact age for even her passport lied) and had mislaid her virginity under circumstances that changed with her reminiscent moods. I, on my part, was as naive as only a pervert can be.” p. 27

“I now wondered if Valechka–by now shedding torrents of tears tinged with the mess of her rainbow make-up,–started to fill anyhow a trunk, and two suitcases, and a bursting carton, and visions of putting on my mountain boots and taking a running kick at her rump were of course impossible to put into execution with the cursed colonel hovering around all the time.” p. 31

“I discovered there was an endless source of robust enjoyment in trifling with psychiatrists: cunningly leading them on; never letting them see that you know all the tricks of the trade; inventing for them elaborate dreams, pure classics in style (which make them, the dream-extortionists, dream and wake up shrieking)…” p. 36

“Sometimes I attempt to kill in my dreams. But do you know what happens? For instance I hold a gun. For instance I aim at a bland, quietly interesting enemy. Oh, I press the trigger all right, but one bullet after another feebly drops on the floor from the sheepish muzzle. In those dreams, my only thought is to conceal the fiasco from my foe, who is slowly growing annoyed….I pointed Chum at his slippered foot and crushed the trigger. It clicked. He looked at his foot, at the pistol, again at his foot. I made another awful effort, and, with a ridiculously feeble and juvenile sound, it went off.” p. 49, 299

“…all along our route countless motor courts proclaimed their vacancy in neon lights, ready to accommodate salesmen, escaped convicts, impotents, family groups, as well as the most corrupt and vigorous couples. Ah, gentle drivers gliding through summer’s black nights, what frolics, what twists of lust, you might see from your impeccable highways if Kumfy Kabins were suddenly drained of their pigments and became as transparent as boxes of glass!” p. 119

“Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me; try to discern the doe in me, trembling in the forest of my own iniquity; let’s even smile a little.” p. 131

“The underworld was a world apart: there, heroic newspapermen were tortured, telephone bills ran into billions, and, in a robust atmosphere of incompetent marksmanship, villians were chased through sewers and storehouses by pathologically fearless cops (I was to give them less exercise). Finally there was the mahogany landscape, the florid-faced, blue-eyed roughriders, the prim pretty schoolteacher arriving in Roaring Gulch, the rearing horse, the spectacular stampede, the pistol thrust through the shivered windowpane, the stupendous fist fight, the crashing mountain of dusty old-fashioned furniture, the table used as a weapon, the timely somersault, the pinned hand still groping for the dropped bowie knife, the grunt, the sweet crash of fist against chin, the kick in the belly, the flying tackle; and immediately after a plethora of pain that would have hospitalized a Hercules (I should know by now), nothing to show but the rather becoming bruise on the bronzed cheek of the warmed-up hero embracing his gorgeous frontier bride.” p. 172-3

“…even at our very best moments, when we…silently stared, with other motorists and their children, at some smashed, blood-bespattered car with a young woman’s shoe in the ditch (Lo, as we drove on: “That was the exact type of moccasin I was trying to describe to that jerk in the store”)…” p. 176

“I believe the poor fierce-eyed child had figured out that with a mere fifty dollars in her purse she might somehow reach Broadway or Hollywood–or the foul kitchen of a diner (Help Wanted) in a dismal ex-prairie state, with the wind blowing, and the stars blinking, and the cars, and the bars, and the barmen, and everything soiled, torn, dead.” p. 187

“a last minute kiss was to enforce the play’s profound message, namely, that mirage and reality merge in love.” p. 203

“She hardly glanced at the famous, oddly shaped, splendidly flushed rock which jutted above the mountains and had been the take-off for nirvana on the part of a temperamental show girl.” p. 241

“A change of environment is the traditional fallacy upon which doomed loves, and lungs rely.” p. 241

“We rolled all over the floor, in each other’s arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us.” p. 301

All quotations are from:
Nabokov, Vladimir, The Annotated Lolita Alfred Appel Jr. editor. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1955)

Against many interpretations, I hold that Lynch’s brilliant Inland Empire is a statement about the possibility of hope. This is at a purely philosophic level a retreatment of the way we speak of time but holds a personal spiritual element of how one faces life.

The ‘time’ that I feel Lynch forwards here is not about sequence of events calculable, measurable, and linear but wholly spawned through the relations of conscious beings and the self-conquering of those beings’ ego illusions.

The film begins with Future watching the parade of Samsara’s cycle of suffering. The illusion is that ‘time’ is changing, but from the view of anticipating newness and true freedom unlocked from ego, the human experience and history is a sham of repeated failures and cycles of violence and corruption.

We are told in a number of ways, with one prophetic character stating as much clearly that the film is ‘about time’. It is a tale of one hero’s journey (Dern) through pasts, total commitment to the present through her art, and finally through her renunciation of the cycle of ego she releases an opportunity for change–a true future.

I see Dern as awakening to the reality that everyone is synonymous with another in terms of their imprisonment in Samsara. A key moment may be when on the sound stage with her director (Irons) and fellow actor (Theroux) they learn that their project ‘has been done before’ and ‘ended in murder’. It this transitional moment that our Hero later returns to and revisits.

In a promotional interview for the film Dern states that she may be playing ‘three characters’ or ‘all of them’ and hints at a support for this interpretation.

Another key element is the green watch. Here we have the time message repeated with the color green perhaps standing in one of its mythic meanings corresponding to the Green Knight of medieval literature. In one story, Gawain takes on the Green Knight’s challenge to kill him, with the warning that if he does not succeed the Knight will have a free swipe at Gawain with an axe before New Year’s. Well, Gawain of course can’t kill the Knight and when the tables are turned as the deal prescribed, Gawain gives his neck freely only to be released.

So too does our Hero give all to her art (in this case acting) despite all costs and in the face of immanent mortality only to be released into newness.

Another key is a moment in the Rabbitsverse where we see again the livingroom of the rabbits and one dressed in a gown brings in two candles. I take this to be an allusion to Shabbos, a ‘suspension’ of time, a transformation or divine time for even in the next scene we see the Hero meeting for the first time with God.

This God figure may seem irreverent in its silence and seeming lack of care or attention to the plight presented by the Hero. God stands mute to her, speaking only over the phone as if within the Heavenly Council or among God’s angelic host. However, it is this ‘Mute God’ that eventually leads the Hero towards her culmination, her great triumph. This occurs in the movie theatre scene where she follows God’s beckoning up a staircase to meet The Phantom/Ego.

The Phantom/Ego has been a mysterious figure up until this final moment, also wearing Green and leering in shadows. The Hero ‘kills’ The Phantom/Ego and is allowed to face the burgeoning/anticipating Future. The woman the film opens with, Future, embraces The Hero and the Hero Past/Present/Ego dissipates and unlocks what unfolds next: A mythic ‘reunion’ where Future embraces an idealized family (using heteronormative and nuclear family structure which are mythic tropes that shouldn’t be taken to be prescriptive for a Hero) and we then see a celebration/curtain call/Apocalyptic Age Turning through the credits where everyone has stepped back and seen the ephemeral and illusory nature of existence (soundtrack is Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”).

Of course there are huge statements about the exploitation of and violence against women especially through a critical eye on class, but Lynch keeps the journey open enough so that many forms of violence and social injustices are within purview including race.

As a whole, the film is beautiful, touching, challenging, and ultimately requires a personal investment and invites to a personal transformation. It is a spiritual film speaking in the language of myth and archetypes that gently nudges its viewers to give capriciously, generously, and without fear to their art while removing themselves from ego. A transcendent and enduring film of great detail and nuance, it evoked from me a trancelike state through much of it that, like the best of spiritual literature, was singly horrific and divine.

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