Thursday, January 26, 2006

CO2 Carnivores and My Semen

I recommend the following Guardian Weekly article. I'm tempted to write a longer response to Jonathon Porritt's "Hard facts to swallow," but I've made clear my perspectives regarding the ecological value of a vegetarian or vegan diet before. Porritt, the Programme Director of Forum for the Future and Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, doesn't tell readers anything new, but he highlights new studies and research which confirm that a shift to a global "meat-lite" diet will do more to reduce carbon emissions than strict mileage standards and the like.
"'Stop eating meat' is unlikely to be the favourite slogan of the new Stop Climate Chaos coalition. Even 'eat less meat' might not go down too well, even though Compassion in World Farming has produced an utterly compelling explanation - in their report, Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat - of why this really is the way forward.

[...] Food isn't 'just another commodity', it is the foundation of personal wellbeing and is inextricably interwoven into a nation's culture, character and land use. In that regard, farming and food production embody a set of skills and capabilities on which the long-term security of any nation still ultimately depends.

[...] Modelling [the food production] variables is a policy-maker's worst nightmare, but they absolutely cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, they barely [figure in most government plans], which seek to persuade...readers that there is no alternative but to accelerate the globalisation of the food economy. 'Complete self-sufficiency' is summarily dismissed, as if anyone is out there arguing for complete self-sufficiency anyway. What [ecologists] are arguing for might be termed 'cost-effective self-reliance', as a hedge against the growing threat of widespread ecological and social disruption - food security seen in terms of land use, quality, sustainability and food safety, not just temporary availability and access...And that means policies that do not leave our farmers gratuitously disadvantaged by overseas producers who care little for the state of the environment or animal welfare; policies that actively promote local sourcing, obliging our retailers to be as smart and creative about local supply chains as they are about global supply chains; policies that set out systematically to reduce carbon intensity in food production and distribution; policies that build on the excellent work already achieved through the public sector food procurement initiative, and the development of new agri-environment measures. It also means a rather different vision, acknowledging up front that a sustainable future for the UK depends on securing a thriving rural economy, and that this, in turn, depends on keeping sustainable food production absolutely at the heart of the rural economy."
Being a country boy at heart, and having grown up surrounded by neighbors who made, and still make, their living from the land and the ocean, I champion the push for sustainable, local economies. The sustainability movement, for lack of a better label, is gaining much public support in the U.K. and throughout northern Europe, but these progressive attitudes often conflict with the development schemes and aspirations of so-called "Third World" countries; furthermore, carbon cutbacks and vegetarian diets certainly won't find favor in the great, red dragon that is China's burgeoning economy. That said, I believe significant in-roads can be made in the United States and Canada, particularly in New England and the Pacific Northwest, where the foundations for sustainable, local economies are already in place.


On another note, a bit of uber awkward hilarity. As his father did for him, my dad regularly sends me newspaper or science journal clippings he thinks I may find of interest. Occasionally, he'll annotate the articles. As I read through a recent package of these clippings this morning, I came across an article on sperm donors and their progeny. Across the top of the page, my father had written the following.
"Your mom wants you to start selling your semen. A) You're too bright and handsome to let your semen go to waste. B) Mom can now use the Internet to find out who her grandchildren are. Grandchildren at last!"
Uumm....okay. I don't embarrass easily, but I'm sure I blushed. I know why my parents feel this way, but still...

Beginning in my early twenties, I made it known that I don't want children of my own and that I don't plan to marry. When pressed about this choice, I allowed that if I were to blindly stumble into a long-term, settled relationship, adoption would be my ticket to the parenting roller coaster. Mind you, I don't condemn procreation off hand. As I see it, one child per couple is fine - even two, if you want to push it - and I am genuinely happy for those friends and acquaintances who are proud parents, but I'm something of an extremist when it comes to my own actions.

This note from my pops suggests that my parents, after years of dismissing my stance on such matters as a temporary one, a product of misguided, youthful idealism, have accepted that I really do feel this way...and they are not happy about it. And so they tell me now that my semen (I know it's accurate, dad, but c'mon....I really don't want to think about my mom discussing 'Christopher's semen'!) must not go to waste! Every time I think about the note, I start laughing. Life is absurd.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sally Mann Links

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As a follow-up to my recent post about the Southerner's focus on death and decay, "A Rose For Emily," I thought I'd provide the following links - Part I and Part II.

Modern Art Notes
is perhaps the most established - most widely read, anyway - art blog, and Tyler Green, the man behind the blog, provides us with two blurbs on Sally Mann, one of my favorite contemporary photographers. Though best known for photographs of her children, I find her more recent work - bones, skins and Civil War battlefields - particularly affecting...but then again, maybe she's also got a little Latin in her?
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Photo credit: top image, "Virginia Landscape #21," bottom image, "Untitled [Appomattox # 4]"
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Posts will be slow in coming for some time. I'm sticking to my New Year's Resolution (see introduction to this post), and focusing more on painting, reading and rumination. I am, however, working on several essays (including the oft-mentioned one on Art World pranks, but also others on wilderness philosophy, religious fundamentalism, and the transition from modernism to postmodernism). These may not be completed for weeks yet....if at all.

Though this forecast sounds rather dire, you shouldn't expect an end to posts here...just a quiet spell. Languorous, the Hyaena is lying in the shade, letting a full belly do it's thing.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm altogether hung-over this morning, working a scratchy, tired voice as I argue with the bureaucrats in Accounts Payable, a department of stressed suits, piled paper and ceaseless ringing, reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." Fortunately, my escape is now officially sanctioned. In mid-March, I will transition from my present 40 -50 hours a week to a mere 20, just enough to retain full health and dental coverage. As Borat would say, "Great success!"

While the lion's share of the reclaimed hours will be given to the studio, I also plan to spend more time with the artists, curators and gallery people I enjoy, strengthening loose friendships and generally "putting myself out there" a little more. Approaching thirty and planning to leave NYC within the next three to five years, I want to secure the Art World umbilical while I'm living here; despite my misgivings about the Art World - regular readers know just how often I hem and haw - I do want to maintain my relationship with the inner circle, coming into the city several times a year to crash on couches, see tons o' art and generally make a nuisance of myself.

Anyway, I'm feeling awfully vacant. I just looked at the clock and suddenly thought, Shit! It's 11:56 PM!? How'd that happen?, yet it's sunny outside and I'm at the day job. Given this inability to process much of anything in a reasonable manner, I won't continue working on any of the posts in progress. Instead, I'm posting a few more pictures, with commentary, taken over the holidays.


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Even the most experienced birders sometimes struggle with gull identification. Most people are content to lump any and all species into one category: "seagull," a misnomer and generalization that drives me batty. The "seagull" above is, I believe, a third winter Herring gull (Larus argentatus), though it could be a younger bird, perhaps only in its second winter.

I'm a great admirer of gulls. They are adaptable survivors, sure to be among those trophic generalists which will live on after humanity plunges into a period of dark recession. Spend enough time around the various gull species and their characteristic behaviors become as distinct as their plumage. The chatty, almost gleeful laughing gull (Larus atricilla), for example, loves to dip and dive behind the farmer's plow, while the great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), bulky, predatory and cruel (by our standards), will stare you down for long minutes, waiting for some bit of fish flesh to be carelessly dropped on a seaside fish cleaning dock.

Most people love the raptors, particularly the Accipiter and Falcon families, and I am no exception. These hunters preoccupy the human imagination for the same reason the tiger and jaguar do, speaking not only to the biological imperative, but to our celebration of the individual, despite our sharing more in common with the pack hunters - the wolf, for example - and the scavengers. All the same, I have come to prefer the company of the noisy Laridae clan. They seem the more honest creature. If my life should take me inland, away from the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, I hope to land in an area where gulls make a living. Crows and gulls, in a word, rock.

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My buddy, Fred, a biologist and teacher living in Washington, D.C., prepares to shoot a photograph of a sanderling (Calidris alba) on the beach at Assateague, in Virginia. At some point in the near future I'm supposed to see all the photographs he took during his visit, just after Christmas 2005. If I scan them or, better yet, get digital copies, I will post the better images here with some commentary.

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A decade ago, bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were a rare site on the Eastern Shore. Today, however, there are nesting pairs established in many areas of the peninsula and I was lucky enough to see this particular pair in a tall pine near the marsh. One of the two birds is easy to spot, on the right, but the second eagle is in shadow and partially obscured by a branch close to the center of the frame. Determined to get a really nice shot of the pair, I attempted to sneak closer, but the "eagle eyes" did their thing and the two big raptors dropped from their perch and crossed the marsh to the northwest.

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This last photo was taken in a thrift store. The ceramic plate was hanging on a wall, among many other, similar plates. Most featured more standard phrases, familiar to those readers who have spent some time in "cute," southern kitchens: "Home Is Where The Heart Is," "Healing Starts With The Heart...And A Hearty Meal," and other equally annoying drivel. Then there was this one. It's not funny, really, but it sure is strange.

Photo credit: all photos 2005, Hungry Hyaena

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gallery Report, 12/17/2005

OK, so this post describes shows I saw over a month ago, but the holidays are a celebration of procrastination and, furthermore, I've been less inclined to write as of late. While I'll eventually return to my four-posts-a-week average, one of my New Year's resolutions is to approach this here blog as a compliment to my painting, rather than a chore/conflict.

The publish-or-perish phenomenon familiar to most academics is also present in the blogosphere, though the blogging strain is less acute and usually presents little in the way of real risk, save perhaps undue stress for the more compulsive personality types...namely, me. That which began as a lark has become something of a curse, especially once a core of regular readers materialized, however small this group may be. Too often, the compulsion to produce a daily post results in schlock. (This is true of all but the most exceptional blogs, unfortunately.) A good essay is most often arrived at via a series of shaky steps, rather than running, head down and eyes closed, for 500 words. So, instead of rushing posts with little editing, I want to treat the writing (and subject matter) at Hungry Hyaena as a distinct, more ordered medium, one that informs my painting, even if indirectly.

Anyway, moving on to the shows below. I met up with an artist/art writer friend of mine on Saturday, December 17th and wandered around Chelsea for a little while. The four shows below jumped out at me for one reason or another and I thought they deserved mention.
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Zach Feuer Gallery (LFL): A close friend of mine was surprised when she read my rave of Guy Ben-ner's Treehouse Kit. "Do you really like his stuff," she asked. Yes...yes, I do. "Haven't you noticed how many Israeli artists are blowing up right now, though?" To tell you the truth, I had not. (I have a hard enough time keeping track of my art supply stocks, much less trendy ethnic bias in the Art World.) Perhaps my friend is on to something but, based only on the work of the two Israeli artists I am now familiar with, Ben-ner and Tamy Ben-Tor, I can see why they have found so many admirers.

Ben-Tor, currently showing "Exploration in the Domain of Idiocy" at LFL, is a cultural barometer. Her work, consisting almost exclusively of video and performance, can be amusing, shocking, and disturbing, often simultaneously. Like much popular Art World video, the takes are rough, the editing self-consciously amateur and the sound quality awful; fortunately, this slacker aesthetic, whether borne of laziness or not, works well for Ben-Tor. She is the every(wo)man artist, responding to the contemporary schizophrenic condition by creating characters, or "other" selves. Hers is a frantic search for identity in our postmodern, fractured world. She writes, "[These characters] are all trying to communicate a certain truth, but are isolated in a domain of idiocy." I accept her statement, but also feel that most humans today operate within such a realm. The isolation we experience, then, is not so much a result of the idiocy as the reverse. Lost and uncertain of "our place" in the world, we try on new outfits and pirouette in front of the store's full-length mirror, eventually forgetting how we even arrived at this place. A dumb, consuming vessel is all that remains. (And I still consider myself an optimist? Yup.)

The pathos of Ben-Tor's work is very different from that of Ben-ner's Treehouse Kit, the latter being an essentially humanist experience and the former something almost pathetic, but I laughed a lot and thought to myself, "Now here's a chick I'd like to grab a drink with." I guess that's a pretty solid stamp of approval.
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303Gallery: Many of David Thorpe's paper collages impress me. (See examples here and here.) I like both the imagery and the medium/method. Unfortunately, there are no paper collages on hand at 303 Gallery. Most of the sculptures read as piecemeal assemblages of glass, wood, leather and other material, but the sense of physical depth and scale has been lost. A few of the included works on paper are curious, but ultimately unsatisfying, and the several "screens" Thorpe has constructed of wood and glass are less interesting than most of their thrift store counterparts. (Having just returned from an afternoon of "antiquing" in Virginia, I assure you this last statement is not hyperbole.) Overall, I thought this exhibition a disappointment.
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Tanya Bonakdar Gallery: Mark Dion is among my favorite working artists. He is an intelligent, thoughtful man - this assessment is based soley on his writing, however - and I almost always enjoy his installations and on-site projects. Like a good scientist, Dion believes doubt is one of, if not the, essential ingredient in good science. If not for doubt, no hypotheses or theories would be proven insufficient and no "progress" would be made. By donning the mantle of psuedo-scientist, the informed wing-nut operating at the fringe, Dion calls into question the accepted paradigms of the day. For me, Dion's appeal stems in large part from his conviction. That is to say, he is so dedicated to his projects, so passionate about alternative limnings of natural history, that he convinces himself that his peripheral role is, in fact, central. Whether collecting objects from rivers, cataloging such miscellany, tarring taxidermied mounts, or constructing museum-like exhibits, Dion is a conceptual artist who believes himself a conceptual scientist.

Occassionally I wonder if he isn't too focused on alternative/arbitrary taxonomy, but his latest exhibition, "The Curiosity Shop," would suggest otherwise. He has returned to the concept of the Wunderkammen, building a shack filled to the brim with all manner of discovery. Viewers can not enter the shop; frustratingly, it is padlocked and you can only peer in through the old windows. I found myself wanting to break in, to examine more closely the many small cabinets and arrangements, or to use a stool to look at the variety of items in the rafters. Dion intends to comment on museums, on cultural appropriation and on the human inclination to hoard, but, more obviously, he piques our related desire to touch, to see, to have, in some capacity, all the weird stuff "out there." Perhaps this is the core of Dion's charm; he reinvigorates our capacity to appreciate just being here.
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Postmasters Gallery:, otherwise known as Eva and Franco Mattes (but referred to by me as simply, Binary), seem to be in the fun business. Well, the Art World fun business, anyway. Frankly, it's a rather incestuous arrangement, a postmodern masquerade, if you will, in which the pair "cons" Art World sophisticates who are in on the joke. Perhaps a better analogy is that of the royal court; the jester is hard at work, entertaining the monied king. But there's one, rather significant problem. The jesters have no clothes. The stunts Binary pulls are incomplete, lazy affairs that never really get off the ground.

In this latest presentation, Binary creates a fictional movie, "United We Stand," a "Hollywood-style blockbuster" starring Ewan McGregor and Penelope Cruz. They describe the film as "a brilliant mix of espionage and sci-fi political stereotypes in which Europe, not the US, saves the world from impending doom." On display are several movie posters, an incomplete website and photographs of the "United We Stand" poster campaign from around the world. These photographs, however, are obvious hack jobs (anyone familiar with PhotoShop's cut-and-paste tools will leave unsatisfied). Furthermore, with the exception of a hilarious theme song and the mounted posters, there is nothing of substance on hand. I mean, c'mon, people, did you really think you could present something this half-assed and expect a thumbs up?

Ah, but yes...yes, they did and, in fact, they received as much from the Art World cognoscenti. As they write, "We are working simultaneously on this double track, the fictional and the this sense, spectators in the gallery who are aware of the multiple layers are passive voyeurs, while the unaware public, is actually a part of the artwork." Of course they can be celebrated as clever provocateurs! After all, if the joke is on the great unwashed, not the king, what's not to like?

To this attitude, I say, "Fuckilzenik," thumb my chin and leave.

(In an upcoming post, I will more fully discuss Art World pranks. It's coming along slowly, though.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Remembering A Good Doctor...As We See Fit

Growing up, I didn't think much of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As I recall, school was held as usual and there was little in the way of local observance otherwise. Like Columbus Day, the holiday amounted to little more than a closed post office, an upsurge in the sale of related commemorative postage stamps and, some years, a brief feature on network news.

I wonder if such ignorance of the holiday didn't have something to do with an ignorance - or worse - of the man. Furthermore, I sometimes believe this ignorance was due, in part, to geographical region. Were things different in upstate New York? Michigan? New Mexico? Today, the state of Virginia celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - always the third Monday in January - by sandwiching the preceding weekend with a holiday all the state's own, Robert E. Lee/Stonewall Jackson Day. That's right, federally employed Virginians are granted a four day weekend, one set aside to remember Martin Luther King, Jr, a great civil rights/humanitarian activist, and two great generals of the Southern Confederacy. It does give one pause, even if my Southern roots - and half-hearted loyalty - want to believe that the new holiday is a celebration of state's rights rather than a blatant, racist attempt to sabotage any veneration of King.

And yet it's clear that attacks on - and bastardizations of - King's legacy are not limited to the southeastern United States. In September 2004, the U.S. Army published a recruiter handbook for distribution via their School Recruiting Program (SRP). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 grants military recruiters the same access to middle and high school students' information that was previously available only to colleges or potential employers. As a result, the armed forces have increased recruitment efforts at our nation's public schools and the SRP handbook offers recruiters instruction in salesmanship. Two suggestions jump out at me.

"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is in January. Wear your dress blues and participate in school events commemorating this holiday.

February: Black History Month. Participate in events as available."

Shine and sharpen those teeth, boys...we've got some hearts and minds to win over.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Snapshots From Homeground

Photo credit: "No Hunting, 2005," "Estuary Sunset, 2005," and "Burton Shore Launch, 2005," all Hungry Hyaena, 2005

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Rose For Emily

A duck, cooked rare and partially carved, sat on the oval serving platter in front of me. Underneath the bird, blood mingled with the yellow-white fatty oils released during the roasting. As I half listened to my parents' conversation, the two secretions danced a slow-motion Rorschach ballet. I was intrigued, content to admire the interplay for what it was, the meeting of two immiscible liquids, when suddenly the interaction ceased abstraction.

There, under the dark stump of the drake mallard's neck, the blood and oil limned a perfect silhouette...of a duck. I was rendered speechless. This is more incredible than a moldy Wonderbread Elvis or some dust bunny Jesus!, I thought excitedly. The initial shock absorbed, I brought the minor miracle to the attention of my parents. They didn't share in my enthusiasm. My mother was disgusted - "Oh, for goodness sake!" - and my father, baffled - "Ummmmm." They resumed eating.

A few minutes later, the three of us discussed my need to drive to a friend's house to pick up my digital camera, forgotten there the night before, following a lengthy battle with some delicious mulled wine. Thinking it likely that my friends - or their parents - would check out the pictures saved in the camera's memory, I winced. Along with some shots of their Christmas party - happy, mother-daughter poses - they would find some photographs of dead rat pups; not your standard Yuletide fare. (I had obtained the rat pups, already dead, to feed one of my snakes, but upon opening the cloth they were wrapped in, I found their arrangement curious and decided to treat the tiny rodents as a peaceful, rolling landscape; the pictures may or may not work their way into a painting.) I told my parents about the possibility of these photos being discovered. My father looked up from his plate. I swear I could almost read his mind: Duck blood silhouettes...Dead rat pup portraiture....Duck blood silhouettes...Dead rat pup portraiture.

"You know," he finally said. "You seem to be fascinated by death."

"I am," I replied.

"I wonder where that comes from. For me, death is there's no reason to think about it. The end comes and that's that. Why waste time worrying about that which you can't control?"

"Alright, sure...but I don't worry about death...and it isn't the end in my estimation. I don't mean that in a supernatural sense...just that when our bodies rot, our energy continues. E=MC2. Nothing can be subtracted from the weave...only reconstituted. That's exciting, and that's why I'm fascinated by death. It's nothing to be afraid of. It's release from one form...a changing of vessels and a loss of consciousness."

I paused, realizing this wasn't the whole truth. I also find death calming, even beautiful, when it is unencumbered by ceremony or histrionics. I didn't know how to explain such a notion, though, so I didn't continue.

" seems you have a little Latin in you," my father finally said.

Whatever you want to call it - morbid, macabre, melancholy - I am charmed by that which many folks find grotesque. In my case, though, this quality is certainly not a product of Latin blood; rather, I believe it is closely linked to the region and climate of my childhood. It's difficult to grow up in a small, southern town and not become acquainted, even comfortable, with death and decay. The stereotypes are well established: cars resting on cinder blocks alongside occupied houses with rotting porches and peeling paint; toppled headstones, uncut grass, and strewn beer bottles in backyard cemeteries; butchered deer carcasses and full garbage bags dumped on the road berm; abandoned furniture and household appliances in the middle of the woods (how do they get there?); the derelict house with kudzu, raccoons, and snakes in residence.

Many American scholars and authors have considered the Southerner's cozy relationship with decline and decay, trying to better understand its genesis. Some folks suggest it is the product of a deep-seated, defeatist attitude, borne of the Civil War - alternatively known as The War of Northern Aggression - while others feel it has more to do with the southern climate, an often oppressive blend of high humidity and heat. As with most anything, a combination of factors is responsible, but I believe that climate is the critical component. The Southern Gothic literary tradition, for example, shares much in common with the magic realism of Mexico and Central America. Texans of European ancestry may not celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, but most of them appreciate it; the holiday finds even more advocates in the bayous of Louisiana and the bald cypress swamps of Arkansas. The "Latin blood" that my father referenced may, in fact, have little to do with blood. Dia De Los Muertos is of Latin American origin, not Spanish; its history is indigenous to the region, and the Spanish colonizers were horrified by the macabre ceremonies of the pagan natives. They did manage to force Catholicism upon this indigenous population, but they could not replace the established rituals entirely.

Centuries later, those mores continue to inform the culture of the American South, Mexico, and Central America. Inhabitants are caricatured as moving more slowly than their northern neighbors - "laid back" on a good day, "lazy" on a bad - and caring a great deal less about progress and modernization, usually to a fault. Family and religion are central to daily life in these parts, and marriage and death captivate the Southern/Latin American imagination. Having grown up in the rural, American South, I view the Northeastern (and Midwestern), tight-lipped approach to blood-and-guts reality with suspicion - this despite my deep appreciation of New England's landscape and culture. Returning to Virginia's Eastern Shore this Christmas, I saw much that touched me and reminded me that, at heart, I remain relatively Southern, even though the accent and the religion were long ago discarded.

Photo credit: "Love Seat in Marsh, Bull's Landing, 2005," "Deer Carcass and Dryer, 2005," "Vultures on Deer Carcass, Burton's Shore, 2005," all photos, Christopher Reiger, 2005

Friday, January 06, 2006

Descent Into Despair

I missed Max Schumann's July 2005 exhibition at Taxter & Spengemann Gallery. At the time, I wasn't familiar with the artist's work. I learned of Schumann only a month ago, when I read a review of his 2005 New York outing. Curious as to what exactly the reviewer was describing, I visited the gallery's website.

The exhibition press release reads as follows:
"This installation consists of approximately 150 artworks. Each painting is 'signed' with a price, rather than the artist's signature, directly on the painting. As the work is sold it will be removed from the wall, additional work will be added, and the installation will be rearranged in consideration of its new content. To the extent that work is purchased, the installation will be in a constant state of change, and will be realized over the period of the exhibition."
Artist Matthew Ritchie, a long time favorite of mine, was a fan of the show. He is quoted in the December 2005 issue of ArtForum, saying, "I bought 'Set Yourself Free (Green Zombie)'...for forty-five dollars and felt like I'd just got Manhattan for a string of glass beads." I'd be excited, too, were I to acquire an artwork that I liked for such a low price! Unlike Ritchie, though, my overall reaction to Schumann's exhibition is ambivalent.

Viewing the few paintings displayed on the Taxter & Spengeman site, it becomes clear that Schumann is playing the role of artist-as-cultural-mirror. Rather than condemn or critique his subjects, he merely presents them. The viewer is allowed to absorb the familiar, contemporary images and to make her own value judgments. These judgments won't come as a surprise; after all, viewers know what they think of SUVs, protestors, or George W. Bush before they walk in the gallery door.

But this doesn't matter to Schumann. The conceptual centerpiece of the exhibition has little to do with the paintings or even the viewers' reaction to them. Instead, it is the Schumann's sales and presentation model that takes center stage. The artist imitates the crazed economy of the day by embracing a low-cost, high-volume sales model.
"In keeping with his subjects, Schumann works in serial format, creating multiple versions of more or less the same image. As if to highlight the random rules of the economy of horror and violence, the gallery price for approximately identical works might be $10, $60, or $600. As works are sold, they will be removed while new works will be continually replenished with the exhibition in a constant state of flux throughout its duration...The controlled collaboration between artist/dealer and viewer/consumer is here rendered legible as a metaphor for our engagement with those systems."

-Todd Alden, "The Tough New Spirit of Dodge""
Fair enough. Part of me likes this bitter pill, but it is very bitter. Considering Schumann's enterprise, I sink into despair. What is his impetus? How can he adopt such a system without profound sorrow? Or is he, in fact, submerged in melancholy as a result of these efforts? I don't believe I could live with one of these Schumann's, emblazoned with a price as they are. For me, the exhibition works as a cultural artifact - a reflection of our time - but I am as discouraged by it as I am by the contemporary free-market, imperial zeitgeist.

Photo credit: images of Schumann paintings/exhibition installation from Taxter & Spengeman website

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Jane Hammond's "Fallen"

Jane Hammond
Dimensions variable

I have a bias against political "protest art." Excepting Pablo Picasso's "Guernica," I am hard pressed to think of moving, successful artworks in this all-too-noisy stall of the political art stable. I don't mean to suggest that artists shouldn't bang a drum on behalf of causes near and dear to them, but doing so without looking like an ass is no mean task.

Thankfully, there are a number of artists who produce work that addresses contemporary political concerns without throwing a tantrum; I didn't realize that Jane Hammond was one of them. I like Hammond's collages - and some of her paintings - a great deal, so I was thrilled to read about her installation/sculpture, "Fallen," exhibited last year at Galerie Lelong. Unfortunately, I missed the show. I include below critic Eleanor Heartney's description of the work, printed in the September 2005 issue of Art in America.
"In the show's largest work...a pile of large, brilliantly colored autumn leaves spread[s] over a low platform in the center of a separate room. Actually, these remarkably real-looking leaves are artful reproductions of ones gathered by the artist and her friends...Hammond inscribed each of the roughly 1,500 leaves with the name of an American soldier killed in Iraq. (As the war goes on, she will continue to add leaves as more soldiers die.) Thus, what first appears to be a celebration of nature's beauty becomes a reminder of the mounting toll of war."
At the time of the exhibition, "Fallen" was comprised of more than 1,500 leaves. Presumably, Hammond has dutifully continued fashioning her paper leaves, which should now number just over 2,200. The process of shaping, inscribing and adding these leaves must be a very difficult one, but I am thankful for the project and ever more impressed with Hammond as an artist.

Read the 2010 follow-up to this post here.

Photo credit: image ripped from .nsimplexity

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Winkleman: "God or Me"

Well, once again I'm trumpeting a post over at Edward Winkleman. This one is personal and pertinent. The comments are rewarding, as well.

"God or Me: One of Us Might Have To Go"

Ganz at Grist

In early December 2005, Grist Magazine published this interview with sociologist Dr. Marshall Ganz. Though it will be deemed "old hat" to die-hard members of the online environmental community, I felt the piece merited another mention at the beginning of 2006, as we take the first steps in a new year. Ganz has been heralded as an informed catalyst for much needed change in the left-wing of United States politics and he has spear-headed efforts for the national Democratic Party. Although I find his allegiance with one political party unfortunate - my own political leanings aside - his approach is vital and will, I feel, eventually appeal to people from across the political spectrum. Essentially, he calls for a return to family and local values, a building of community that will bring individual communities into contact with the larger whole. (I sometimes think of such a model as European, but I believe the United States is in a singular position to embrace the community hall formation. We are a young country, only two hundred years removed from Ganz's ideal political construct.)

In 2003, the Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental groups in the United States, turned to Ganz for advice. How can the environmental movement energize its base and, more importantly, the general populace? Ganz's answer: Think global, act local. Obvious enough, but Ganz doesn't stop at the hackneyed catchphrase; he offers a plan of attack, laid out in very clear, simple terms. The result is the Sierra Club's excellent "Neighbors Together" program, which aims to build communities where all members want "neighbors who have more than a zip code in common with us, who will work with us to protect what we love - our homes and families." This language could just as easily be attached to an anti-terrorism bill, and, to an extent, it is. This variety of terrorism generates less ink and outrage than 9/11 or Lockerbee, despite being far more corrosive and wide-reaching; it attacks us from within and is responsible for the continuing deterioration of our social fabric. The "Neighbors Together" brochure offers many suggested steps we, as individuals and members of our respective community, can take to begin the recovery process, but the core message is one of civic pride. "Preserve working family farms and natural areas from haphazard developments and highways. Take care of our existing neighborhoods. Attend public meetings in your community and speak out. Call, write, or visit your state's public officials." Sure, they also call for increased species protections, a tightening of existing pollution standards (with new, more strict legislation to follow), and energy efficiency, but these changes are made possible - or at least more viable - only when communities stand together.

I realize this sounds like dumb-dumb rhetoric - of course, we need stronger community ties! - but, as of 2000, 59 percent of American teenagers could not name the three branches of government and 98 percent could not name the Supreme Court Chief Justice. You might roll your eyes and think, well, that's not me, but can you name your Congressional representatives without enlisting Google? What about your Senator(s)? As community fails, so too does our belief and involvement in democracy. The Sierra Club recognizes that politics, community and environment are all tied together. Forward progress is only truly progressive if organizations begin considering all fronts and this is what Ganz addresses in the Grist interview. Below, I've highlighted a few of what I feel are his most essential arguments.

"Traditionally, membership associations, volunteer organizations, and advocacy organizations provided connective tissue between citizens and government, and public policy in general. There's been a substantial breakdown in that over the last 30 or 40 years, and it's left a vacuum."

"[T]he traditional formulation is that there's two kinds of resources that can yield power: money and people. Democracy is a way to balance money with people. And for that to work, people have got to act together, because it's through collective power that people can challenge the economic power of private wealth."

"For many years, the model of large organization in America was representative organization. Then, toward the end of the 19th century, corporate organization became an alternate model. One was about representation, the other was about control. So now, as the interests and constituencies represented by large organizations like unions have been losing ground, and as this whole market thing has come to be so dominant since Reagan, and public institutions themselves have been increasingly viewed as illegitimate, everybody says, "Well, we gotta do everything like the private sector; we have to do everything like the market."

And lastly, for all those "healing starts with the individual" folks (like myself):

"Is living your life in an individually responsible way enough to bring about the kind of change that you would hope for? I think the answer is no. It takes collective action. It takes mastering the tools of power, because there are very powerful institutions committed to making your preferred way of life impossible."

At any rate, onward and upward in 2006!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Oh...the Christmas trees, once tended by poor and poisoned Mexican laborers working on vast, also poisoned farms in North Carolina, are now laid out alongside hulking bags of trash on New York City sidewalks. In a few days, the evergreen needles will turn yellow-red, then brown. On television, all the talking heads discuss dieting and dating...or quitting cigarettes.

All of which means....Happy New Year, Amerika!

Anyway, I'm back in the saddle and posts will be forthcoming. I've got a lot to say about my homeland, the southern Delmarva Peninsula, but it may take a few days to catch up here at work and get the photographs in order.

In the meantime, they'll be other things to read. I hope everyone enjoyed the last days of 2005 and best wishes in 2006!