Monday, January 30, 2012

Art From Goodland

The view from Meredith Trombles' Holiday Inn room; Goodland, Kansas

Yesterday, Bay Area artist and writer Meredith Tromble launched Art & Shadows, a new blog that received the 2011 Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant in advance of its inception.

In her inaugural post, Tromble introduces several of the challenging questions she plans to ruminate on at Art & Shadows.
"As I look out towards the prairie from my hotel room, it seems right that this first Art & Shadows should come from Kansas, and from a small town. The questions I want to explore in this blog, questions about the art world and about what art is, how we know art when we see it, and what it means in our lives, are my questions in part because of where I grew up. I am passionately involved with contemporary art, but I've never gotten comfortable with the disconnect between art now and art here. For example, there's a lot of talk about 'community' in the works I encounter in my everyday life as an artist, writer, and teacher; but the thinking doesn't always seem to encompass the kind of community consciousness shared by the rural people who live here."
Perhaps I respond so positively to Tromble's Kansas hotel room musings because of my own rural upbringing -- I'm similarly uncomfortable with the disconnect she describes -- but I believe that the questions she raises are urgent and universal, and that they must be part of the general art conversation. If we approach them earnestly -- as objectively as our subjective realm permits, and with as little posturing as our egos will allow -- we could shape a sustainable and robust 21st century art world, one that might even incorporate both "art now" and "art here."

Image credit: Meredith Tromble, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oh, Starlings!

A few months ago, a friend shared the above video with me. You might have seen or read about it before; it went "viral" late last year. The two friends who appear in the clip are treated to an intimate encounter with a large murmuration, or flock of European starlings. Murmurations of such substantial size are natural phenomena that, no matter how familiar, retain their capacity to inspire wonder, even awe. As one, the birds sweep and dance in an astonishing and fluid choreography; the rush of their wingbeats and many bodies pushing through the air produces a sound that accounts for the name. Because the audible component of a murmuration is impressive in its own right, I wish a version of the video were available without the hokey music, but the giddy joy that the canoeing friends experience is palpable, especially near the short film's end, when one of the women looks at the camera with marveling, wide eyes, and they both begin to laugh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Big Sky Country

Christopher Saunders
"Whitenoise no. 1"
Oil on linen
24 x 18 inches

In a 2009 post about painter Christopher Saunders' "Whitenoise" series, I recounted philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's hierarchy of aesthetic experience and connected it to Saunders' work.
"In his volume The World As Will and Representation (1818), Schopenhauer elucidated a scale of aesthetic experience. At one end of this spectrum, he described the 'Feeling of Beauty' as 'Light...reflected off a flower. (Pleasure from a mere perception of an object that cannot hurt [the] observer.)' At the other end of the spectrum, the philosopher positioned the 'Full Feeling of Sublime' and the 'Fullest Feeling of Sublime.' These categories are described, respectively, as 'Overpowering turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from beholding very violent, destructive objects.),' and 'Immensity of Universe's extent or duration. (Pleasure from knowledge of observer's nothingness and oneness with Nature.)'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Her Colorful Obliteration

Yayoi Kusama
"Obliteration Room"
Yayoi Kusama calls herself an "obsessive artist." Indeed, she's obsessed with polka dots; her paintings, sculptures, and constructed environments are almost always speckled with them. But Kusama's singular commitment to circles and pattern isn't her only "outsider artist" qualification. Since the mid-1970s, the artist has voluntarily committed herself to a Tokyo mental hospital, where she continues to create new work.

I recalled this last fact when I first saw photographs of Kusama's "Obliteration Room," an installation included in her "Look Now, See Forever" solo exhibition at Australia's Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art. "Obliteration Room" began as a completely whitewashed interior space. The room's couches, bookshelves, kitchen table, cupboards, house plants, and piano were all colorless. When the museum exhibition opened, colorful stickers were distributed to installation visitors, and children were especially encouraged to cover whatever they pleased. Over time, the whitewashed installation has exploded in vibrant color, its once discernible space transformed into a perception-warping experience. The room, as the installation's title predicted, has been obliterated.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ernest Jolly's Unfinished Labors

Ernest Jolly
Disco ball, flocking, wire, leather thread, and foam
Dimensions variable
One has to marvel at the inscrutability of the sculptures and installation Ernest Jolly includes in "The Labor Party," his current solo exhibition at Patricia Sweetow Gallery. "Carry Me Home," a wheelbarrow fashioned of frosted Plexiglas and metal, and "Limbo," an installation featuring a half-flocked disco ball spinning above leather punching bags, are compelling and surreal creations. Yet I connected neither to the plight "of the black agricultural worker in the Southern United States before the First World War," their conceptual substance according to the gallery's press release, which almost reads as if it describes a piece of choreography or theater.
"The punching bags represent the hero of the field laborer, a Black Prize Fighter, whose strength was respected in a world where the laborer was powerless. If only for a brief moment, and with great cathartic justice, The Prize Fighter could break the color barrier, by competing with, and potentially beating the white fighter. [...] The globe, while being a ubiquitous object at dance halls, also gives voice to the specific dance 'Limbo' - dancers move under a pole that is gradually lowered from chest level, and when cleared is considered the triumph of life over death. In Jolly's 'Limbo' the transformation of hope, life, and place are revolving in his disco sun, casting an eclipse in a profound struggle for life."

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Zeke Cube

Zeke Berman
"Still Life With Necker Cube"
16 x 20 inches

I've long celebrated -- even, in my idolatrous way, revered -- the Necker Cube, the familiar optical illusion created by Swiss crystallographer, Louis Necker. I regard the impossible cube as a symbol of life's push-pull ambivalence and contradiction.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Keep the Flame Alive In 2012

2011 will be best remembered as a year of popular dissatisfaction and uprisings. Lacking a crystal ball, such instability -- especially the prospective political transitions from despotism to democracy in Egypt and Libya -- can cause acute anxiety.

As we enter 2012, it's useful to keep in mind that democracy is a pendulum that forever swings from equilibrium to imbalance and back. The uncertainty and tensions associated with the political and ideological landscape of today's Middle East are also endemic to established democracies. Lewis Lapham described the workings of a democratic government in "Democracy 101," an essay published in the April 2011 issue of Harper's Magazine.
"Democracy is a dangerous business; it allies itself with change, which engenders movement, which induces friction, which implies unhappiness, which assumes conflict not only as the normal but also as the necessary condition of its existence. The idea collapses unless countervailing stresses oppose one another with competing weight - unless enough people stand willing to sustain the argument between the governing and the governed, between city and town, capital and labor, men and women, matter and mind. [...It] is the freedoms of thought that rescue a democracy from its stupidities and crimes, the courage of its dissenting citizens that protects it against the despotism of wealth and power backed up with platitudes and billy clubs and subprime loans."
This description should ignite fire in the belly of all United States citizens, wherever they place themselves on the political spectrum.

In late January 2009, I wrote an essay titled "Eudamonia." The piece explored the possible causes of a "bout of optimism [that] seemed remarkable in both duration and degree." That optimism is tempered today, but it still burns, despite the growth of "triumphant pessimism" among our populace. I remain optimistic because I believe in long term improvement, in two steps forward for one step back.

Let us all be devoted, active citizens in 2012, realistic, but not cynical, hopeful, but not naive, critical, but not destructive.

Image credit: uncredited photograph ripped from Care2 Make A Difference website

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!

Ampitheatre; Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve; Guerneville, CA; December 2011
Happy new year, HH readers! I hope that you all had joyous, healthy, and memorable holiday seasons and that 2012 will bring good things.

The photo-collage above is best viewed at a larger scale; click through to my Flickr account to enlarge it.

Image credit: Christopher Reiger, 2011