21 September 2015

Pig in a Poke

"I did genuinely worry for a moment whether reality is a fiction designed to confuse me, which isn’t a thought that you are meant to really have."

In other entertainment news: Gio at BBB offers further reflections on the mass ornament; and at 555 Timh ruminates over the banalization of the apocalypse and the end of the end of history.

02 September 2015

23 August 2015

The 'Eighties Revival, Pt. 56

Owen Hatherley, screeding about postmodern architecture (and its supposed "revival") at Dezeen:

"Defenders of Pomo who combine their liking for it with left-of-centre politics can point to the way that early Pomo was linked to local campaigns and ideas of "community architecture", against the collusion of big business and the state in places like Greenwich Village and Covent Garden. The architectural results of those events are pretty minor, but in the West Berlin IBA of 1987, Postmodernist ideas about streets, complexity, juxtaposition, decoration and context did result in some of the most interesting social housing schemes in a city already full of them. 
"But there is a reason why Postmodernism and the Thatcher-Reagan revolution became so closely linked. Charles Jencks's inaugural manifesto-compendium on Postmodernism included within it a staged knife attack in Robin Hood Gardens, one of the social housing schemes written off therein as a social failure largely because of its design. A great way of intensifying the rationale behind a design choice was the old Ruskinian appeal to morality. Modernism meant bad concrete estates full of bad walkways and bad open spaces and a bad lack of ornament and tradition, which produced bad people committing bad crimes. If you think that's a reductio ad absurdum, read practically any book on architecture and planning published between 1975 and 1995. The results, for those in those apparently "bad" buildings, would be drastic. The new "common sense" was that their housing was so awful that it probably needed to be demolished – eventually, as you can see in, say, London's Cressingham Gardens, no matter how much residents insisted they liked their Modernist houses. 
"It's not Postmodernist architects' fault that in most of the west, social housing stopped getting built at around the time their ideas came into fashion. However, the fate of Modernist social housing is partly their fault, in that they willingly gave the aesthetic alibi for a political campaign."

03 August 2015

Beyond the Shock Box (Slight Return)

On retiring the notion of the "banality of evil"...

"A spate of books have made similar arguments about the psychology of Nazi functionaries in general (see Haslam & Reicher, 2007a, for a review). They all suggest that very few Nazis could be seen as ‘simply following orders’ – not least because the orders issued by the Nazi hierarchy were typically very vague. As a result, individuals needed to display imagination and initiative in order to interpret the commands they were given and to act upon them. As Ian Kershaw notes, Nazis didn’t obey Hitler, they worked towards him, seeking to surpass each other in their efforts. But by the same token, they also had a large degree of discretion. Indeed, as Laurence Rees (2005) notes in his recent book on Auschwitz and the ‘final solution’, it was this that made the Nazi system so dynamic. Even in the most brutal of circumstances, people did not have to kill and only some chose to do so. So, far from simply ‘finding themselves’ in inhumane situations or inhumane groups, the murderers actively committed themselves to such groups. They actively created inhumane situations and placed themselves at their epicentre. This was true even of concentration camp regimes:
'Individuals demonstrated commitment by acting, on their own initiative, with greater brutality than their orders called for. Thus excess did not spring from mechanical obedience. On the contrary; its matrix was a group structure where it was expected that members exceed the limits of normal violence.' [Sofsky, 1993, p.228]
"In short, the true horror of Eichmann and his like is not that their actions were blind. On the contrary, it is that they saw clearly what they did, and believed it to be the right thing to do.

"But even if Hitler’s killers were not the mindless functionaries of fable, doesn’t the work of Milgram and Zimbardo still show that ‘ordinary men’ can become brutal by becoming mindless under the influence of leaders and groups? Not really. For if the studies of Milgram and Zimbardo are subjected to the same close critical scrutiny that has transformed Holocaust scholarship, their explanations are also found wanting. In arguing this, we are not questioning the fact that both studies are of great importance in showing that ordinary people can do extreme things. The issue, rather, is why they do them." 
- S. A. Haslam and S. D. Reicher, "Questioning the Banality of Evil"  

Chances are that if you've ever given such socio-behavioral dynamics much thought or analysis (or ever held a job in certain types of environs), intuition might've led you to find the conclusions of Arendt, Milgram, Zimbardo, et al., lacking. Not that Haslam & Reicher's unpacking fully unpacks the matter, but it at least points in a more astute direction.

29 July 2015

Scenes from the Middle of a Short Century

Connecticut General Life Insurance, Bloomfield, CT 

TWA Terminal, Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, New York, NY

Manufacturers Trust building, New York, NY
(with Harry Bertoia "screen" wall sculpture)

United Nations General Assembly, New York, NY

IBM 702 Model

GM Technical Center, Warren, MI

Philip Morris Research Building, Richmond, VA

Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

CBS Columbia Plant, Long Island City, NY

Photography by Ezra Stoller.

[ via Socks Studio ]

28 July 2015

Before, During or After the Fireworks

Peter Schjeldahl, recently interviewed at the Brooklyn Rail...

"Aren’t feelings the only things in the universe that we can really know? They’re the actual us. Thoughts are just lawyers for our feelings. Memory is a pile of stories determined by feelings and constantly revised to fit new feelings. I guess the emphasis in my writing has to do with my never having been educated in art. I saw and loved art before I knew anything about it. I lucked out of the problem of learning about art before you see it — because you will always be dealing with that information at the expense of what moves you first-hand. I discovered very quickly in the ’60s that I was the world’s leading expert in my experience. And then I got praised for making the most of that. I think Jasper Johns said one of my favorite lines, which I remember vaguely but goes something like 'Style is only common sense. You figure out what people like about you, and you exaggerate it.'"

I'm assuming that by being "I was the world’s leading expert in my experience," Schjeldahl means something along the lines of: A first-hand authority on my own experiences. To the degree that: subjectivity vs. experience + subsequent knowledge and exposure = an expanded frame of reference in which to ground one's expertise/worldly compass.

Anyway: Noted, the way in which the matter of "feelings" -- and how "feelings aren't facts" -- turns up later in the interview in a wholly different context; but then dovetails into a bit about the place and presence of an artwork re intention and effect, and the matter of artistic failure(s), that last aspect being returned to later still:

"Looking at art is like, 'Here are the answers. What were the questions?' I think of it like espionage, 'walking the cat back' — why did that happen, and that? — and eventually you come to a point of irreducible mystery. With ninety percent of work the inquiry breaks down very quickly. You reach an explanation that is comprehensive and boring. Bad art, as any good artist will tell you, is the most instructive, because it’s naked in its decisions. Even adorably so. When something falls apart you can see what it’s made of. Whereas with a great artist, say Manet or Shakespeare, you’re left gawking like an idiot."

22 July 2015

Habitat, # 11

Images: Sophie Ristelhueber

19 July 2015

Unbuilding (Slight Return)

As another Zaha Hadid stadium becomes the object of criticism and controversy, at the Citylab site, contributor Kriston Capps bluntly concludes:

"No place with real oversight can commit itself to the surreal developments that mega-events entail today. The bid process is a game rigged to favor totalitarian countries, where costs and corruption and the lives of workers are idle concerns. This is a game democracies can’t win, and it’s not the fault of any architect. Instead of competing within this system, Western nations must pressure the International Olympic Committee (and FIFA as well) to accept and endorse bids that are realistic and healthy for cities.

"And if they won’t accept that, these groups should find the most god-awful corner on earth and build a permanent site for the Olympics and World Cup there, once and for all."

+ + + + +

Art historian Dora Apel on contemporary imagery of urban ruins, and the narratives suggested by ruin porn's unanimous preference for a "Neutron Bomb School of Photography" framing of urban ruination and decay:

"Hence the paradoxical appeal of ruin imagery: as faith in a better future erodes, the beauty of decay helps us cope with the terror of apocalyptic decline. In the cultural imagination, the idea of Detroit has come to serve as the repository for the nightmare of urban decline in a world where the majority of people live in cities.
"Detroit ruin imagery also serves another function — it geographically circumscribes and isolates the anxiety of decline, making the predominantly African-American city a kind of alien zone. The ubiquitous photos of derelict skyscrapers, churches, businesses, and homes, and abandoned factories like the Packard Plant — the nation’s largest ruin — are repeatedly compared to war zones, hurricane wreckage, and the aftermath of a nuclear explosion." 
 "If the victims of the city’s decline disappear, the discourse of ruination becomes one about architecture and landscape and the city’s inevitable “reclamation” by nature, whether that means a return to a pre-civilized state or the emergence of a new ecological idyll. Photography that focuses only on the beauty of decay in architecture thus distances the viewer from the effects of decay on people and obscures the ongoing crisis of poverty and unemployment. 
"This effacement of the populace also reflects and reinforces their invisibility to corporations and the capitalist state, who helped create the patterns of ghettoized, racialized poverty that have long prevailed in the city while simultaneously absolving themselves of any responsibility."

+ + + + +

Certainly the death of something or other, one would sort of have to think.

image: Kikuji Kawada, "The A-Bomb Memorial Dome and Ohta River," from the series The Map:
Hiroshima 1960-65

21 June 2015

Public Service Announcement (or: Kunst = Kapital, Slight Return No. 489)

Ad Reinhardt, Rough Sketch for a Leaflet in the “Event” or “Happening” of a Fine-Artists Strike, c. 1961

[ via ]

07 May 2015

30 April 2015

Institutionalized (Slight Return)

After letting the grumbling subside, curator & MoMA director Glenn Lowry and his associates belatedly fire back at the unanimous disapproval heaped upon them over the Museum's Björk retrospective. Huh, okay. For some reason, I always get suspicious whenever someone plays the populist/anti-eltism card. But maybe that's just me.

Relatedly, the last issue of New York magazine features two pieces concerning the unveiling of the new Whitney space; with Jerry Saltz critiquing it from the interior at length, while architecture critic Justin Davidson assessing Renzo Piano's overall design for the building as a whole. While Davidson doesn't dislike the building as a whole, he labels it "deliberately clunky" and at times offers some less-than-glowing things descriptions:

"Once it ages a bit, it will start evoking our Apple moment, when high-tech containers, from phones to cruise ships, had to have shiny metal casings and dark, satiny screens. There's nothing seamless about this awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces, though: The thing might have have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled."

“Were I to judge the new Whitney exterior,” writes Saltz, “I’d say it looks like a hospital or a pharmaceutical company.” That aside, Saltz is far more enthusiastic -- if not effusive -- about the interior exhibition potential. And his piece is among the longest and more erudite that he’s written (to my knowledge) in a good while. Those who remember his tenure at the Village Voice about 10-15 years ago (and his brief stint with Modern Painters magazine) can probably remember how often he played the role of the art world scold -- venting about the bloated indulgences, excesses, and follies of various cultural institutions; calling for so-ands-so's departure; decrying on the absence of female artist in exhibitions and permanent collections, & etc.. Since he’s been with NYmag, not so much. But, in course of delineating the status and history of NYC’s four major art museums, Saltz slips back into that mode from time to time:

“The list of fun-house attractions is long. At MoMA, we’ve had overhyped, badly done shows of Björk and Tim Burton, the Rain Room selfie trap, and the daylong spectacle of Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass case. This summer in London you can ride Carsten Höller’s building-high slides at the Hayward Gallery — there, the fun house is literal. Elsewhere, it is a little more ‘adult’: In 2011, L.A.’s MoCA staged Marina Abramovic’s Survival MoCA Dinner, a piece of megakitsch that included naked women with skeletons atop them on dinner tables where attendees ate. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art paid $70,000 for a 21-foot-tall, 340-ton boulder by artist Michael Heizer and installed it over a cement trench in front of the museum, paying $10 million for what is essentially a photo op. Last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted a tepid David Bowie show, which nevertheless broke records for attendance and sales of catalogues, ‘limited-edition prints,’ and T-shirts. Among the many unfocused recent spectacles at the Guggenheim were Cai Guo-Qiang’s nine cars suspended in the rotunda with lights shooting out of them. The irony of these massively expensive endeavors is that the works and shows are supposedly ‘radical’ and ‘interdisciplinary,’ but the experiences they generate are closer, really, to a visit to Graceland — ‘Shut up, take a selfie, keep moving.’”

At the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl is equally heartened by museum's new exhibition, and similarly blase about the Piano's design. I reckon the next time we can expect this kind of consensus is when the new Whitney Biennial rolls around, at which point everyone will go back to the rancorous poohing-poohing that unfailingly accompanies the event.

28 April 2015

After a Fashion

In which the lede bluntly states what is elementary for some people (but perhaps not to others):

“Though we might try to frame it in more rational, objective terms, design culture is really nothing more than a highly complex, super-developed system of driven-by-object fetishism. It's a world where objects take on meanings and significances far beyond the sum of their material form. Where things inert and external to us resonate deep within our psyche. As designer or consumer, we are drawn towards sensations – the sheen of a particular texture, a particular colourway, the way a particular door swings. We've all had it, that moment when we feel a desperate attraction to a thing, an uncontrollable desire for...it, whatever that 'it' might be.”

From Sam Jacob, he of the UIC architecture department and the Strange Harvest blog, with a cheeky opin piece for Dezeen, in which he argues that designers could learn a thing or two from BDSM culture.

There was, if I recall, a fair amount of fetishism lurking beneath the surface of Roland Barthes's The Fashion System. Within months of its publication in 1968, Jean Baudrillard made his debut with The System of Objects, in which he extended Barthes’s semiotics (and fetishism) to a broader critique of postwar consumer culture. For example:

“There was a long period during which American cars were adorned by immense tail fins. For Vance Packard these perfectly symbolized the American obsession with consumer goods. They have other meanings, too: scarcely had it emancipated itself from the forms of earlier kinds of vehicles than the automobile-object began connoting nothing more than the result so achieved – that is to say, nothing more than itself as a victorious function. We thus witnessed a veritable triumphalism on the part of the object: the car’s fins became the sign of victory over space – and they were purely a sign, because they bore no direct relationship to that victory (indeed, if anything they ran counter to it, tending as they did to make vehicles both heavier and more cumbersome). Concrete technical mobility was over-signified here as absolute fluidity. Tail fins were a sign not of real speed but of a sublime, measureless speed. They suggested a miraculous automatism, a sort of grace. It was the presence of these fins that in our imagination propelled the car, which, thanks to them, seemed to fly along of its own accord, after the fashion of a higher organism. The engine was the real efficient principle, the fins the imaginary one. Such interplay between the spontaneous and the transcendent efficacy of the object calls immediately for nature symbols: cars sprout fins and are encased in fuselages – features that in other contexts are functional; first they appropriate the characteristics of the aeroplane, which is a model object relative to space, then they proceed to borrow directly from nature – from sharks, birds, and so on.”

To that, one might add Jameson’s discussion of the “depthlessness” of postmodern culture, as supposedly epitomized in Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes.” Which is one way to look to look at Warhol’s many prints of women’s shoes. Another being that Warhol, by many accounts, also had a major foot fetish.

Image: UK pop sculptor Allen Jones, c. 1969, with one of his “tables.”

26 April 2015

Poplock Cosmopolis: Once Upon a Time in NYC, Pt. 1

At his his “Energy Flash” blog, Simon points to an online piece via New York magazine that offers a brief oral history of the NY shop Liquid Sky, the rave-culture boutique/record store operated by DJ Soul Slinger and his partner Rey back in the 1990s, which quickly became an anchor for the experimental electronic music scene in the five boroughs. The magazine's main angle being not that it was a pioneering presence on the NYC underground scene, but rather that Chloe Sevigny used to work there.

I mainly remember the label that grew out of the venture. Firstly, there being Jungle Sky, which aimed to provide an imprint and/or means of distro for Stateside/NYC junglists like Carlos Soulslinger and his confrères, by way of a series of 12”s and compilations...

After which came the Home Entertainment sister label, which devoted to the illbient scene that was brewing over in Brooklyn at the time, but mostly ended up issuing a lot of releases by a handful of German acts. There had, in the early ‘90s, been a scene brewing in Cologne; many of its participants being in some way or another associated with the techno act Air Liquide, all of whom performed under a variety of solo and collaborative monikers. Two of whom -- Thomas Thorn and Ingmar Koch (aka Dr. Walker) -- owned and operated music clubs in Cologne, thus having been central to nurturing the scene in question. Koch’s club was Liquid Sky Cologne, which may or may not have taken its name after the Deutsch-Amerikanische freundschaft between Carlos Soul Slinger and the Cologne artists...

Much of this has long since receded into the fog of obscurity and marginalia. Koch/Walker would later opened a club in -- if I recall correctly -- Greece before more recently transplanting the Liquid Sky club in Berlin As far as the Cologne scene was concerned: before the 90s were over, it would be exclusively be associated with another sound -- the sound of moody, minimal tech-house stylings of Wolfgang Voigt’s Kompakt label.

Some 6 years I uploaded a mix of the Liquid Sky/Electro Bunker Cologne material on oe of my prior blogs, under the titled “Things You Probably Missed.” Have since thought of doing a similar one here, devoted to the NYC illbient scene of the mid ‘90s. (When was the last time I uploaded a mix? S'been at least a couple of year sat least, I think. Does anyone give an isht anymore?)

+ + + + + + +

Anyway, discographic tangents aside: Simon makes the comment that “The oral history thing is getting a little bit of hand, don't you think?” Although I haven’t noticed any uptick in the format, one might expect as much,. It’s easy work for the writer -- in that one relinquishes the role of writing for recording, transcribing, and editing. More curatorial than creative, because you’ve largely outsourced the content-generating part of the process to outside parties; thus rendering the process something of a cakewalk towards a deadline.

But the oral history, as a participant’s retelling, frequently lends itself to nostalgia, or at least to to some “those were different times”-type narrative. Case in point, a quick googling of the Liquid Sky topic reveals that Carlos Soul Slinger’s former partner Remy made an amateur doco about the NYC underground in the ‘90s, intermixing footage she’d taken back in the day with interviews she made on a return visit (years afer she & Carlos had split up and she’d returned to Brazil).

And over the past year or so I’ve heard or read a fair number of interviews from artists, of various stripes, in which the topic of old-vs-present NYC surfaces at some point -- about how the city no longer resembles the place that it once was. It has, I’ll admit, become a trope or refrain, of late. Plenty of it to be had in the above. Hence the appeal of the nostalgia/oral history angle. But as far as New York is concerned, it long ago became the economic trailblazer for what's become common in other major metropoles. As a friend wrote to me last year, commenting on a return to take up residence in his hometown: “As for San Francisco, I think we can officially pronounce it dead. It's a good city if you’ve loads of money for consuming culture, but at the same time it’s become a place that is very inhospitable to those who produce it.”

25 April 2015


For an amigo, recently through town on a writing assignment occasioned by the anniversary of a certain event. Fishermen and marine biologists and Geological Survey types aside, anyone who's put their feet in Gulf waters lately can tell you that you still have wash the gunk off your soles afterwards.

Anyway. If there's anyone I owe apologies to for my extended absence,  then yes -- apologies. More to come soon.

08 March 2015

This Exhibition Is Closed To The Public

On the circulation and consumption of certain goods at a particular moment in time (i.e., ours):

"To brutally summarize a lot of scholarly texts: contemporary art is made possible by neoliberal capital plus the internet, biennials, art fairs, parallel pop-up histories, growing income inequality. Let’s add asymmetric warfare — as one of the reasons for the vast redistribution of wealth — real estate speculation, tax evasion, money laundering, and deregulated financial markets to this list. [...]

"It is defined by a proliferation of locations, and a lack of accountability. It works by way of major real estate operations transforming cities worldwide as they reorganize urban space. It is even a space of civil wars that trigger art market booms a decade or so later through the redistribution of wealth by warfare. It takes place on servers and by means of fiber optic infrastructure, and whenever public debt miraculously transforms into private wealth. ...Or when this or that regime decides it needs the PR equivalent of a nip and tuck procedure. [...]

"Seen like this, duty-free art is essentially what traditional autonomous art might have been, had it not been elitist and oblivious to its own conditions of production. But duty-free art is more than a reissue of the old idea of autonomous art. It also transforms the meaning of the battered term 'artistic autonomy.' Autonomous art under current temporal and spatial circumstances needs to take these very spatial and temporal conditions into consideration. Art’s conditions of possibility are no longer just the elitist 'ivory tower,' but also the dictator’s contemporary art foundation, the oligarch’s or weapons manufacturer’s tax-evasion scheme, the hedge fund’s trophy, the art student’s debt bondage, leaked troves of data, aggregate spam, and the product of huge amounts of unpaid 'voluntary' labor — all of which results in art’s accumulation in freeport storage spaces and its physical destruction in zones of war or accelerated privatization. Autonomous art within this context could try to understand political autonomy as an experiment in building alternatives to a nation-state model that continues to proclaim national culture while simultaneously practicing 'constructive instability' by including gated communities for high-net-worth individuals, much like microversions of failed states."

The latest edition of the e-flux journal is largely devoted to the topic of the Anthropocene. Of the few exemptions to this them is the essay "Duty-Free Art" by artist Hito Steyerl, adapted from a lecture/presentation she gave last year, devoted to — among other things — the recent boom in "secret museums" in the form of squirreled-away freeport art troves around the globe.

07 March 2015

06 March 2015

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Pt. 38

So, this past Tuesday eve, MoMA opened its doors to offer the art press an advance preview of its new exhibition devoted to the career of Björk. And in the days since, negative reviews have been piling up. Far from being a backlash against the subject of the show, all disapproval and animus has been leveled at at the Museum and -- more specifically -- at curator Klaus Biesenbach.

Ben Davis at ArtNet News declares it a "fiasco" and causticly likens it to “a fashion show and a theme-park ride,” “a forced march through a props closet,” resulting in “[a] special purgatory between for half-baked celeb worship and muddled exhibition design.” This he attribtes to the notion that:

“...The regnant post-studio, post-pop, performance-obsessed sensibility has created an art climate where it is not only acceptable but inevitable to honor celebrity itself as a kind of talent.”

At ARTnews, contributor Michael H. Miller likewise deems it a curatorial fail, feels embarrassed on Björk’s behalf. Miller can forgive much about the show (even the Volkswagen product-placement tech tie-in), but ultimately condemns the exhibition as a case of misguided institutional “starfucking.”

But the most withering assessment so far comes from Roberta Smith at the NY Times. A few highights from the opening paragraphs:

“Given the number of Björk fans it will probably attract, the show’s future as a logistical nightmare seems clear. ...But the show reeks of ambivalence, as if MoMA, despite its frantic drive to cover the entire waterfront of cutting-edge art and visual culture, couldn’t quite commit. The museum has certainly given more space to less. Marina Abramovic, whose cheesy retrospective, ‘The Artist Is Present,’ took over half of the Modern’s sixth-floor galleries in 2010 (another Biesenbach project), is not as genuine, innovative or visually inclined an artist as Björk.

“... [The] exhibition stands as a glaring symbol of the museum’s urge to be all things to all people, its disdain for its core audience, its frequent curatorial slackness and its indifference to the handling of crowds and the needs of its visitors. To force this show, even in its current underdone state, into the atrium’s juggernaut of art, people and poor design is little short of hostile.”

Of which one takeaway might be that Smith holds Björk in higher regard than Marina Abramovic. Another being what serves as a unifying complaint about the exhibition: That it's a poorly-executed result of a museum trend of the past two decades -- one in which turnstile-conscious panderings to pop-culture appeal degenerate into a cynically complacent, slipshod production.*  Whlie several critics have compared the thing to an evening at the Hard Rock Cafe, a trio of staffers at Hyperallergic conclude:

"Maybe, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, that’s why we were all so intensely disappointed by the exhibition: we were expecting an exhibition. Had we shown up to preview 'The Tunnel of Björk' — and had said tunnel flowed a little more smoothly — we would have liked it?"

"But if we wanted 'The Tunnel of Björk,' wouldn’t we have gone to alterna–Walt Disney World?"

"That’s exactly where we went."

As far as how all this might wash at “street level,” perhaps the best feedback comes from the comments section of a post at Stereogum:

“Is there any reason for a bunch of Bjork’s photos, songs, and videos to be shown in an art museum? Similarly, was there any reason for Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic to participate in the Dance That Caused 1000 Cringes? Is there any reason why we need to listen to Kanye West ramble on about his nonexistent fashion career?

I’m not saying musicians can’t do other stuff, but nowadays it seems like everyone in the public sphere needs to diversify their portfolio even if they have nothing of value to contribute outside their primary discipline.”

Relatedly, Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic writes about how Kanye has at least some idea about how the differences of how mass-produced culture and high-art culture works; whereas RZA and some of his Wu colleagues (in reference to this recent possible “conceptual” non-enterprise) don’t.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* Or, as Jerry Saltz wrote: "I greeted its June announcement with dismay, writing,...'MoMA [is] destroying its credibility ... in its self-suicidal slide into a box-office-driven carnival ... Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass vitrine, Queen Marina staring at smitten viewers in the atrium, the trashy Tim Burton show, last season's gee-whiz Rain Room, and of course the wrecking ball Diller Scofidio + Renfro is about to swing.' What made me know back then that the Björk show would likely be another embarrassing pop-programming nadir in a string of embarrassing pop-programming nadirs was the way MoMA — more than any major museum in the world — has gravitated to spectacle almost for its own sake." Mind you, this was penned the critic who fawned over being invited take part in that Jay-Z video; but he Saltz returns to scold modus in towards the end of the piece as he veers into a museum/cultural politics screed.

19 February 2015

From the Repository

Yes, the "Decades blogs" to which I was a contributor went into stasis a good while back. But there has been the scattered infrequent post from a few contributors over the past couple of years, albeit mostly very short and offhanded. But contributor William popped up in recent days at the' 90s blog to offer a longer piece -- a defense of Adam Curtis’s latest doco, Bitter Lake.

I’ve yet to watch Bitter Lake. In fact, I haven’t been (as you might’ve noticed) on the internets quite as much recently, and only found out about the film a few days ago, immediately queued it, and plan to get around to it by week’s end. But nevermind, William’s piece doesn’t have much to do with Bitter Lake specifically, or with its content; but rather a response to critics’ gripes about Curtis’s methods as a filmmaker -- about Curtis’s heavy-to-exclusive reliance on readymade archival film footage, his vault-raiding recontextualizations of presentations of things past, etc..

William offers some interesting comments in the early paragraphs, broader observations that fall well outside the sphere of my own critical misgivings about Curtis. One example:
“The internet was hailed as great breakthrough in multimedia, which it is of course. But it has also produced a revenge of the written word, and of those who believe writing is the senior service of media. Platforms like tumblr or pinterest have ended up devaluing images by reducing them to a churn; twitter actively defaces them, using pictures and video as fodder for jokes, constant fact-checking or abuse. Live-tweeting programs seems like a way of refusing to surrender to the pull of video and sound.” 
Of course, with Curtis we’re talking about footage culled from news and entertainment media -- that domain where glamour and atrocity, the sacred and the profane, the significant and the trivial meet on the same plane. Where truth and falsehood often cancel each other out, simply by dent of their coexistence within the same realm. Where signal to noise are deeply intertwined in a way that is deeply symbiotic, and sometimes even a little bit synergistic, as well. At his best, Adam Curtis is all too aware of these contradictions, and very often plays with them, employing them extensively in productions like It Felt Like A Kiss.*

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

With that latter idea mind, the latter stretch of William’s piece had me thinking of Michel Foucault’s comments on the archive in The Archeology of Knowledge. Specifically about the archive and its relation to what Foucault labels an “historical a priori":

“...All these various figures and individuals do not communicate solely by the logical succession of propositions that they advance, nor by the recurrence oft hemes, nor by the obstinacy of a meaning transmitted, forgotten, and rediscovered; they communicate by the form of positivity of their discourse, or more exactly, this form of positivity (and the conditions of operation of the enunciative function) defines a field in which formal identities, thematic continuities, translations of concepts, and polemical interchanges may be deployed. Thus positivity plays the role of what might be called a historical a priori.”

[...] This a priori does not elude historicity : it does not constitute, above events, and in an unmoving heaven, an atemporal structure; it is defined as the group of rules that characterize a discursive practice: but these rules are not imposed from the outside on the elements that they relate together; they are caught up in the very things that they connect; and if they are not modified with the least of them, they modify them, and are transformed with them into certain decisive thresholds. The priori of positivities is not only the system of a temporal dispersion; it is itself a transformable group.”

[...] “It cannot take account (by some kind of psychological or cultural genesis) of the formal priori but it enables us to understand how the formal prioris may have in history points of contact, places of insertion, irruption, or emergence, domains or occasions of operation, and to understand how this history may be not an absolutely extrinsic contingence, not a necessity of form deploying its own dialectic, but a specific regularity.”

In this context -- that being the present cultural context -- we could perhaps consider the film archive as the bedrock of a mediated empiricism.

17 February 2015

Yes, I've Been Away

But reason enough to finally poke my head up is to pass long that that Mount Maxwell Radio has posted a new podcast mix. Music and miscellaneous audio, amounting to fifty-two minutes of hauntological hypnagogia, as transmitted from the scenic shores of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

03 February 2015

08 January 2015

Politics Aside

"You know what the real problem with Bourdieu was? The real problem with Bourdieu was that he was a schmuck. Power hungry and mean in spirit and obsessed with career."

- Howard S. Becker, via

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