Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, July 2010.
“The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person.” —Czeslaw Milosz
Ashley Bickerton’s paintings are a form of combat between attachment and its opposite, a fusion of subject matter with distance between the parts. His mastery of tone—tone as defined by writers, not painters; that elusive internal, fluid, ambient quality in art that is shaped by the attitude of the artist towards his subject, or towards his audience, or towards himself and his way of painting, that nearly impossible-to-define tug of war—through a dialectic, sometimes dialogic, angular use of tone he holds things together but also always apart, and that is refreshing. Total integration is a terrible thing. In any work of art, and probably in life as well.
Chekov once said that if a playwright hangs a gun on the wall in the first act, there had better be a murder by the third. And that is the reason I don’t watch plays, except when they’re written by a friend and I can’t find an excuse fast enough. They feel claustrophobic, an elevator, a closed box taking you in a simple line, opening up into the deracinated self-consciousness of the artist’s private aesthetic salon or, at the very least, onto a grotesque scene of the artist clutching his subject like a monkey.
It’s exhilarating to find an artist who can sip a slurpie while watching an atrocity without losing his capacity for care.
I stood in Bickerton’s Bali studio looking at Preparation with Green Sky, a vaguely Polynesian bacchanal taken to bounteous limits, and a part of my mind kept drifting towards the callipygian shape in the background. “I like something about the unselfconscious glee in which the fecund young women proffer their piglets and their buttocks to no one in particular while the blue man offers his bounty directly to the viewer,” Bickerton says.
And the critic answers, “I can’t stop looking at that butt.”
Continue reading Ashley Bickerton’s Sad Anthropologists
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (April 2010).
A long long time ago, in a land far far away, I ran a gallery that had a philosophy of integrating art and life. Gaya (in Bali) includes a restaurant and, after I left, added a gelateria. I love gelato, mostly because it comes in hazelnut. “Ice cream” doesn’t come in hazelnut. It comes in double-caramel-fudge marshmallow rocky road, chunky monkey, or whatever flavor can stuff the most chocolate, nuts, and other goodies into an ice cream bucket. The more explosions, the better the ice cream. Like a Hollywood movie.
On most days I’ll take Taxi Driver over Tarkovksy’s two-hour landscape pans, and, similarly, I’ll usually take a Brooklyn pizza over its poor Italian beta version (do I dare wax poetic about the lasagna pizza at Broadway and North 7th, run by Mexicans, a full lasagna on top of a pizza, or would that kill what little is left of my credibility?) But ice cream’s not pizza. There’s something about the purity of a hazelnut gelato that trumps the multidimensional density-whorls of New York Super Fudge Chunk.
Continue reading Edible Language
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, January 2010.
“Homo vult decipi; decipiatur.”
.Through years of traveling the world and writing articles in magazines, I’ve developed psychic powers. I can influence your actions by controlling the cadence of the text on the page as you read it. Unlike some charlatan astrologers, psychics and witch doctors, my skill is based in science, a lifetime of studying how the rhythm of language influences brainwaves, particularly certain passages buried deep within the English language, passages that were dictated to me by an old woman, a hermeneutic. The study of those passages demanded supreme scholarship to interpret, years of intense application, and it has still not been wholly worked out. In order to help me, the old woman gave birth to my grandmother, who bore my mother. When my mother gave birth to me, there I was, deciphering the dictations of the old woman.
Continue reading Magic
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (December 2009).
A brand used to be a symbol burned onto a cow’s butt. [When] a ranch had a long-standing reputation of raising healthy cows, the brand was its symbol of quality. But once the “-ing” was added to the word “brand,” and agencies started to ply the black art of “branding,” a brand was no longer the symbol of quality and reputation earned over time. Instead it was something that was just made up by ad agency creatives applying ingenuity to the disingenuous.”
— Augustine Fou
When people who are paid to opine wake up to a new industry dynamic, they often overreact. As pundits on the periphery of the branding industry belatedly noticed consumers exchanging information directly via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the field began to echo with shouts of “Branding is dead!”
I don’t buy that argument. Would you, if I could name an $80 billion market that gets customers to pay between one and ten thousand times the price of an identical competing product, with nothing to differentiate the two except for 100% pure clean branding?
Continue reading The Brand is Dead! Long Live the Brand!
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (Issue #10), September 2009. The interview took place in February of 2009.
One of the very best things that can happen to a thinking person is to have his assumptions flipped. When I met Damien Hirst on Bali’s Brawa Beach, where he was finishing an intense three-month painting session, I expected him to have a bumper sticker on his lap t op that said, “Suck my cock vomit.” Which he did. But I didn’t expect him to be extraordinarily down-to-earth, generous, and aware of his own position in a way that is caring rather than cynical.
This interview is the first he’s given since deciding here in Bali to stop all his production pieces in order to focus on making his own paintings. In the process, it touches on everything from the suicide of his close friend to the essence of painting to five-foot wooden gi raffes—with a detour on the nature of visual language using Vaseline and a cucumber.
Alexander Boldizar: So you’ve stopped your production?
Damien Hirst: Yeah, I’ve stopped it all.
Continue reading Damien Hirst: New Paintings (Interview)
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, September 2009.
The desire for security stands against every great and noble enterprise. —Tacitus
In New York City you can ge
t a ticket for sitting on a milk crate or taking up two seats on a subway or putting on a puppet show visible from the street or climbing a tree or driving a taxi while wearing shorts. NYPD officers walk through the stairwells of housing projects where crack gangs
once ruled, not with drug dogs but
with decibel-meters to hand out tickets to teenagers playing their music too loud. Central Park was once both dangerous and beautiful, but now someone has installed a fence every ten meters and it feels less natural than even the densest maze of Brooklyn concrete.
During my four years in New York, I walked alone at night into five or six of the worst projects in Brownsville, East Ne w York, Harlem and the Bronx (to interview people), and I never experienced a moment of fear—something that only an escapee from a mental institution could have said fifteen years earlier.
Continue reading Fear
Reprinted with minor modifications from C-Arts Magazine, May 2009.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Leave it to Made Wianta to name a show Love. And then do the theme justice.
Wianta’s latest, at the newest addition to Bali’s small but vibrant repertoire of contemporary galleries, Kendra Gallery in Seminyak, takes time to unfold. The exhibition has so many strands, layers and styles that at first it feels like a hodgepodge, a gallimaufry tied together by little other than color. Almost like a retrospective that manages to be simultaneously jarring and at peace.
The importance of Wianta to art in Bali can hardly be overstated — he is, in a sense, Bali’s Picasso — and Love’s curatorial text by Jean Couteau implicitly acknowledges the quasi-retrospective feel of the show. It provides the clearest overview of Made’s history as an artist that I’ve yet read. “Bali found in Made Wianta its true abstract language, a very successful one at that,” Couteau writes, then goes on to describe how Wianta went beyond this language that he’d created. Because if there is one consistent theme through all of Made’s work it is this sense of constant going beyond. And in Love, he transcended even this patter of hyper-energized movement forward: Love looks backwards as well as forwards, requiring the full context of memory.
Continue reading Made Wianta: Love
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, June 2009.
If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day—go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month—get married.
If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime—help someone else.
First, lift your cheeks, as though you were winking with them. Then raise the ends of your lips obliquely while at the same time pulling the corners down. This may stretch your lips to the point where your teeth are visible. Deepen your nasolabial furrow by lifting your upper lip laterally, slightly raising and widening your nostrils while flattening the skin on your chin boss and lower lip, and producing crows feet at your eye corners and slight bags below your lower eyelid. Finally, pull your scalp back, as though you were wiggling your ears. Now you’re happy.
Continue reading Happiness
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, March 2009.
“Today I met with a subliminal advertising executive for just a second.”
– Steven Wright
Heroin needle vans are hard to find. I tried once in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was illegal for University Health Services to sell me needles directly, so they suggested the van and made several phone calls on my behalf trying, and failing, to find out on what corner it stopped, when, and for how long. Eventually, I got my free needles–after a week of research–but remember thinking that the HIV-prevention program must be a complete failure. If it was that difficult for a Harvard Law student planning a trip to Africa to find the van, what chance did a junked-up heroin addict who injected six times a day have?
Continue reading The World Wide Web of Word of Mouth
Ugo Untoro, Swimmer, oil on canvas, 98x78cm, 2001
“The best things cannot be told, the second best are misunderstood. After that comes civilized conversation; after that, mass indoctrination; after that, intercultural exchange.” — Joseph Campbell
On the 62nd anniversary of Indonesian independence, I sat, hungry and a little impatient to see the work, listening to a series of speakers introducing an exhibit of Modern Indonesian Masters. The oddest name on the roster, ex ante, was the former Balinese Chief of Police and current head of the narcotics department of the Indonesian police, Made Mangku Pastika. I expected a moral lecture on how art is a way to develop character and fight drugs, or something similar. I did not expect Mr. Mangku Pastika to completely change the way I viewed art in Indonesia.
The essence of his speech was that there are three levels of humanity: at the lowest level are those people who understand only logic, good and bad, right and wrong; at the middle level are artists who create meaning; and at the highest level are artists whose work reaches into the spiritual dimension.
This was disorienting: the act of placing spiritual art at the highest level is the sort of rhetorical flourish that would be possible from any art lover in the West – though an art-loving policeman would already be unusual – but no western cop would ever describe people who “only” understood right and wrong at the bottom of anything. This was no flourish.
There is a two-thousand-year-old story by Ashvagosha about Buddha’s life that describes how Buddha searched for the point where the world didn’t spin like a wheel but stayed steady as the centrepoint of an axle. He found this (psychological) omphalos on the eastern side of a Bodhi tree. There, he was attacked by Mara, the lord of illusion. Mara first sent what both Freud and Jung would much later identify as the two primary motivations of all human behaviour – pleasure and fear. When neither of these worked, Mara ordered Buddha, with the voice of authority, to return to the law and order of society and religion. The Buddha, who had dissolved in his mind the concept of self, ignored Mara. He had moved past the created world, past all dualities, to moksa, the release from delusion. The earth shook with delight, and all the deities and demons and creatures of the world, including Mara, came to celebrate.
And here was the former Chief of Police recognizing, in a way that was so natural as to be almost careless, that pleasure, fear, and obedience (or in Hindu terms, the trivarga of kama, artha and dharma) are all obstacles to this fourth and final goal. The true line of all great work, the only proper space for the creating self, are between these three and moksa. Several of the Balinese speakers who followed echoes this theme.
Cafés in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, art schools across the West, places that artists congregate, are full of conversations about what is art, the role of art, and so on. Each artist will give you a different answer. Was it possible that here there was a consensus? I wondered whether I’d just been given a key to understanding a fundamental distinction between eastern and western art.
Continue reading Indonesian Art and the Primordial Androgyne
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (November 2007)
Tom Wolfe, in The Painted Word, joked that “art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” In her exhibition at Gaya Art Space, titled Yellow,
But Not The Sun, Michelle Swayne subtly undermines the forces described by Wolfe. Through poetic titles that themselves read like paintings, a solid grounding in both conceptual and academic art, and most of all through the ineffable touch of the art itself — uncannily ambiguous work filled with tonal angularities and tensions — Swayne reclaims enough space for the viewer to see her paintings and sculptures as visual objects married to visual ideas, resistant to easy textual parsing.
Continue reading Yellow, But Not The Sun (C-Arts)
Art and Automobile: BMW's Art Cars, in C-Arts Magazine (March 2008)
If there were such a thing as an object history of the world, the 20th century would be represented by the automobile. What an Arthurian knight had in horse, armor and sword, a modern male has in his Mustang, his Ferrari or his Hummer. Sir Lancelot drives a Ford GT40, Sir Gawain a Porsche 917. Arthur himself would probably ride a Maserati, a Rolls, or a BMW painted by Andy Warhol (more on that later). Its narrative arc could come from the movie Vanishing Point-a man alone on the open road, eventually chased by police until, inevitably, he runs his Dodge Challenger into a roadblock of bulldozers.
From countercultural challenge through its co-option into a symbol of status and social power, an aid in mating rituals and a source of traffic tickets, the automobile has remained the ultimate fetish, filled with special powers beyond its own utility.
Continue reading Art and Automobile: BMW’s Art Cars
Asia Contemporary Art Week, in C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)
During the week of March 15 to 24, 2008, New York’s fifth Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) brought together forty-six New York City museums and galleries in sixty special events-exhibitions, screenings, and conversations-featuring over a hundred artists from every corner of Asia.
Melissa Chiu, museum director of the Asia Society, a major fiscal sponsor of ACAW that itself holds roughly two contemporary exhibitions per year, noted that “Since the first Asian Contemporary Art Week held in 2002, there has been a dramatic increase in awareness of Asian contemporary art and we like to believe this initiative has contributed.” In fact, from Turkey to Taiwan, Israel to Indonesia, the availability of Asian art to New York viewers has exploded to such an extent that choosing which shows to attend becomes a curatorial experience: just on Thursday, March 20th, between 6PM and 8PM, twenty participating galleries held openings.
Running from gallery to gallery, it quickly became clear that the idea of “Asian contemporary art” is as resistant to essentialization as the idea of “Western contemporary art.” Though New York City still boasts itself the centre of the art world, the art itself, whatever its geographic origin, has become a collection of peripheries.
Continue reading Asia Unbound: New York’s Asian Contemporary Art Week
The Other Shoe, in C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)
“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” –Oscar Wilde
Art fairs can be exhausting. Not just city-sized biennales like Venice, but even those that try to limit themselves to a couple of piers, like the New York Armory show. When I wandered those two art-filled piers, I dressed for comfort: sneakers and a VIP pass, so I could go sit in the VIP room, put my feet up and have a drink.
I’d never been in a room with quite that many gallery directors, art directors, and other art middlemen. They were beautiful. They wore the latest styles from Milan, from Paris, from that magical place with heroin-addict skinniness, bulk discounts on the color black, and eyes so sensitive they require sunglasses indoors. Except for me in my worn-out Nikes, everyone looked like they’d just walked off a catwalk, swinging hair and thin molto Italo ties, networking while appearing merely to lounge loosely.
Continue reading The Other Shoe
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)
Synthetic Times: Media Art Now, in C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)
– Dr. Ray Kurzweil
The future started fifty years ago, when mathematician John von Neumann noticed that the geometrically accelerating pace of technological progress “gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs as we know them could not continue.”
The most famous futurist living today, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, transformed von Neumann’s insight into a mathematical predictor that has, so far, correctly foreseen by over a decade specific things like the internet explosion, handheld reading devices for the blind (predicted down to the exact year), and the year a computer would be crowned chess champion (he was off by one year).
Now he is predicting that by the early 2030s, we’ll have “eliminated the heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and bowel. What we have left at this point is the skeleton, skin, sex organs, sensory organs, mouth and upper esophagus, and brain.” The eliminated parts will be replaced by nanobots. In the meantime, medical technology will start to correct some of the biological causes of aging, further increasing our lifespan, hopefully long enough to reach the “third bridge,” where computers become powerful enough to download our personalities. At this point, the singularity, we become pure information. Keep a backup copy in case of crashes, and you can live forever.
Continue reading Synthetic Times: Media Art Now
Living Sculptures: The Myth of the Eternal Golf Course, in C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)
On March 6th, 1457, James II King of Scots decreed that “ye gowfe be utterly cried down and not used,” because too many of his subjects were neglecting their archery practice in favor of a game started by sailors strolling from port to town, smacking stones with sticks as they went over the grassy sheep-shorn dunes that the Scots refer to as linksland. Over time, preferred pathways emerged, and the low spots where rocks tended to fall got smacked by repeated swings, exposing the underlying sand and giving birth to bunkers.
By the time of the king’s proclamation, golfers at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, had developed a customary route along a narrow strip of land by the sea with eleven holes laid end to end, to be played in both directions for a total of 22 holes. Several of the holes were combined in 1764, for a total of nine in each direction. Thus, a complete round became 18 holes.
And by the late 1800s, groundskeepers like Old Tom Morris were building artificial courses, leaving behind the natural models of St. Andrews, North Berwick and Prestwick in favor of the Classicism of the time, with its Victorian rules, order and brutal symmetry. In these efficiently monotonous designs every bunker consisted of a rampart precisely 112cm in height placed at an exact right angle to the line of play, all fairways were rectangular, all greens square and flat, and a player could ascertain the bogey of a hole by counting the number of bunkers and adding two to the total.
This period, now referred to as the “Dark Ages of Golf,” ended in 1901, when Willie Park Jr. built Huntercombe and Sunningdale on heathland outside London. The “Golden Age of Golf” (1901 to the late 1930s) was ushered in by the confluence of a number of factors: concentrated wealth in the bourgeoisie in Europe and the robber-barons in America; architectural innovation with the Arts and Crafts movement; and technological innovation in mowers, golf balls, club designs, clubhouses and bright clothing, to say nothing of the invention of the golf tee.
Continue reading Living Sculptures: The Myth of the Eternal Golf Course
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (September 2008).
Walk through the downtown of any major world city, and you’ll see the intersection of fashion and status carried on women’s shoulders or stacked like oranges in the corners of stores by Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Hermes, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Christian Dior, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent-handbags with prices ranging between $1000 and $10,000 each.
America hasn’t known rationing since World War II, but Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue both recently restricted purchases of the popular Yves Saint Laurent Downtown bag to three per customer. Similarly, the Louis Vuitton website limits online purchases to two of each style per customer, per calendar year.
With the American dollar weak, Europeans and Asians are flying in for deals and designers are worried about undercutting themselves, much as in 2000 and 2001 Gucci, Hermès and Vuitton shops in Paris put bag limits on Asian shoppers, leading to surreal scenes of Asian customers on the Champs-Élysées soliciting Western tourists to buy bags for them. And with American handbag sales growth slowing this year (perhaps there’s no more room in those New York closets), the handbag phenomenon has not only become world wide, it is now fuelled by growth in emerging-market countries.
Handbags are weird, almost mystical.
Continue reading Handbags of the Apocalypse
Paul Renner, Theatrum Anatomicum, KUB Plaza, 2007
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (November 2008)
Art as a Lifestyle—those four words have such fundamentally opposite possibilities of meaning that it’s like titling an article “Precision and the Soul” and then trying to decide where to start.
The idea of art as a lifestyle requires a definition of art. Artists have asked what is art? for a very long time now; some illustrate the question with every piece they make. And, perhaps, at one end of the spectrum of opposed meanings, art as a lifestyle is the process of artists living out the question of what is art? every day. It’s the vague magic that still dares to believe art is a real thing, interesting because of the impossibility of defining it, gathering people who still quest for it. This is the vaguely utopian, perhaps naïve view of an artful life. In “Precision and the Soul,” this interpretation of art as a lifestyle would be the soul bit. It’s the part not easily amenable to textual interpretation. Writing about it sounds unsophisticated, talking about it best left to freshmen in art school. But it is also the ineffable essence of art, the starting point where art is still art, before it becomes celebrity, marketing, politics, corporations, image or an assimilatory safety valve by which our markets absorb enemies of the state.
Perhaps this should be called art as a mindset, the mental plasticization of a lived reality, where walking through the streets of Delhi can be art, whether you’re from there or not, where every morning you walk out of your house to a new garden because the garden along with all physical reality is determined by subjective layers of shifting meaning.
Some artists have tried to extend and magnify this idea, turning life actions into art, like Hermann Nitsch Dionysian naked baths in the intestines of freshly slaughtered pigs and lambs—as Otto Mühl wrote in the Vienna Actionists manifesto, “Far more important than baking bread is the urge to take dough-beating to the extreme”—or one of Paul Renner’s Hardcore Dinners, in which I was lucky enough to participate once.
Continue reading Art as a Lifestyle
Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal, closing scene
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (January 2009)
Ingmar Bergman once wrote that in an hour-long film there are 27 minutes of complete darkness, of space between film frames. “When I show a film I am guilty of deceit,” he continued. “I am using an apparatus that is constructed to take advantage of a certain human weakness, an apparatus with which I can sway my audience in a highly emotional manner—to laugh, scream with fright, smile, believe in fairy stories, become indignant, be shocked, be charmed, be carried away, or perhaps yawn with boredom. Thus I am either an impostor, or, in the case where the audience is willing to be taken in, a conjurer.”
Every conjurer, every artist, is also an imposter. It is the essence of art. But if a lie is the act of equating things that are not equal, of saying two equals three, then lies are the key to not just art, but all life. Truth is death.
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (Sept 2008)
The goal keeper’s leap is fantastic, with sheer joy emanating from every gesture in her body, her face rapturous. The goal keeper’s goal, the ball she’s jumping for-to save, to catch, to keep-is a pink handbag.
For her July 27th solo show, as part of the exhibition titled His and Hers, Astari presents ten pieces in the long gallery space at Vanessa Art Link in Beijing. (In a separate space, Pintor Sirait presents his work.) Perhaps fittingly for an artist who has moved through and beyond issues like the role of women and traditional Javanese culture to a more general-but still personal-openness and questioning, Astari does not address just Hers. Rather, she deals with His too.
Continue reading Astari: Hers