Ashley Bickerton’s Sad Anthropologists

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

Taylor Momsen’s Secret Sex With a Green Fat Toxic Cancer Tumor

Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (September 2010).

I believe that the horrifying deterioration in the ethical conduct of people today stems from the mechanization and dehumanization of our lives—the disastrous by-product of the scientific and technical mentality. Nostra culpa. Man grows cold faster than the planet he inhabits.

— Albert Einstein

One of the things I missed while living in Bali was the presence of playgrounds, so when we moved to Vancouver I started taking my four-year-old son to playgrounds all over the city. There are some award-winning playgrounds here that make an adult wish he were young enough to climb. And sometimes I do. But the most remarkable thing about these modern playgrounds, beyond the giant swinging plates, spaceship ropes and inside-out slides is the fact that it’s possible to pause the children. Dozens of children running, climbing, playing tag—and if someone suddenly yells “Pause!” all of them freeze. Everything stops. Including my son, who had never played this game.

When I first saw this, I found it disturbing. A bit too much like bad science fiction. Someone had implanted a pause function into my son while I wasn’t looking.

I figured it out a couple of days later, when he was watching Winnie the Pooh and needed to pee. He couldn’t find the remote control, so he started yelling, “Pause! Pause!” We don’t have a TV, all his movies are on DVD, and they can all be paused. So can electronic games.

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Edible Language

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.

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Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, January 2010.

“Homo vult decipi; decipiatHeironymous Bosch, The Conjurer, oil on panel, 53 x 65 cm, 1496-1520 (date unknown), Courtesy of Musée Municipal, Saint-Germain-en-Layeur.”

.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.

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Yellow, But Not The Sun (Gaya Art News)

Reprinted from Gaya Art News (October 2008).

Review of Michelle Swayne’s show, Yellow, But Not The Sun.

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Made Wianta: Sharp

wianta-sharp-faceReprinted from Gaya Art News (December 2007).

The demiurge turns demoniac to rip, slit, and slash the thin veneer of civilized society with which we dull ourselves into submission. He’ll stab, shear, cleave, rend, gash, chop, wound, jab, prick and amputate — slicing and cutting to make us whole again. Alive.

In Sharp, he fucks us with fifty pierced phalluses, he cuts us into strips and eat us. Vomits and bites us again, to pierce our imbecile parents, legal hypocrisies, and slave-morality religions — all the scaffolding we’ve erected to make ourselves flaccid, drained of strength. This is our safety: a tired vagina, a tired anus, sewed up by our daughter to keep the polluted seed inside. Sent home in tears. Something sharp is necessary.

The demon has a hard on. He has fifty hanging from the wall, each pierced by a cockring. Named, one for each of his friends — mine will be named Aleko (Alex + kontol) — because his violence is care. Love in death. Killing, power, strength. These were once life. We grabbed the intestines and sometimes disgorged them onto the floor. Now we have perusal and market analysis.

Like the old kings who sliced themselves to bits in ritualized regicides to revive the land, the demon does to the viewer what his razors and pins and swords do to the canvas. Cut, mangle, destroy, and make, in the end and almost by happenstance, beautiful.

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Michelle Swayne — Magnet Bali (text only)

Reprinted from Harper’s Bazaar (December 2007)

Tom Wolfe, dalam bukunya The Painted Word (Lukisan Kata), berkelakar bahwa “seni kini menjadi begitu literer: lukisan maupun karya seni lainnya muncul hanya sebagai ilustrasi dari teks saja.” Michelle Swayne, seorang seniwati dari New York, dalam pamerannya yang bertajuk Yellow, But Not The Sun (Kuning, Tetapi Bukan Matahari) di Gaya Art Space, Sayan-Ubud secara halus melemahkan kekuatan dari pernyataan Wolfe. Melalui judul-judul puitis yang secara menyendiri bisa terbaca sebagai lukisan, dengan latar belakang solid pada seni konseptual dan akademis, dan terutama berkat sentuhan dari seni yang sulit dibahasakan itu sendiri-karya-karya ambigu aneh penuh nuansa kekakuan dan ketegangan-Swayne mengklaim kembali cukup ruang bagi pemirsa lukisan dan patungnya, hasil perkawinan obyek dengan ide visual yang resisten terhadap telaah tekstual.

Continue reading Michelle Swayne — Magnet Bali (text only)

The Other Shoe

The Other Shoe, in C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)

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.

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Synthetic Times: Media Art Now

Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)

Synthetic Times: Media Art Now, in C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)

Synthetic Times: Media Art Now, in C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)

formula-pdf– 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.

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Living Sculptures: The Myth of the Eternal Golf Course

Living Sculptures: The Myth of the Eternal Golf Course, in C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)

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.

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Suklu: Reading Objects

Reading Objects, in Gaya Art News (July 2008)

Reading Objects, in Gaya Art News (July 2008)

Reprinted from Gaya Art News (July 2008).

“His spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind.” – Okakura Kazue, The Book of Tea (1906)

If Suklu were a peanut, he would not be one of those peanuts that forgets its skin. “I want to be a farmer,” he says. “I want a farmer’s way of responding to materials and objects.”

Not a farmer from 2008, but rather one of the ancient ones, perhaps half-mythical, perhaps real. One of the farmers who made art in the everyday-sculptures in the form of scarecrows; landscaped rice terraces; sculpted ladles and plates and bowls and water scoops out of coconuts, tongs out of bamboo, or cheese graters from duri plants; complex installations out of wind-powered soundmakers; or performance art within Bali’s religious-animist ceremonies.

The dominant characteristics to Suklu’s work-a sense of purity and a rootedness of the work within Bali-make it awkward, artificial, to graft an exogenous analysis or philosophical framework onto it. A perfect review of his work might not include any names other than Suklu, Bali, and the farmer. But Suklu’s work is also such a rare living example of Heidegger’s concepts of authenticity and groundedness, not to mention his postwar agrarian nostalgia, that leaving out the comparison would be a disservice to both.

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Handbags of the Apocalypse

handbags1502Reprinted 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.

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Art as a Lifestyle

Paul Renner, Theatrum Anatomicum, KUB Plaza, 2007

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.

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Astari: Hers

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.

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