Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On "Fucking Up"

There is an interview with art critic Dave Hickey in the current issue of The Believer. I was flipping through and I saw another image by Gajin Fujita, so I decided to give it a read. Apparently, one of the reasons that there aren't many career art critics today is because "a whole generation of critics died of AIDS in the ’80s."

But I'm posting the reference for completely different reasons. At one point in the interview, Hickey suddenly takes an interest in the age of his interviewer, a female. She says she's thirty years old, and Hickey responds

"Great! You’re a bright young thing. You have all the way till you’re forty to totally fuck up your life. It takes that long, if you’re really talented, to really fuck everything up. You just go up and up and up and up, and all of a sudden you’ve got three ex-husbands, a broken-down Porsche, a bunch of leather clothes, some haute-couture accessories, and no prospects at all."

Opinions like that really just hit you in the face sometimes with just how someone else's perception of life can change with age and experience. So, finding myself in a strange relationship with my youth, I appreciated this odd piece of advice from this unashamedly odd, John Falstaff sort of guy.

Also, the images in the latest New American Paintings are really nice.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Art Papers Live

(Above: photographs and collaborations by Walid Raad)

I've experienced a range of emotions towards Art Papers magazine in the past. At first, I was ecstatic to see a nationally recognized arts publication based right here in Atlanta. That initial elation, however, subsided when it became clear that the magazine maintains very little interest in artists operating in its home city. Things have certainly changed since the 1970s and the Atlanta Art Workers Coalition Newsletter.

At the same time, I can't deny that Art Papers provides a very important service to the area. I've only attended three Art Papers lectures, but I would say that Walid Raad's presentation on Wednesday was one of the most pleasant so far. The man is talented storyteller, and he has a real sense for history and how it affects our perceptions of the world.

Raad's collaborative project, Already Been in a Lake of Fire, dynamically examines the history of the Lebanese Civil War through an exhaustive account of wartime car bombings. After months of relentless investigation into nearly 250 detonations, The Atlas Group produced a number of mixed media images, presented collectively as the first volume of a fictional encyclopedia about the conflict.

The goal of the project was not a precise, scientific assessment of facts, nor was the intention about fabricating information. I believe the phrase that was used was "an aesthetic history," an account that could really deconstruct the invisible connections between violence, political power, and the journalistic establishment. By carefully following in the footsteps of the journalists, career photographers, and primary investigators surrounding the bombings, Raad was able to deliver narratives hidden behind the headlines.

I think that was the most striking aspect of the presentation. In a world dominated by commercial media, I sometimes wonder if we have really started to perceive the world in terms of a sequence of disconnected "news" events. Although it would be foolish to reconstruct history as a single, uniform continuity, I can see a lot of value in exploring the past in terms of multiple converging narratives. Artists stand in an excellent position as storytellers, and I think there is a great need for radically reevaluating the transmission of world events today.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rethinking Lowbrow

(Above: Gajin Fujita, Redlight District)

I've had the entire month of October to examine and rethink my position on Juxtapoz and the Lowbrow movement. I suppose I must have sounded like a parrot, or atleast a prude, when I joined the dozens of "establishment" voices in opposition to the Juxtapoz aesthetic. Although I haven't completely reversed my position, I can finally look at the magazine with a fresh pair of eyes.

I believe it was was the image on p.85 of October's Juxtapoz that really turned my head. There was something in Fujita's mounted samurai that was austere yet electrifying and powerfully fresh yet at same time intensely bound to tradition. I was confronted by that quietly explosive image of bushido rendered in cobalt and crimson spray paint. The piece successfully married the sensibilities of modern graffiti, Ukyo woodblock prints, and if my instincts serve me well, the equestrian tradition of Mongolian painting.

Lowbrow, as identified with Juxtapoz founder Robert Williams, poses a number of unique questions today. Can Lowbrow retain its momentum as a force of change within the arts community when it has certainly outgrown its roots as an isolated, underground movement? In what ways can artists reconcile personal and local identities with an increasingly global culture? In what ways can artists appropriate imagery from graffiti and pop culture in historically meaningful ways?

After just a little reflection, I can see clearly that Lowbrow has accomplished a very, very important task. The space has widened for more people to participate in creating and appreciating art than ever before. And the best part is we don't have to be filthy rich to get inside.

At the same time, the people entering the arts community today are members of a very different generation than Williams, R. Crumb, and the other Zap Comix contributors of the 1960s and early 70s. The questions posed by Lowbrow have existed for several decades, and the cultural terrain continues to change right underneath our feet. It's the ground we've inherited, and I believe we have the power to decide what that means.