Thursday, January 29, 2009

Went to see the new show at the Luckman Gallery, Dance Witches Dance, a collaboration between Lara Schnitger and My Barbarian. Schnitger has been making fragile, somewhat anthropomorphic sculptures out of commonplace materials such as knitted and sewn textiles, fabrics and sticks for several years now. She calls her sculptures "characters," which she literalizes with titles such as Beijing Bitch, The Cougar and Suicide Woman.

For this show she teamed up with performance collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon and Alexandro Segade) who provided a song & dance interpretation of her sculptures. The conceit was that the sculptures were witches, and that the members of My Barbarian were some sort of sorcerers who could bring the sculptures to life in order to make them dance to the songs being sung. Lara Schnitger danced in the background and occasionally took part in the rites being performed as My Barbarian sang their songs -- Schnitger looked exceedingly pleased that her sculptures were being metaphorically brought to life; it occurred to me that the next step should be to actually bring her sculptures to life via mechanical means -- I half expected them to actually move. There was also a video in the back room that they collaborated on -- it was supposedly filmed in the former Hollywood Hills home of Liberace, now owned by an art collector and apparent fan of Schnitger and My Barbarian. Overall a great collaboration -- I hope they do more together.

The next morning I woke up at dawn to join Ara Shirinyan, Brian Kim Stefans and a host of others for the Armenian specialty breakfast, khash. It's sort of an Armenian menudo, a hot boiling pot of garlicky goodness -- with stewed cow tongue, stomach, hoof and tendon. It's served with dried lavash bread crumbled into the soup, and lots of garnishes: pickles, radishes, fresh greens and cured meats. Also you drink vodka. Lots and lots of vodka -- and at 7 in the morning, it really gets your day off to a fresh start, let me tell you. The idea is you eat, get a little tipsy, then go back to sleep and wake up in the afternoon. It's supposed to be a good hangover cure. I love it. All the richness from the fat makes your lips stick together.

Monday, January 26, 2009

derive in the archive

"The derive has to become a practice within the archive, allowing the discovery of the hidden ambiences within the Situationist stacks that escape the division of intellectual labor."

Coincidentally, I saw the conceptual artist David Bunn speak this afternoon. He was given the entire archive of cards from the old LA Library card catalog when they decided to go digital -- and now he creates poetry out of the language from the cards. For instance, in one of his poems he looks up all the titles in the catalog that begin with "after you" and arrives at:

After you, Columbus
after you, Magellan!
after you, Marco Polo
after you with a pistol.

This example is more procedural, but he has lately taken to creating poems with the card catalog in a more arbitrary fashion, dipping in and out and moving through the information randomly. He described his work as "derive" in the archive.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I want to answer some questions that Mark Wallace and K. Lorraine Graham have thrown my way, but I'll save that for a later post.

Wednesday night I went out to Hollywood to see "that Swedish vampire movie," Let the Right One In. Kind of a moody, brilliant near-horror film. I say "near" because there really isn't that much blood, and when the gore does show up the effects are low budget, nearly embarrassingly so, to the extent that it comes off charming and oddly fitting for a film that takes place in the early 1980s. (Look for the CGI cat attack!) It's almost a horror version of Brewster McCloud. There are some strange gender dynamics going on in the film -- there is an implication that the vampire, a 12-year old girl, used to be a boy -- we see a quick shot of her nude body below the waist and see a scar running across her genitalia -- though not much more is revealed on this point. The loner little boy protagonist predictably vanquishes the bullies with the help of his vampire girlfriend -- but as typical as the story arc is, it is the pacing, mood, and snowy, nearly Black Metal atmosphere that make this film memorable.

Thursday night we logged on to Twitter to find out where, exactly, the Korean Taco Truck was going to be. You've heard the rumors, but nothing will prepare you for the experience. You will head down to the Miracle Mile, or Silver Lake, or Venice Beach and find a crowd of twenty-something foodies loitering on a corner, checking their iPhones. When the truck arrives you will wait in line for over half an hour, the smell of bbq short ribs wafting up the sidewalk. When you finally get to order you might be overwhelmed by the choices other than the short rib, spicy pork, and chicken tacos; should you get the Kogi Dog? The kimchee quesadilla? The korchata (Korean horchata)? It's all amazing, trust me. I too was once a skeptic.

Then we headed over to Michael Kohn gallery to see the Wallace Berman/Richard Prince show. The idea behind the show is that, supposedly, both artists have an overriding interest in female nudes. Seems rather arbitrary to me; one could easily say they both have an interest in Western iconography. I heard the original plan was to show Berman alongside Bruce Conner, but it fell through due to problems with the Conner estate. The two artists were exhibited in separate rooms, an odd curatorial decision. I'll have to wait to read the catalogue essay before I write more about this, but my initial reaction is that it would have been more interesting if the curators contrasted and looked critically at Berman & Prince's use of images of women; instead it seemed like a wanky celebration. The opening was packed with celebrities: Pamela Anderson, Anthony Kiedis, Brett Easton Ellis, Jason Biggs. At first I thought: what would Wallace Berman have thought of this scene? Then I remembered his close ties to 1960s Hollywood; Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson and the like. Oh Hollywood, you're so close...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Some New Multiplicities: a conversation between Mark Wallace, K. Lorraine Graham & me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sunday night saw Steven Soderbergh's Che. Better than any film biography deserves to be -- and better than I expected, given Soderbergh's past offerings (of his many films the only one I can stomach is The Limey). Benicio del Toro as Che Guevara is pretty perfect casting to my eye -- better, at least, than the too thin & pretty Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries. Soderbergh's Che is stipped of most typical biopic tropes -- no swelling music, no ironic dialogue, not even re-enactments of historical events, like the march into Havana -- instead, the action is very naturalistic, as though Soderbergh's been overdosing on Kalatozov and Bros. Maysles. Four hours long and released as two movies, which means I had to pay twice (not a very revolutionary marketing strategy I'd say). The first half follows Che up to the end of the Cuban Revolution, the second is one long guerrilla war in Bolivia, marred only by Lou Diamond Phillips and Matt Damon cameos. Would've loved to have seen Terrence Malick's take.

Monday night met up with a group of folks at a Mexican restaurant in Los Feliz called Malo for artist Kerry Tribe's birthday. Kerry just finished a movie called H.M., "the true story of an amnesiac known as 'Patient H.M.' In 1953, at the age of 27, H.M. underwent experimental brain surgery intended to alleviate his epilepsy. The unintended result was that he could never form another lasting memory." So says the casting call. I was an extra. Look for the back of a doctor's head as he walks down a hospital corridor. That would be me. The real H.M., Henry Gustav Molaison, coincidentally died this past December. As the New York Times obit says, "each time he met a friend, each time he ate a meal, each time he walked in the woods, it was as if for the first time." Until it was the last time, I guess. Kerry has a collaboration with poet Nick Moudry in the next issue of Area Sneaks that incorporates some H.M.  film and production stills. Extremely jealous that one of Kerry's birthday gifts was a copy of Fiona Banner's The Nam, "a compilation of total descriptions of well known Vietnam films Full Metal Jacket, The Deer HunterApocalypse Now, Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill and Platoon" all written out for 1000 pages as if it were one long movie. Also saw a preview of a Mungo Thomson multiple in which he remade several copies of Art Forum, the content of which is solely composed of advertisements that appeared in its pages during the 1970s. 

Ate Malo's deliciously spicey chipotle & cream salsa as well as three hard-shell tacos: chipotle potato, ground beef & pickle, and lobster.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Friday night met up with Ara Shirinyan, Andrew Maxwell, Aaron Kunin, Jacqueline Fauteux, Lilit Keshishyan and my wife Rita at Koko's Armenian, a restaurant run by Ara's genius chef of an uncle deep in the San Fernando Valley. Koko just sold the restaurant so this was to be our last meal there. I tried lamb brains for the first sort of had the taste and texture of tofu or a dense cottage cheese. Not bad. Perhaps needed a bit more spice. The lamb tongue was delicious if a little too thickly sliced for me. The quail was perfect, as was the beef and luleh kabob. We finished off our feast with a large branzino grilled over an open flame. I asked Aaron about his upcoming essay in Action Yes concerning the "gurlesque." Supposedly it looks at the trope of the "princess" as political theology in the poetry of Catherine Wagner and Brenda Coultas. Elsewhere at the table, everyone was discussing the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In and admiring Andrew and Jacqueline's new boy, Felix.

Saturday Rita and I drove down to Orange County to check out the California Biennial at OCMA. This year it was guest-curated by Lauri Firstenberg of LAX Art. Highlights included Daniel Joseph Martinez's life-size animatronic self-portrait that goes into epileptic fits every hour on the hour, entitled Call Me Ishmael; Mark Hagen's paintings of what appear to be found, crumpled up notes that say things like, "TO PSYCHIC UNDERWORLD: STOP ASTRAL TRAVELING TO MOLESTIDECEIVE OTHERS (ANIMALS TOO). ANIMALS ARE NOT MADE OF HATE. CEASE & DESIST"; an installation by Marco Rios that consisted of an entire room in which the ceiling was brought down to precisely the artist's height (64 inches); Anna Sew Hoy's site-specific sculptural installation made partly out of denim sewn into the shape of worms or snakes; Rodney McMillian's painting/sculptural hybrids; and Amanda Ross-Ho's large-scale assemblages made out of lean-to dry-wall with patterned holes cut into them, collaged with seemingly random magazine cut-outs and other bizarre objects. (Below is a detail from her work).
Then we made our way out to the OC "anti-mall" (not much anti- about it; mostly just hipster shops like Urban Outfitters, hair salons and cafes -- but probably the coolest place in town from the perspective of an Orange County teenager) where the artist Shana Lutker was performing her interactive piece, Hear it Here. Shana had hired two actors who wore headphones connected to two mics set up in the audience. The actors stood up on a stage and repeated anything that any audience member spoke into the mics, so essentially the audience was supplying the dialogue for an ongoing "play." The actors, however, would only repeat everything in a dry, uninflected monologue, so when I sang the lyrics to "Herod's Song" from Jesus Christ Superstar into the mic, what came back to me was a sort of menacing monologue demanding that Jesus walk on water and mocking his inability to perform miracles, which was kind of weird given that we were in Orange County, a hotbed of evangelicalism. Other audience members recounted dreams, gave shout-outs to their loved ones, or tried to make the actors say more or less funny things.

After that we headed over to Little India in Artesia for some Andhra Pradesh-style Indian food at Tirupathi Bhimas. Incredibly delicious and spicy thali plates tempered by pappadum and chapati bread...washed down with mango lassi. Yum! Below the restaurant there is an Indian ice cream shop called Saffron Spot where we both ate saffron flavored ice cream. Near the entrance there were a bunch of free books published by the Society for Krishna Consciousness. Most were based on the teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I picked one up called Chant and Be Happy: The Power of Mantra Meditation which consists mostly of interviews with George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono about the benefits of chanting Hare Krshna.

Drove back to Los Angeles and stopped by Chinatown in time to catch Kirsten Stoltmann's solo show at Cottage Home. Mostly incredibly colorful and densely layered collages that incorporate images of Lamborghinis and phrases like "MISUNDERSTOOD," "FAT MOM" or "LAVERNE IN THE BUTT SHIRLEY IN THE VAGINA." Some medium sized sculptures in the middle of the room looked like Oompa Loompa Land props from the 1970s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The gallery literature describes her work thus: "This new body of work employs over-used and abused tropes of swinger pornography, suburban craft, sports car masculinity, meditational sculptures and Tourette’s like poetics. In an attempt to exercise New Age sentiment through self-loathing and inspirational denigration, Stoltmann's efforts at reflection are always thwarted by her passive aggressive sincerity, humor, and self-depreciation."

Then made our way over to the Steve Turner Gallery where Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, aka The Speculative Archive, had a show with sculptor Jeff Ono. Julia and David presented a series of photographic dyptichs "of recent cases," according to the gallery literature, "in which people have been stopped, questioned, detained or arrested because they were photographing or found to be in possession of a picture. The pictures in question--the ones that remain invisible--are of sensitive sites in the USA; bridges, banks, tourist attractions, state capitals, and power plants. In this series the unseen image is paired with a publicly available image that has been found on the internet." Spent some time up in the gallery offices previewing work by Eamon Ore-Giron (who has a show coming up at the end of March) -- collaged, cut-out and manipulated LP covers that will be framed or hung on the wall.

THEN -- geez, we did a lot yesterday -- went to the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater where we saw Gustav Deutsch's essay film, Film Ist. In 12 parts and about 3 hours long, the film is mostly collaged found footage -- Austrian instructional and industrial films, silent movies, archival reels, Méliès clips -- that investigates, well, what film is: as such its parts have titles such as "Movement and Time," "Light and Darkness," "Magic," "Conquest," "A Mirror," etc. Affective and highly recommended.

This afternoon met with Gabriela Jauregui about some upcoming readings at the PRB, then went straight to San Gabriel for a big hot bowl of bun rieu oc (Vietnamese crab and shrimp paste rice vermicelli noodles with periwinkles).