Category:writing

January 23, 2012

The Hirst Code

Speaking of texts written in entirely unlikely places...

I really have no idea what to make of the kicker in Daniel Barnes' Artslant review of the Brittania St installation of Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings:

As to be expected with Hirst, there is yet more spectacle. A member of Gagosian staff tells me that the key paintings which correlate specific colours with letters of the alphabet are the start of a game: if you look at each painting carefully, a sequence of colours will reveal a hidden word, and if you get the word first you win a spot painting.
I mean, first, second, and third: W, T and F? [Or in Morse Code, ⚈ - - - ⚈⚈-⚈?]

hirst_spots_key_ngs.jpg
image via tate modern, © Damien Hirst. All rights reserved, DACS 2009

A secret word embedded in each painting? Is there one word repeated or 1,200 or 1,500 separate words? Is there one key for all of them, or one for each of them? Is there one free painting for each of them? If you crack the Hirst Code, do you become overnight the artist's single largest collector, the Mugrabis of Hirst? If so, doesn't Viktor Pinchuk already have a team of ex-KGB cryptographers working on this problem?

Entirely aside from the "win a painting" sweepstakes element--the Secret Hirst's Other Spot Challenge--what are the conceptual contours of a Hirst Code? Are the words encoded in The Complete Spot Paintings random, or a list, or do they constitute a single, secret text? Is it an essay, a manifesto? An epic poem or sacred text? Is it the first page of a great novel,, or did Hirst randomly encode a page from his pharmaceuticals catalogue--or from a Tesco mailing, or his cable bill, whatever he had lying around the studio? Or does it just say ARSE 1,500 times?

tp_moby_dick_01.jpg

There is much to do, and much to write, but it'll have to wait. Because right this minute, a copy of Moby Dick typed on six rolls of toilet paper is for sale on eBay:

MY FRIEND AND I ONCE JOKED THAT TOILET PAPER SHOULD HAVE INSTRUCTIONS PRINTED ON THEM FOR CERTAIN PEOPLE
ONE DAY, THE CONVERSATION GREW FROM THERE AND TURNED INTO A WAGER THAT I COULDN'T (OR WOULDN'T) BE ABLE TO TYPE OUT A NOVEL ON TOILET PAPER.

YES, WE DID HAVE SOME TIME ON OUR HANDS BUT, AS YOU CAN SEE BY THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS, I WON THE BET.

THERE ARE FOUR FULL ROLLS, ONE ROLL (EPILOGUE) IS ABOUT 1/5 OF A ROLL AND ONE HALF-ROLL
ALL OF THE ROLLS OF TP CAME OUT OF A BRAND NEW -- CLEAN -- PACKAGE OF 2-PLY COTTONELLE
THEY'VE BEEN HANDLED VERY GINGERLY AND INFREQUENTLY

AS YOU'LL SEE IN THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS, ONE OR TWO ROLLS HAVE A TEAR AT THE BEGINNING
THIS IS WHERE I WAS TRYING TO PULL THE PAPER THROUGH THE TYPEWRITER

I'VE KEPT THIS MOD ODDITY IN A BOX IN A COOL, DRY PLACE FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS
AND HAVE ONLY BROKEN IT OUT TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS THAT I ACTUALLY DID IT

CONSIDERING WHAT IT'S BEEN THROUGH, IT'S IN AMAZING CONDITION

tp_moby_dick_ch001.jpg

I mean, there's so much we still don't know. Like who did it? In this day of Facebook non-privacy, how can an artist be known simply as The Toilet Paper Moby Dick Master? And how long did it take? Wait, before that, even, what, really, was this conversation that led to this bet? And how did the bet end up involving one of the longer novels in the canon? Why not something shorter? Something like On The Road?

on_the_road_scroll.jpg

Moby Dick typed on toilet paper, opening bid, $399.95 plus free shipping, auction ends Jan. 29 [ebay via @cthon1c]
Kerouac Scroll Tour [ontheroad.org]

UPDATE: since posting this, the opening bid has been raised, appropriately, to $999.95.
UPDATE UPDATE: or one like it. "The seller has relistedthis item or one like it."
PRICELESS UPDATE: On the one hand, especially if I were the one who had typed it, and protected it in a shoebox all these years, I would KNOW KNOW that $320 is a ridiculous insult of a result. How dare eBay? On the other hand, there were four bidders on this thing, so, not entirely unnoticed. The Master Of The Typed On Toilet Paper Moby Dick needs to keep it and turn it into a family heirloom, or he needs to let it go, and let the world--and specifically, the knucklehead(s) contemplating spending several hundred dollars for it--take care of it.

After processing the odd hippie hipness of the idea of John Cage driving Merce Cunningham and his dance company around the country in a VW Microbus, it was really dancer Carolyn Brown's excellent memoir that persuaded me to see the bus as central to this incredible, historic period. So I'm going to quote from an extended section of Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years With Cage And Cunningham, and then expect everyone to go read it themselves. Because it's an awesome tale of an exciting career. Brown really shows both self-reflection and an awareness of those around her. And those around her included some of the greatest artists of the last hundred years.

Anyway:

chance_circumstance_brown.jpgWell first off, apologies to Remy Charlip. I'd said he was "a bit off on dates" when he wrote about touring with Merce in a VW Microbus driven by John Cage from 1956-61. When we know [sic] that Cage only bought the bus in 1959, after winning a stack of dough on a rigged Italian game show.

But now, who knows? Those dates match up perfectly with the memoir of Carolyn Brown, one of Merce's first principal/partners, and, like Charlip, a member of the Company from the earliest Black Mountain College days.

In fact, the chapter of Chance and Circumstance which lent its title to this series of posts, "The VW Years," begins in:

November 1956. John and Merce borrowed money to buy a Volkswagen Microbus, the vehicle that defined--willy-nilly--a classic era of the dance company's history: the VW years. Our first VW-bus jaunt was crazily impractical, but according to a postcard sent to my parents, "a very happy trip." To give two performances, we drove for two days and one-third of the way across the country and, although I don't know how Merce was able to afford it, we stayed, for all the world like a professional dance company, in a big city hotel--the Roosevelt in downtown St. Louis. [p. 164]
What's remarkable about these "VW Years" in the mid-50s was how little use the bus actually got. The centerpiece of the chapter is actually a groundbreaking Jan. 1957 performance at BAM that caused a downtown uproar--but which was followed by months-long stretches of absolutely nothing at all. The company performed so little in 1957 that Brown ended up joining the ballet corps at Radio City Music Hall, a grueling gig that left her exhausted and injured, but with money in the bank.

The detailed, finely, painfully felt atmosphere Brown conjures up is both eye-opening and engrossing; the rejection, ignoring crowds, poverty and hardship of this era of Merce & co's career--indeed, of the whole downtown scene--seems hard to imagine from the comfortable, iconic present. And though I'm neither a big biography nor dance guy, I repeatedly found myself thrilled and literally laughing out loud at Brown's stories.

The VW Years were also the Bob and Jap years, when Rauschenberg and Johns designed costumes and sets for the Company. In 1958, the two artists and Emile de Antonio produced a 20-year concert retrospective of John Cage's work, followed in Feb. 1960 by a Manhattan performance for Merce's company.

Merce worked out the program for what would turn out to be a "traumatic" New York performance on a tour through Illinois and Missouri:

After the eleven-day tour, six of them spent in the close quarters of our Volkswagen bus, everyone had or was getting a cold. In Viola [Farber]'s case the cold developed into bronchial pneumonia. By February 16 she was acutely ill. At the end of her umbrella solo in Antic Meet her legs were cramping so badly she barely made it into the wings. Merce, entering from the opposite side for his soft-shoe number, couldn't help seeing her, on the floor in the wings, unable to walk, tears streaming down her face. Afterward he said that as he went through the motions of his solo his mind was racing: What happened? Will she be able to continue? What will we do if she can't? At the intermission he picked her up in his arms and carried her upstairs to the women's dressing room. The cramps finally subsided and she assured him she could continue. Cod knows how she got through Rune, but she did. [p. 260]
Brown is sympathetic but unflinching in her account of the difficulties of working with Cunningham, and of the toll the company's lack of performances and new choreography took on Merce the dancer, who, in Brown's telling, grew grim and depressed as he watched his peak physical years passing him by. By 1961, things were not quite so grim, with ten performances booked in nine states between February and April; which may make this the Golden VW Year:
I think Merce was even more relived than I to be touring with the full company, and his self-confidence seemed fully restored knowing that the company had been engaged on the basis of his reputation as dancer and choreographer rather than by avant-garde musical festivals based on John's and David [Tudor]'s reputations. John and David were with us, of course, to play piano for Suite and Antic Meet. John, on leave from Wesleyan, also resumed his duties as chief chauffeur, cheerleader, guru, and gamesman. Once again, nine people tucked themselves into the Volkswagen Microbus, sometimes spending as many as eighteen out of twenty-four hours together. Singing, snoozing, reading, knitting, arguing, laughing, telling stories, playing games, munching, and sipping, we whiled away the hours and miles between New York City and De Kalb, Illinois, De Kalb and Lynchburg, Virginia...etc. We totaled six days and one full night on the road plus six hours in the air just to give four performances. Ridiculously long journeys. One performance we gave having had no sleep at all, dancing in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Tuesday night, then, after a party, driving all night to Richmond, Virginia, to catch a plane to Atlanta and another to Macon, where we performed Wednesday night after rehearsing in the afternoon. It was impractical. Exhausting. Wonderful. [pp. 313-4]
merce_cage_clock.jpg

There's one more excerpt which I'll go ahead and quote from at length, where Brown really brings home the reason why I've become kind of fascinated with Cage's VW bus in the first place. At 11PM, as the year ends, and Merce Cunningham Dance Company is performing for the last time at the Park Avenue Armory--and as I gave my tickets to these final Legacy Tour events to a good friend when I realized our travel schedule meant we couldn't attend ourselves--and as Cage's centennial year begins, I am looking forward to soaking in Brown's insightful account of the scrappy, crazy, foundational era of the company and the artists in its orbit.

mcdc_final_bows_parkavearmory.jpg
"The Final Bows: Merce Cunningham Dance Company, December 31, 2011" [@parkavearmory]

December 22, 2011

WWPD?

Yes, I know I should be praising Norman Foster for his Dymaxion Car, which, of course.

But instead, I will be grateful for the deftness of Lord Foster's humblebraggadocio in the essay he wrote for his wife's show/book in Madrid on Jean Prouvé.

[Best line hands down: "He reviewed the drawings in silence. then said, simply: 'You don't need me - it's perfect as it is.'"]

In discussing his firm's work at the Free University of Berlin, which included the extensive renovation of the Rostlaube, or "Rustbucket," the affectionate name given to Prouvé's innovative-but-decaying CorTen-clad library:

Our approach from the start was not to ask 'How can we match what Prouvé did?', but to try to imagine how he would have responded, given the same challenge. So instead we asked: 'How can we do what Prouvé would do now?'

We could have used Corten steel in much thicker sections, which technically would have been correct. But if Prouvé had known that the material needed to be sized differently, and that was his starting point, then the result would have been very different too. Most likely he would have looked at the alternatives and chosen a material that could be detailed finely and would stand the test of time; and so that's what we did. We replaced the corroded panels and framing with new elements made from bronze, which as it weathers and acquires a patina is gradually taking on the colour tones of the original.

Which is what happened, eventually, I'm sure. But when it was done, the library looked as awesomely, hilariously shiny as a new Pfennig.

rostlaube_prouve_foster_busse.jpg

Do they still have Pfennig? I guess they will soon enough.

Foster on Prouvé [blueprintmagazine.co.uk, image via busse]
Unrelated, unmentioned, and most probably not WPWD: Foster & Partners' cuh-razy Library of Philology at Free University Berlin [fosterandpartners]

December 21, 2011

The VW Years, Ch. 3: John Cage

The VW bus makes many appearances in John Cage's own writings, especially his tour diaries in Empty Words: Writings '73-78:

After winning the mushroom quiz in Italy, I bought a Volkswagen microbus for the company. Joe's was open but said it wasn't. At Sofu Teshigahara's house, room where we ate had two parts: one Japanese; the other Western. Also, two different dinners; we ate them both.

We descended like a plague of locusts on the Brownsville Eat-All-You-Want restaurant ($1.50). Just for dessert Steve Paxton had five pieces of pie. Merce asked the cashier: How do you manage to keep this place going? "Most people," she replied rather sadly, "don't eat as much as you people." [p. 80]

...

Tarpaulin centered on the bus's luggage rack, luggage fitted on it. Ends'n'sides were folded over; long ropes used to wrap the cargo up. [p. 82]

...

We were waiting to be ferried across the Mississippi. We had nothing to eat. We waited two hours. It was cold and muddy. When we decided to leave, Rick and Remy had to push the bus up the hill. Later we learned that the ferry service had been discontinued two years before. [p. 90]

...

Pontpoint: the company ate by candlelight. Everywhere we've gone, we've gone en masse. A borrowed private care took two, two such cars took six to eight, the Volkswagen bus took nine. Now airplanes and chartered buses take any number of us. Soon (gas rationing) we'll travel like Thoreau by staying where we are, each in his own. [p. 95]

In Richard Kostelanetz's John Cage: an anthology, the dance critic Stephen Smoliar recounted one story Cage told the audience at opening night of the company's 1970 season at BAM:
The Cunningham Company used to make transcontinental tours in a Volkswagen Microbus. Once, when we drove up to a gas station in Ohio and the dancers, as usual, all piled out to go to the toilets and exercise around the pumps, the station attendant asked me whether we were a group of comedians. I said, "No. We're from New York."
This pushes back the end of The VW Years to the 60s at some point.

Thumbnail image for neuhart_solar_do-nothing.jpg

A few months ago, I was asked to write something about Ray and Charles Eames by the folks at Humanities Magazine, published by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The NEH had provided some funding to Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's documentary, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter, so a straight-up review wouldn't really work. But I was encouraged by the documentary's title, and its exploration of Ray's role in the duo's collaborative process, and so I decided to float the idea that there's a lot to learn by considering the Eameses as artists:

Throughout their own careers, whether making architecture, furniture, toys, annual reports, or films, the Eameses presented themselves as designers. And despite their forays into education, computing, and international diplomacy, that's how they are typically seen. But calling the Eameses designers while trying to account for their polymathic legacy can be problematic, particularly if we're picturing the designer as a lone, heroic genius: Charles Eames as the Howard Roark of American consumer capitalism. It invites many esoteric and academic questions about process, context, gender, and collaboration, which are interesting but hard to resolve. When considered from an artistic perspective, however, many of these complications evaporate. Accepting Ray and Charles Eames as artists and their studio work as art gets us away from the arbitrage over who did what and how. Plus, it enriches and deepens the contemporary understanding of their role in the culture of their time.
That's John Neuhart up there, by the way; he built the Eameses' greatest object besides their house, and one of the greatest unsung, unrecognized artworks of the modernist era, the Solar Do-Nothing Machine.

Modern Love, Humanities Magazine, Nov/Dec. 2011 [neh.gov]

The new issue of Cabinet arrived today [free with my new iPad case!], and it includes a fascinating article by Susan Schuppli about the 18 1/2-minutes of erased audiotape at the center of the Watergate scandal. Apparently, the National Archives has sealed the original tape reel, known as Tape 342, with the erased segment, and evaluates advances in forensic analysis capabilities, "waiting for that moment when the kiss of technological progress will reawaken it."

The last formal scientific panel to review the matter was in 2001; its tests were unsuccessful. Schuppli obtained a copy of Tape 342--technically, a copy of a copy--from the Archives, and performed various chemical and microscopic imaging of it. Because, well:

In conceptually rousing Tape 342 from its archival slumber, I hope to emphasize that erasure was not a process that removed information to produce an absence. In fact, an analogue tape recorder can only ever re-record over an existing track and thus Nixon's, or his secretary Rose Mary Woods's, purported act of tampering was a supplementary act of recording--an additive rather than a subtractive process.
This recognition of erasure as a generative event, not a destructive one, reminds me of Leo Steinberg, quoting Tom Hess, on de Kooning's use of erasure, and Rauschenberg's erasure of de Kooning:
De Kooning was the one who belabored his drawings with an eraser. Bob was proposing a sort of collaboration, offering--without having to draw like the master--to supply the finishing touch (read coup de grace)
Which reminded me that at a CAA panel last winter, SFMOMA's Chad Coerver, who talked about creating the museum's digital archive of its Rauschenberg holdings, mentioned that conservators using electronic imaging had been able to discover de Kooning's original drawing. And that they'd been discussing with curators whether to make the image public. Which, holy smokes, I'm glad SFMOMA doesn't have Tape 342.

These two quotes from Coco Fusco and Christian Haye's 1995 Frieze essays on David Hammons reminded me briefly of, say, gala artists and, say, Jacob Kassay, respectively:

'Visual art may be the obdurately white and upper-middle class field of our culture. I have a notion why. Art objects are tailored for physical spaces owned or controlled by the social elite. To make appropriate objects for or even (or especially) against the spaces takes even more than talent and more than technical know-how. It takes intimate familiarity with those rooms where art enters history.' Of course, critics also have a role to play as gatekeepers of history, and Schjeldahl is sly to entirely shift this responsibility to the museum.

...

During the 80s the road taken by many artists was to become known for creating a visual style and milking it for a lot more than it was worth. The road less travelled is to develop that autograph and then drop it in order to invent an entire new language.

For what it's worth, I also want to see if anyone's discussed Alma Thomas's Watusi (Hard Edge) in terms of Henry Louis Gates' theory of Signifyin'. Will look. Also, Christian Haye, where are you these days?

[frieze via hans ulrich obrist's top 20 list]

November 13, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

OOPS! Never mind!

trecartin_marina_head.jpg

In my dead-serious indignation, I had completely overlooked the potential of Marina Abramovic's MoCA Gala for pathetic comedy. Fortunately, we have Ryan Trecartin, who speaks diva absurdity fluently. Trecartin's livetweeted photo report from inside the tent is hilarious.

First, of course, the page of "INSTRUCTIONS FOR BEHAVIOR WITH THE CENTERPIECE," which, yes, but. The second you read the instructions, you know the piece has already failed, or has at least missed an opportunity.

In 1974, Abramovic executed a piece called Rhythm 0, in which she sat completely impassive next to a table full of objects, including a gun and a knife. A sign informed the audience they could use anything they wanted on the artist's body. It got kind of aggressive, and contested, and Marina says later she "felt really violated." Surely the norms of gala culture would have tempered any actual violence, but would it not have been more illuminating to not tell the gala crowd to behave with basic human decency toward the human performer--and then see what happens?

But that's not what was on the menu for this piece. Oh, the menu. "THE SURVIVAL MOCA DINNER" featured "Super Human Cocktails: Purity MoCA Martini, The Minimalist, The Conceptualist" and "John Cage Symphony," which was a frisee salad with crostini and a fruit-nut loaf. Rauschenberg, de Kooning and Warhol were the other artists with courses named after them. I have no idea.

Holy moley, what is this extraordinary thing where people chant Marina's artist manifesto at the audience? And Debbie Harry gets carried out by four Hollister doormen? A runway-like stage seems to be a trademark of the MoCA gala medium. Vezzoli had it. Aitken had it. Now Marina had it.

trecartin_marina_cake.jpg

As Marina says, you can't judge a work unless you've experienced it. Fortunately, Trecartin and his intrepid entourage stayed until after the bitter end, after the body part cakes in the form of Miss Thang and Ms. Harry were reduced to roadkill, and they investigated the underside of the table and then popped their own heads up. This is close looking and arts journalism, right here folks.

And in the service of art. For then our man in Los Angeles headed [sic] back to his hotel room with the greatest gift bags imaginable, containing kits to make centerpieces at home. So. Awesome.

trecartin_marina_cake_head.jpg

Off with their heads!


All images via Ryan Trecartin's Twitter

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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Social Medium:
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