Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Boring Talk About Art Which Shocks

Yale art student Aliza Shvarts stirred up a real controversy with her student project, a project about abortion - her own, she claimed, something she achieved by attempting to artificially inseminate herself and then induce miscarriages all over a period of many months. All of which she had videotaped, she said, and which were to be shown on a 4-foot cube wrapped in plastic and smeared in Vaseline.

Outrage and horror poured forth, many from online and many others in print and television. Finally, Yale officials came forth saying the project was in fact a hoax, a bit of performance art, but that they would not allow the project to go on display unless a signed statement from Shvarts was made in which she admitted the hoax. She declined, no project was displayed, her professors were disciplined, all as the media rumbled with the story.

It impresses me that with all the things happening in the world that a proposed art project can cause millions to react with such intensity, because, after all, it was just the idea of the project which drew massive response - Shvarts never showed any of her work. (And even I just yesterday railed against a project proposal which I myself find offensive. It happens.)

Art - what it is and what it isn't - is a discussion sure to bore many people, excite many others, but I'm marching into. It is completely infused with our human experience and always has been. One of the best artistic representations of that debate came in 1929 from painter Rene Magritte with his painting shown below - the translation of the words on the canvas -- "This is not a pipe".

Nope, sure isn't a pipe. Just a painting of one.

It does rather neatly provide the idea that art is not the thing, but a symbol of it, a representation of it, and confronts the idea too that each of us construct the world into signs and symbols which might be held in common or held by an individual.

So anyway, I'm reading some local blogger commentary (here and here) about Shvarts and wanted to share some thoughts. See, I think she should have been allowed to show the project - and, as a student, then been given a grade for her work. She could have gotten an F - and learned something in the process. Do I think her project was Art - don't know, didn't see it - so judgement belongs to those who did see it. Except that no one did. She may get some gallery to pay her big bucks one day. Maybe not.

Art can rattle the bejesus out of us, it can calm and soothe, inspire, haunt, and invoke all types of response. My good friend Mr Horton and I have had hundreds of discussions about Art with him holding fast to the idea that if an Artist makes something which only he understands, then he has failed, that Art must communicate something to more than the maker of it. I have often taken the other view - a support of Art for Art's sake, for example, very few cared for the paintings of Van Gogh as he made them, yet today they are auctioned off for tens of millions of dollars. Art and Time need to coincide.

And all this furor over Shvarts reminded me of a movie I saw recently called "The Shape of Things" by Neil LaBute, based on his play. It's a very compact and ultimately stunning bit of work about Art and relationships. It begins with the nerdy and awkward museum guard and student named Adam (Paul Rudd) who sees another student (Rachel Weisz) trying to spray paint a penis onto a large statue of a male divinity on display. He gets her phone number and allows her to make her 'statement' with spray paint.

As the pair begin to date, she often criticizes him for his looks or attitudes and in short order Adam eagerly alters his looks and clothes to receive approval - he gets contact lenses, loses 20 or 30 pounds, has a nose job, starts wearing trendy clothes. He is eager to do anything to make her happy, even abandon his longtime friends. But all the time watching this unfold, watching Evelyn (Eve? and Adam too, huh?) I knew there was something else, more dire, more weighty happening.

Not to ruin the movie for you (spoilers ahead!!), but Adam discovers he has been an art project. Evelyn invites him to her student show and on prominent display is a banner reading: A Moralist Has No Place In An Art Gallery.

That's a quote from writer Han Suyin, famous for her book "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing".

Here's filmmaker and playwright LaBute talking about that quote:

I think moralists have a place in an art gallery, I think everybody has a place in an art gallery, they just should keep their mouths shut. They're free to walk around as long as they pay the price, I just don't think they should be dictating policy. I'm big on what the argument the film proposes about subjectivity about art itself. This [picks up glass of water] can be art because you made it, or it can be a glass of water to me and I can think you're a loon for calling it art, and we could both be right. So I'm big on "I'm okay, you're okay" but if pushed, it turns quickly into "I'm okay, you're a piece of shit".


Because ultimately... I'm happy to come out even, but if forced, I want to come out on top. And that's what was happening up there, two people who are having an argument about something, where one's having a breakup and one's having a discussion about art - we often just see things through our own lens and it's difficult to understand what somebody else is saying when we're so driven to take care of our own needs."

Often Art is an act of manipulation from the artist. Whether it is in the construction of the entire artifice of a painting or sculpture, or perhaps it occurs at a more basic level of commerce, such as the constant photoshopping of images of people on magazine covers to make them look thinner. Manipulation is a sly thing - no matter the intent of the manipulator for good or ill. Each of us decides, many times a day, to respond how we will to influences artistic or real or perceived.

Perhaps the Artist gets the reaction from the public, good or bad, or perhaps the Artist is ignored. Our response, no matter what it is, is a moment of communication. There are real-world actions and events which are life and death matters. Art is at best a pale recreation of the real.

Some bit of Art on display will not (or hasn't yet) destroy the world. It's ideas which can prompt upheaval and change.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Camera Obscura: Worst Remake Ever, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" with Eddie Murphy

It's a jaw-dropping, bone-dumb, chunk of stoooopid to remake "The Incredible Shrinking Man" with Eddie Murphy. And written by the same pair who have given us "Herbie: Fully Loaded", "The Pacifier", and "Taxi" and directed by Brett Ratner. At this rate, Jackie Chan will show up in a tiny kung fu battle and Jessica Simpson will be his wife, and arrrghhh ....

I am with Scott Weinberg here - it's enough to make me weep openly. Of course, the classic script and novel by Richard Matheson is going to get a "
comedic approach to the fantastical material, telling the story of a famous Las Vegas magician who is put under a spell that causes him to shrink. He must find a way to reverse the spell before he gets so small that he disappears."

It makes me want to rake a cheese grater over my eyeballs.

It also makes me think that I should push through a remake of "Casablanca" as a teen sex comedy with Dane Cook and Lindsay Lohan set in a wild and crazy summer on Lake Havasu and film it with a cell phone.

Don't laugh - Spike Lee is making a cell phone movie right now, which you can submit content for, as part of what Lee calls "the democratization of film".

Yes, please, let's eliminate that pesky elitist element of talent from filmmaking.

And I had some other movies and topics to tackle today, but I've lost the will.

Plus, I'm finishing up my script for a new hot movie that's "Driving Miss Daisy" meets "Road Warrior", about a female android with irritable bowel syndrome running a day care full of the children of international spies who battle a rival day care, run by former NASCAR drivers and staffed by chicks who work at Hooters.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

John McCain Is Homer Simpson's Dad?

I like it even more because they used my favorite line from Abe Simpson. And the "Matlock" music too. Matlock!!!! (thanks to The Kenosha Kid)

Living Fast and Senile At 30

There's such a serene and calm quality to the madness of this quote from "1984" that DeMarCaTionVille shared today:

Nonsense. You are under the impression that hatred is more exhausting than love. Why should it be? And if it were, what difference would that make? Suppose that we choose to wear ourselves out faster. Suppose that we quicken the tempo of human life till men are senile at thirty. Still what difference would it make? Can you not understand that the death of the individual is not death?”

I was just thinking that I am slow to respond to hot-button, buzzflash responses to the massive investigation and judicial intervention into the FLDS child-bride story out of Texas. But it takes me some time to read and ponder on what the heck is happening and has been happening there. It seems I read so many blogger-commenter-pundits whose opinions arrive all neatly organized and outraged to such events.

I read these arguments that the simple folk of the FLDS church have every right to live and worship as they please without fearing investigation -- but who the heck gets to experience that level of living? Claiming a religious foundation for behavior isn't a Free Spot on Life's Bingo Card, though I know some see it that way (and what troubles the world today more than that view?). Likewise, unchecked interventions into family affairs is hardly advisable. But the more I read of that sect, it seems to me that they really mean family and affair in the worst kind of ways.

We do have freedoms of choices, but the actions we take based on our principles will always have consequences. And the events in Texas demand much thought and time to both gather information and digest its meaning. Sadly, I'm sure that before all the facts tumble out of this tale, the nanosecond news cycles and attention spans will be off on some other curious event.

Senile at 30 may be altered to 30 seconds and not years. With each passing day, I gather a wealth of confusion above all else.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

X-Box 360 Live Gets Local Assist

Tune in tonight online for a new show called LAGtv, which is co-produced by my friend Jessie, and is a tri-weekly live internet broadcast aimed at X-Box 360 gamers. Jess (aka Mountain Girl) has been a very active part of the gaming world for a while and I know she'll find much success with this relatively new enterprise.

Tennessee Jed clued me into this new enterprise, and he designed their logo, too.

Go here for the broadcast. What is it, really, you ask?

This show is raw gamer television, where we talk about what the gamers want to hear. If you are wondering if a game is going to be worth getting, we’ll show you game play LIVE so you can make up your mind easier. If your wanting the latest updated news on what’s going on in the game world we’ll talk about it, and since our show is ALWAYS LIVE, you can even call into the show via Phone, Chat, or even use your Xbox Live Vision cam to actually be on the show!"

Live gaming is a blast to play, no doubt, and I have extremely poor skills. With a bit of practice, it can be seriously addicting. The site also has previous episodes to check out too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Search For Terrorism in TN Nets Seatbelt Violations

A three-state, 50-agency project called "Operation Sudden Impact" in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi was conducted last week to ferret out "terrorists", but what was really happening?

Reports note that law enforcement officers taking part in this search for terrorists stopped vehicles at random at a Walmart in Covington and issued 9 citations for violations of the state's seat belt law. So now you know that if you see a driver or passengers in a car without a seat belt, you've seen a terrorist????

The "sweep" was first touted as proactive anti-terrorism raid, then as a crime-fighting effort, and also a test of law enforcement communications and cooperation.

Was something else taking place here?? Did they know something they did not want to admit?

And do we really need nifty military-style nicknames to accompany law enforcement actions? I know it isn't a new thing, but still ...

At Reason, pundits note a lack of focus and intent ("They also issued about 1,300 traffic tickets, and according to one media account, seized "hundreds" of dollars"
) in this "operation" (which they call "martial law lite") and indifference by the local media. Were there warrants for all these searches?

If law enforcement stops every car and driver, searches every business and home, they will likely find some kind of violation of something somewhere ... but that's playing a game of blind luck and not 'enhancing security efforts'.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Corn Wars and Food Riots

Here's a Monday kind of apocalypse - Corn Wars and Food Riots

Corn is a part of so many foods and in the production of food, from beer to eggs to bread and meat and now it's an element of the world's energy supply. A recent documentary, "King Corn" aired on PBS focusing on how much the world relies on it and so corn is one hot, hot controversy and commodity. It's all perfect storm-like as many nations are seeing something once reserved for 19th century history (or maybe for sci-fi future history): Food Riots.

A New Statesman article notes:

The EU, the United States, India, Brazil and China all have targets to increase biofuels use. But a look at the raw data confirms today's dire situation. According to the World Bank, global maize production increased by 51 million tonnes between 2004 and 2007. During that time, biofuels use in the US alone (mostly ethanol) rose by 50 million tonnes, soaking up almost the entire global increase.

Next year, the use of US corn for ethanol is forecast to rise to 114 million tonnes - nearly a third of the whole projected US crop. American cars now burn enough corn to cover all the import needs of the 82 nations classed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as "low-income food-deficit countries". There could scarcely be a better way to starve the poor.

The threat posed by biofuels affects all of us. Global grain stockpiles - on which all of humanity depends - are now perilously depleted. Cereal stocks are at their lowest level for 25 years, according to the FAO. The world has consumed more grain than it has produced for seven of the past eight years, and supplies, at roughly only 54 days of consumption, are the lowest on record."

International agencies are getting worried, and a slow but steady diet of gloom is building. Food riots have been reported in a growing trend. (See this report from Amy Goodman for more details.)

Is there a solution? Today, the KNS had several reports about farmers in Tennessee working to make switchgrass a bio-fuel success rather than corn-based ethanol. The scramble for new energy sources and the current uses of the food supply indicate that solutions won't be easy or quick or will take place without real human costs.

More and more, it seems that dire times are looming large:

People may think these are scare stories, but the price of rice has tripled this year to $1000 per tonne and global wheat stocks are at their lowest for 20 years. Last year we saw the so called ‘Tortilla riots’ in Mexico and only last week, the Bangladeshi government couldn’t buy any rice on the global markets. Not only does this create a more volatile social environment for many UK multinationals, but for food companies it also poses the very real threat that they can’t source essential raw materials at all."