Category Archives: Artists

Rachel Cusk et al vs Don Quixote

After coming to the end of the delicious, rapturous, repetitive, raving, magnificent most-engaged-knight-in-the-entire-world Don Quixote, I’ve become obsessed with Rachel Cusk’s trilogy; Outline, Transit and Kudos. She’s the anti-Cervantes, the “dissociate artist for a dissociate age, asking from the back seat; ‘is this real life?'” So writes Patricia Lockwood in the London Review. Like so many others, I started off disliking her, and still do, but I read on.

Probably it’s the Voice. It drones seamlessly from one person’s story into the next, commenting when it feels like it, then going on to the next like a distracted, OCD dog. The voice is monotonous, without nuance. At times, it’s indistinguishable from the person it’s supposed to be conversing with. You get the sense that the Voice listens, but that it can only respond to what mirrors itself in the teller’s stories. When the Other Voice, the one telling a story (mostly men strutting their stuff) stops for breath, the Cusk Voice comes out like the cuckoo in the clock, presents its rebuttal, or its insight, which are at times so embedded with “it seems to me” and “in a kind of way” and “perhaps” as to be unfathomable, pretentious, as if ones point of view is the only proper response to a story being told by someone else.

Lorrie Moore says this: “We see that we are experiencing a presentation: a midair collusion of storytellers and pronouncers. Faye’s voice and those of the characters she encounters sometimes merge—and that is the point. However underperforming our lives may be, the stories of them are always performances. Faye makes statements that seem to announce the book’s narrative strategy: “I was beginning to see my own fears and desires manifested outside myself, was beginning to see in other people’s lives a commentary on my own.”

The Voice is hypnotic. I’m mesmerized. Cusk is traveling, and her fellow travelers are as mundane as mine are.

I’m also reading Sigrid Nunoz, The Friend, Houellebecq’s Submission and I’m paging through Karl Ove to see if it’s possible to  commit to The Struggle, which I’ve been saving for when I’m convalescing from flu. Strangely, I find no pleasure reading these authors. With some exceptions, mostly their sentences ring pithy as hammers banging through rock, stripped of imagery, lacking sensuality, self-involved with their own drama. And yet, and yet – they are driven, relentless, trance inducing.

I came to Cusk late because along with Sheila Hati and Claudia Day  (whose recent article in the Paris Review begins with “I wrote the first draft of my novel Heartbreaker in a ten-day mania in August 2015” – I’m supposed to want to read this?) she was part of the New Motherhood, what it means, what price you pay, how to write a novel with children hanging from your clothing sucking your blood. I admit that the topic doesn’t interest me, I simply don’t care;  the topic brings out the worst in me, the me that says, Yes, giving birth is a big deal, yes domesticity is the death of freedom, yes, it is the birthing of the death of another and yes, it’s also a big deal to write a novel while a mother. Yes yes yes, there are consequences for everything, get over it, find something else to write about.  Aside from Patty Smith and Keith Richards, who have a ball writing about their =interesting, demonic lives, I can’t think of a memoir worth writing.

What it boils down for me to is this: Everything in life is someone’s drama, and eventually, unless it is transformed into language, paint, color, rhythm, movement, conversation; story; into beauty, it feels like just one more voice  grinding away in the background with the clothes dryer.

Which, if you’re DeLilio, or Robert Altman and maybe Rachel – well, drone on.

UBU ROI, our nightmare

We’ve considered him stupid, moronic, evil, incompetent, mad, racist, misogynistic, a pedophile, self-aggrandizing, lying, stupefying,  narcissistic, character flawed, disgusting We’ve mocked his hair, his ties, his mouth, his little fingers, his wife, his children , his bone spurs, his deal-making, education, university, his gold leaf, his diet, the elevator, his advisors, cabinet and his lack of a dog. We call him a clown and we make Ubu Roi his avatar, Pere Ubu, Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic joke of a dictator who wants to be the king of Poland. That play so horrified its audience, it closed the night of its premier, but this performance has lasted over 500 days to become a national – no, a global – nightmare.  

At this moment, his most despicable action is holding hostage immigrant children to get his way – he wants his wall, and Congress is figuring out how to give it to him.

If you see this woman, call….

So, say the perpetrator returns the rock to its rightful owner, the river. Does the river owe her $17,500? Does Yoko owe the river for the rocks she took? If  she took 200 rocks from the river, that makes $3,500,000.00 minus gallery rental, transportation, labor, taxes, adjusting for inflation.  Still, not bad, for a river.

 

Woman Steals $17,500 Rock from Yoko Ono Installation

 

Egyptian Blue, transmission

A  painter friend visited a cemetery in Egypt. She was walking with her family when she saw in the distance a robed woman who seemed to be throwing something from a bag on the desert floor.  She hurried ahead and saw that this woman, amongst others, was tossing handfuls of ground pigment into a tomb, or maybe into several tombs. The pigment color, a dense, bright blue, was extraordinary against the muted neutral tones of the desert landscape. The photos she took show an open, domed beehive structure, a tholos tomb,  the floor saturated with layers of this intense pigment, also with dried corn kernels. In one photo, a man stands to the side with a broom. At one point, he offered my friend the broom; for her to do some sweeping? Or perhaps for him to sweep for her? – she has no idea.

The history of the color is intriguing.  It was developed around 2600 as an alternate pigment to the rare and expensive mineral lapis lazuli, made from sand, copper, and sodium-carbonate, CaCuSi4O10m, a testament to the skills of the chemists of antiquity who understood how to control the temperature needed for successful synthesis. Amazing too was its consistency over time until it was “lost” during the dark ages. Lost and found again, when in 2009 it was discovered that Egyptian blue shows exceptional luminescence (it has since been made into a crayon), indicating its possible use in imaging devices.

But here’s what really intrigues me: new research shows that Egyptian blue produces infra-red radiation like that used by TV remotes. In other words, when compressed into infinitesimally thin sheets and compressed, the infrared quality of  Egyptian Blue makes it a communication device.

So,  back to the modern Egyptian women spreading layers of artificial blue pigment embedded with corn kernels in desert tombs. Assuming my friend hasn’t happened on a performance piece, maybe we can consider this scene a ritual having to do with decorating a tomb as Pharaoh’s was decorated and also providing the dead with what it needs in the next world, in this case, the color blue, which we now consider a medium for communication. And isn’t this a universal desire, as witness, for example, my dog Bandit buried under a tree with his bowl.

I also like to think that in some cellular way, the ancient world understood that this exquisite color is capable of communicating through layers of existence.

Equality?

Equality is a great idea unless it means we should all be equal white people.

Nowhere in the culture do I see white people expressing a desire to be persons of color. That said, I do see a growing awareness that people of color are not just victims of white people with whom we need to empathize,  We’re evolving, to be sure; it’s no longer legally possible to enslave, torture, appropriate other people to do the bidding of white people…except perhaps in the way that white people make celebrities out of  black people for entertainment. I experience Beyonce not as a white person in black face, but more as a  black person in whiteface (an imitation of her heritage for consumption by others.)

We’ve evolved to the point – with the help of affirmative action, guilt, fury, activism, pressuire –  of integrating people of color into elitist institutions. As long as the institutions value all imaginations, histories and experiences, this is a welcome step, unless the message is,  “how to be white”.

Equality is possible when the imaginations, histories, desires,  of “other” peoples and cultures are equally weighted with those of white people; when the imagination of an artist of color is of equal interest, on its own terms, without white interpretation, and is a vital participant in the history of art, music, literature, then we have forgotten the word”tolerance”, which is really a demeaning term.

As usual, the arts lead: Here’s a short list of contemporary artists of color with individual approaches to identity:

Bethany Collins
Rashid Johnson
Kara Walker
Ellen Gallagher
Chris Ofili
Ifeoma Anyaeji
Marc Bradford
Kehinde Wiley
Mel Edwards
Kerry James Marshall
Yunka Shonibare
David Hammons

So many more.

Widewalls.com has an interesting conversation: “The cultural identity is defined by both its own members’ living experience and the search for a definition and the perceptions of others, especially those in power. How does the racial identity of an artist affect the way they create art and the perception of it by the masses?

Where My Girls At?  20 black female artists with current solo exhibitions.

Artnet.com: 10 black artists to celebrate.

Culturetype.com: Major AfricanAmerican Contemporary Artists

Hyperallergic: for a take on some 1971 history