When asked to help choose a strong AFC post last week my friend replied, “It’s certainly not last Wednesday’s post.” Apparently, one should not claim that Friendster suicide is smart, funny, and innovative, because according to this guy it is none of these things. “Nobody uses Friendster now, what could possibly be the point of this suicide?” he asks. While this issue was addressed during the performance, it is possible I had a Holland Cotter moment, (though, I certainly wasn’’t that far off.) As it turns out Cory Arcangel’s performance at The Believer event on Thursday was the result of a joke made in passing, and thus the completed work was a cancellation his Friendster account in front of a live audience. I admit, this piece probably won’t be recorded in the history books as his best, but this doesn’t mean I will be panning the performance either. If it has not been said elsewhere, let AFC say it here; Arcangel’s work is often just as much about employing entertainment and humor in his performance, as it is about recycling code and computer aesthetics. This work was no different as he charmed people while explaining the technology, and thusly received the largest applause at the end of the night. It would not be without relevance to note that Arcangel recently told AFC he was spending more time with comedians. Of course he is. The man is hilarious — I’’m sure they LOVE him.
Since a Friendster account is essentially an act of database curation, Arcangel’s work fit in nicely within a loose (and by loose I mean at times not applicable) theme of curatorial endeavors for the evening. The event was ushered in with a Believer demographic questionnaire and talk by Brian McMullen. Brilliantly worded, the survey asked such pressing questions as “What all have you eaten, exactly, in the last 24 hours,” and “List some of the objects you’ve stored in the cargo pockets of cargo pants.” The Believer will soon find that at least one member of it’s demographic needed a hamburger, and that a copier printer fits brilliantly into cargo pant pockets. What a space saver pants turned out to be.
McMullen’s presentation could well have been titled “Know Your Audience,” since this was the working principle behind his talk. And that he does. The Believer demographic has little cross over with that of, say, Maxim magazine, and was thusly illustrated when McMullen presented the 2002 Maxim Overview and demographic charts. It’’s a beautiful find really. As you can see below the release is a jewel of self promotion.
What a Great Time To be a Guy
…Call’em the Maxim years. It’s that magic time when everything – careers, partying, relationships, comes together…It’s a time when hanging with the guys is still the most important time of his life.
…With a paid circulation of 2.5 million and growing, far out pacing all the competition, Maxim is the unquestioned voice of men today. It’s everything men care about, cars, girls, food and drink, travel, with no additives or cereal filler.
Shit, this statement needs to be framed and prominently displayed over a mantel piece between this seminal C.M. Coolidge painting and this work of inspired genius. I’m sure Maxim would agree nothing speaks to men more than poker, and dogs pissing on a wall.
Representing the non-Maxim demographic, Caitlin Jones followed McMullen and led an interview with 60 word/minute art critic Lori Waxman. Waxman described her work to the audience as the removal of independent curation by the critic, as she accepts works from any artist during a window of time. Once the work is received she promises to spend twenty minutes writing about each piece, and returns the work at the end of the day/weekend with a review. As far as an exercise in curatorial practice goes I was initially tempted to fault the work for catering to a rather narrow audience, but then decided that if I’m not going to take the man to task who asked what I had for dinner tonight as part of his demographic survey, I have no business taking on Waxman.
My confession in thinking about this work is that I can’t seem to keep from comparing it to an upside-down Baselitz painting. It’s a good idea, but the success of the work ultimately relies on the ability of the artist to move beyond what could easily become gimmick. And, to Waxman’s credit, she does just this by proving herself to be something of a genius at speedily putting together 100 word critiques. This was demonstrated when Jones put her to the test by giving her two Internet works to review, MTAA (five small works about interruption and disappearing), and Zombie and Mummy. I should note here that both pieces are excellent and provide clever play and/or critique of the Internet medium, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to review these works as well,
if and when Waxman’s reviews are published, they will be posted here. Waxman was kind enough to forward the pieces she wrote to AFC.
“5 small videos about interruption and disappearing” nods with a knowing smirk to 70s conceptual and performance art via the filter of a computer keyboard. Using their own digital images as maleable matter, the duo of M. River and T. Whid play brief, witty tricks on themselves—or rather, invite the viewer to do it to them. Thus one can choose to pixellate their faces to a greater or lesser degree, or turn T. Whid's image on or off, and so on. The decision making is done through point-and-click: the viewer clicks the “lights on” button, and poor M. River, who's been snoozing happily on screen, is woken up by bright lights. (One can then be kind and put the fellow back to sleep by clicking “lights off”.) Though light hearted, these quick interactive games engage the viewer to make choices that affect another human being—or do they? The sticking pin of 70s performance art was that real bodies were involved, and as the viewer, you were either an active or a passive participant in what really happened to them.
ZOMBIE & MUMMY
Amid ever slicker websites selling this, promoting that, and informing you about those, “Zombie & Mummy” layers old-school graphic satire that tells a funny little story. Literally, in fact, as this project copies preexisting webpages and collages small cartoon story boxes into their midst. One navigates the site by choosing from several paths—“Zombie & Mummy make a homepage,” “Zombie & Mummy celebrate Christmas,” “Zombie & Mummy go to ZKM,” to name a few—and then finding the corresponding comic scroll smack where it doesn't belong. The juxtaposition between the cartoon's scratchy, layered, black-and-white drawing style and the digital smoothness or tackiness of the sampled websites is stark, as is the way one navigates the comic story: by scrolling to the right, more akin to the experience of looking at a Chinese scroll painting than a computer screen. Scrolling was a noun before it was a verb. The surprise of finding these stories would be all the bolder, however, if “Zombie & Mummy” were hackers instead of makers of their own site: imagine finding their tale as a pop-up window the next time you visited Amazon.com.
While Lori Waxman set to work on the reviews above, Eric Fischl next took the podium to give a power point lecture on the death of painting. You have to give the man props for beginning his talk with the statement “Compared to all the other stuff I’’ve been seeing tonight this is going to seem like a giant turd.” He had a point. People who are interested in Internet art and studying the cultural relevance of maxim mission statements tend not to be deeply invested in the history of figurative painting. Unfortunately for Fischl, AFC was probably the only member of that audience to have a background in figurative painting, and we aren’t exactly known for having that guy’s back.
Fischl is obsessed with the figure in a way that only a figurative painter can be. In this talk, the death of painting is illustrated entirely by the removal of the figure from the canvas. It’’s hard not to be critical of an essay that is both exclusively based upon Western painting, as though the rest of the world hasn’t been contributing to the medium, and ignores centuries of painting that has never been about the figure. I’m sure landscape painters everywhere are breathing a huge sigh of relief now that they know the death of painting doesn’’t effect them.
I would like to be able to say that despite the flaws of the essay Fischl says something interesting. And in fact he does, but while some of his ideas are engaging, I don’t think they are particularly accurate*. Nearing the end of his lecture he claims that contemporary artists pose something problematic with the body, which then leads to the point that architecture has become a surrogate for the body. Santiago Calatrava may serve as a good illustration of his point, though I largely see this thinking as wrong. One need only look at the countless fish inspired buildings designed by Frank Gehry to see how far this theory takes us.
Fischl also equates the fall of the towers ( and the removal of his September 11th memorial sculpture “Tumbling Woman” from Rockefeller Centre) to the idea that we are no longer able to tolerate things that remind us of our mortality. This is a ludicrous idea since there has never been a time where civilizations wanted to be reminded of their mortality.** It’s anti-instinctual. I would argue that the shock of the fall of the towers, has less to do with architecture having become a representation of the figure as it does as a symbol of the fall of collective knowledge. But this is a subject for a different post all together.
The talk unravelled from the point of architecture on, and he finally closed on a rather deflated note, saying something to the effect of “Are we so separate from the body that we don’t know how to deal with the fact that our country tortures people?” As it turns out the following interview between Brandon Stosuy and Matthew Ronay, revealed Fischl and Ronay shared not only a common belief about the direction of the country, but an interest in disturbing subject matter. It is questionable as to whether Fischl knows this however, since he left less than half way through Ronay’s discussion of his work.
Ronay began a discussion of his work by showing countless horrific sports injury videos he culled from the web as inspiration (I’m going to make an executive decision here, and not link to things that are clearly not work safe), equating cumming to the breaking point of these injuries. Ronay is incredibly articulate discussing his sculptures and he tells us that his work represents the end of a golden age. Siting examples such as in the end of Rome and France, and figures like Caligula, the artist is interested in how societies will exhibit extreme extravegance, eccentricity, and cruelty before their fall. Replete with cupcake anal beads, hibred animals designed to be able to fuck themselves, and finish lines that symbolize the moment of ejaculation, Ronay’s work certainly goes a long way towards proving his theory. The sculptures are not just about illustrating excess, but asking for more. It is this desperation that makes the work at once compelling and repulsive.
Perhaps as an illustration of a point made in The Believer interview that we are in a period where men will cum virtually anywhere to stop producing children, or simply as additional element to the ejaculatory “finish line” Ronay then provided the most interesting anecdote for the evening. He recalled an incident from his pubescent years, where he was alone in the house and masturbating to porn. Just as he was nearing climax he heard his mother pull into the driveway. She was returning from the vet with the family dog who had an injured foot. Faced with the decision to either stop or risk being caught, he took the path of every teenage boy and finished up. The hazard in this of course, is that due to time and circumstance he was forced to cum on the floor. He had just found a Kleenex to wipe it up when his mother walked in. The dog ran over and started licking the spot on the floor where he had cum, and his mother thinking this was the dog’s foot ointment on the floor, said something about not being able to get the dog to stop licking the medication, while putting her nose to the floor to smell it. “Yes,” she concluded, “Yes, it’s the medication”.
And if that closing is good enough for Matthew Ronay, it is good enough for AFC. Certainly, we should all be so lucky to finish *this* strongly.
*I don’t think it is a contradiction to have interesting ideas that are also wrong. Phrenology is an excellent example of this.
**Hungry Hyaena pointed out the inaccuracy of this comment today. Alright, alright, touche…