Friday, May 24, 2013

Art I've Seen Around Philly So Far

So, my first official week in Philly, my friend Maia convinced me to do First Friday in Old City with her.  I found it pretty disappointing--possibly because we kept ending up at places right as their supply of free beer and/or drinks ran out, but also because much of the artworks in Old City seem to be lacking in substance beyond either the craft of how they were made or the final presentation of them as objects.  I wasn't really paying attention to the names of the galleries or exhibitions as we strolled through because, frankly, things started to look the same to me.  I only remember the show at the Center for Art in Wood because it was full of strikingly beautiful, well-made objects.  Not particularly inspiring conceptually, but full of gorgeous things.  Similarly memorable was a more design-centric location: lots of futuristic furniture pieces and ornate glass chandeliers and jewel-like objects clearly intended for someone's china cabinet.  Shiny pretty things that I remember experiencing because they were so shiny and pretty.  If I'm being honest, Fireman's Hall Museum was my favorite venture of the evening because it houses a steam-powered fire engine (!!), which cannot really be beat if we're talking stupendous objects. 

A few days later, I wandered over to the Fabric Workshop and Museum and saw "Changing Scenes: Points of View in Contemporary Media Art," which I found much more satisfying.  I got to experience Adrian Piper's Cornered in person!!  I'd only ever seen Piper's monologue, which I consider powerful enough to stand alone.  But the piece exhibited has many more components I hadn't known about.  It seems like the way it is displayed and how the installation is titled has evolved or is at least different from how it has been displayed in the past. For this incarnation, you walk in and are confronted with an array of TV monitors arranged in a diamond.  Each monitor is sitting on a wooden stand that elevates it to eye level.  A chair accompanies each stand--not for sitting: the chairs are all tipped over on the floor so that their metal legs jut out at you.  The monitor at the pinnacle of the diamond--the one in nestled where the walls meet--has an entire table tipped against its monitor in this fashion.  Arranged on the walls surrounding the monitors are black and white portraits of African American women smiling.   I asked a gallery attendant if he knew who the women were--if there was a specific reason their particular portraits were chosen to be displayed/ if the order mattered.  He couldn't tell me.

Installation View of Out of the Corner (1990)

Piper's monologue plays first.  About halfway through, after she makes the point about the extreme likelihood of the viewer having at least some black ancestry, the chorus of "We Are Family" begins playing.  While credits roll on Piper's monitor and the music continues to play, the sixteen chair-having monitors sequentially play footage of individuals speaking the same phrase, at first one at a time, then in slowly building unison until they are speaking together in a mighty, tumultuous roar of simultaneous voices.  They say, "  .' 

I also got to see Javier Tellez's video Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See (2007), in which six blind people encounter an elephant.  Each person's immedaite reaction to the feel of touching the elephant is integrated with additional voiceover and video of their broader meditations on their experience of being blind.  Everything is in rich black and white, and there are exquisite transitional shots of the elephant's skin close up.  It was so fascinating and so...I don't like to throw around the word beautiful, but this accessed something transcendent and human and fragile and complicated while remaining simple and straightforward and lighthearted and unpretentious, and that very much fits my standard of beauty.  It made me cry.  There's a sculpture in the same gallery that is a composite of all of the descriptions of the elephant made by the participants in the video piece--it incorporates the materials to which each of them likened the sensation of the elephant's skin and presence (a wall, tires, a coat, etc.). 

For May's First Friday, I hit 319 N. 11th St with my friend Avi.  A few years ago, I interned in that building at a gallery that no longer exists, so I knew the vibe of the spaces there would be more experimental, artist-run, collective-oriented than the Old City experience.  Vox Populi, Grizzly Grizzly, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and Marginal Utility are among the spaces that live in the 4-story walk-up.  Very much still the hippest scene.  I don't know if I was in a weird mood or what, but I found myself experiencing the opposing spectrum of disillusionment--work that is mostly concept and not enough execution.  I mean, I'm obviously a conceptual art fan, and I tend to prefer work that engages me intellectually, but I couldn't manage to connect with anything I was seeing.  I felt a similar disconnected blurring effect to what I'd experienced walking around Old City--everything looked and felt the same; it was just work adhering to a different set of ideals and standards (which still didn't quite align with mine, but for different reasons).  Avi and I left feeling frustrated, bitching about the annoying cycle of people continuing to iterate ideas that have already been iterated, repeatedly, by people far more talented and capable of communicating.  This rant was not a reaction to any specific piece/ artist/ space in particular--nothing was atrocious, nor was anything stellar--it was more a general tantrum about the infuriating pursuit of contributing something creative to the world and inevitably falling short.  Feeling like anything could be "good" enough to earn a pass, but like nothing every really should.  I'm gonna blame it on a weird mood and try again in June...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Edit: Red Lipstick Project

So, in organizing applications for residencies etc. I've been going back through older projects and cleaning them up a bit.  One of those is The Red Lipstick Project  from over a year ago.  Despite the really rough execution, I think there's a lot of good stuff worth mining: I have a lot of footage of my friends--some of it usable, some not (lesson learned: in the future, I should probably not ask people to record themselves.  I should probably physically be there to direct them, using my own equipment), and all of the ideas and approaches I was trying out are still very much ideas and approaches that I am concerned with and that I consider worth investigating.  So, even if this is only a springboard exercise toward future endeavors in collaborative video projects, I think it's worthwhile.  That said, I've re-composed some of the footage into a new video, and I think it's a lot cleaner or possibly more straight-forward.  Blogger seems suddenly unable to access my YouTube videos, so please just click here to watch it for now. I was also able to upload it to my portfolio site, so feel free to stream it there if you'd prefer. 

I'm not sure if slowing them down was the right move, but I really wanted to focus on the gesture.

These have turned out to be my favorite still compositions:

I really like the mirror reflections and the focus on their facial expressions as they perform the gesture.  In going back through, I'm discovering that that is what I'm really interested in--getting a sense of what they're thinking/ how they're feeling.