Monday, June 10, 2013

First Friday in Philly Take Two (Braving the Rain)

This past Friday, June 7, I gave it another shot.  I convinced my friend John to come with me to the 319 building before meeting our friend Vy at HyLo Boutique for a beer, coffee, cheese tasting around 7.  We stopped for food that I thought was going to be takeout Vietnamese sandwiches, but ended up being a sit-down meal because I directed us to the wrong place.  It was fine though because we had a solid prologue conversation about how frustrated I get reading theory due to the inherent hubris involved in any theorist offering an alternative solution to the problematic constructed system they are observing.  My central point was something to the effect of: "It's like, I'm with you when you're deconstructing and problematizing and pointing out the wrongness of what's going on and the fact that the rules of what's going on were invented by and are upheld by other humans, but I feel like from there, there is this disconnect where the theorist doesn't acknowledge the fact that they are just another fallible human offering another construct.  They end up saying: 'Recognize this problematic construct that misguided, fallible humans have been blindly promoting for centuries; I've got a better one for you.'  And they fail to recognize their own subjectivity and the fact that everything they are observing is filtered through their own imperfect perception.  They actually think they're better because they are embodying an idea that's more-than-human, because they've discovered a Truth, but instead of it being about the idea, it is inevitably about them and their brilliance and their contribution to history, and I can't get over the fact that the furtherance of that is extremely dependent upon problematic bullshit firmly rooted in the intertwined systems including-but-not-limited-to colonialism, classism, racism, patriarchy, eurocentrism that any decent theorist is supposed to be problematizing."  John made a point about the necessity of doing the work of sifting through the annoying dregs of each separate theory to find the nuggets of Truth in order to string together your own collage of Truth that can guide you through your life, and how it's a singularly excellent thing to be able to encounter the Truths that resonate for you and be able to keep that.  I agreed, but realized aloud that I've mostly had those kinds of moments when reading fiction—when reading novels.  That when I read theory and encounter a Truth, I don't feel impressed by it because I feel like, "Yeah, so?  I thought that thought yesterday." I don't respond well to people telling me what to think or what to look at in that kind of direct "look at what I know and you don't yet know" sort of way.  I am much more inclined to be engaged by something that leads me to my own conclusions, that asks me to look and think in a more collaborative way because that's so much more empowering and requires a whole lot more skill and finesse and subtlety than having a thought and being like "OH SHIT I'VE HAD A BRILLIANT THOUGHT—EVERYONE, LISTEN TO ME NOW!" It might be a truly brilliant thought worth sharing, but if you can't figure out how to communicate that thought in a way that engages and empowers your audience, then you're just another asshole.

Anyway, it was a good talk, and though we were running unforgivably late afterward, I'm glad we had it because the first thing we saw when walking into Vox Populi was Jess Wheelock's animation How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was maybe my favorite piece of the night.  It shows Wheelock trying to read Dale Carnegie's book, but falling asleep, from which point, a drawn animation of herself falls into a dreamy landscape of the book itself and has a surreal encounter with Carnegie himself (also a drawn animation).  It is hilarious and absurd and very smart.  My favorite moments were the animated Carnegie encouraging her to pretend to be happy so that people will feel more comfortable around her—he tells her to smile; she folds her arms across her chest and frowns skeptically, shaking her head.  So he offers her a smile-mask to hold up in front of her face instead.  Later, Carnegie rambles about his motivation for writing the book and says something to the effect of, "When I was a kid, I didn't have any friends," which made me laugh out loud and elbow John and affirm that this piece was "so great, and so appropriate to the conversation we were just having." 

Wheelock's video was separate from the "Union, Justice, Confidence" exhibition that filled the rest of the gallery.  Standout pieces included Dave Grebber's My Stassed (Red Velvet) in Gallery 2, which I would actually like to look at again when there aren't so many people around interfering with my ability to actually hear what the people in the video clips are saying.  The gist of the piece seemed to be a statement about the language of commodity-advertising as specifically applied to the virtual space that now defines our lives.  Formally, it draws you in with layers of color and moving images, and then it holds you there with campy infomercial-style anecdotes performed in a familiarly composed way (if you're someone who watches a lot of infomercial-type ads), but with the people promoting a thing you've never heard of before.  Again, I could not hear the content as much as I'd have liked to, but what I got from what I could discern is that "My Stassed" is some kind of virtual reality space that allows you to organize and keep track of your life to a vaguely terrifying extent (one participant says something about being able to watch his wife and daughter all the time via My Stassed)—it's framed as an ideal, utopic space that you can customize, but superficiality and falseness in the actors' faces makes you feel uneasy about the attractive bells and whistles that so easily drew you in.  Good.  In Gallery 4, there was a video by Stephanie Patton titled Conquer, in which a woman, presumably Patton, has covered her face and neck/ shoulders in band-aids and is ripping them off one by one.  I was queasily reminded of my own Putting My Face On and didn't really want to watch the whole thing, but I feel like I probably should go back in order to do so.

We also checked out the openings at Grizzly Grizzly: "Permanent" featuring Kim Faler and Kristen Kimler [I was unimpressed by the tiny snippet images of hubcaps pinned inside circular frames and equivalent images of columns arranged around the column in the center of the room. The "wallpaper" on the back wall also fell flat for me.  I don't know—I just felt myself asking "OK, and?"]; Tiger Stikes Asteroid: "Gillian Pears: Elsewhere" [beautiful images of pieces of cloth draped over clothesline before colored walls.  Formally impressive]; and Napoleon: "The Flame and the Flower: New Works By Marc Blumthal" [digitally abstracted images of Reagan...and some kind of manifestoish statement scrawled on the wall.  "Adolescent impulses with a pretentious title" is what I numbly wrote in pen on the notecard I took.  The downpour of rain soaked this and all other press releases to a bleeding stack of pulp at the bottom of my canvas bag, which seems appropriate to mention.] before heading out.

We got to HyLo at 8:30 instead of 7, but Vy didn't seem to mind.  Combining coffee, cheese and beer is a thing I vow to do for the rest of my life.  Walking around in the rain to the point that your raincoat ceases to even remotely serve its intended function and your shoes become squishy pools and your dress might as well be a bathing suit because it's suctioned to you like a second skin—also not so bad.  The concluding art experience of the night was accepting a feathered mask from a dude under an umbrella who was trying to hand it off to everyone walking past him.  "There's a good one" is what he said when I took it from him.  I don't know what that meant, but I wore the mask the rest of the way to the L and left it on a bench for someone else to pick up or throw away.  There were little wet bits of green feather stuck to my face, apparently. Good.