Reality Hunger is now available! “An open call for new literary and other art forms to match the complexities of the twenty-first century.” Highly recommended!
I’m fooling myself,
Fooling myself into believing you
All these fictionary tales,
You’re telling yourself
Selfish, like a child that’s never heard of no
I watched him everchanging you,
Never find us
It’s 1:37 A.M. on a cold January night. You’re alone in a small half empty club, the walls painted black, thick smell of cigarettes, stale beer and sweat. There are a few young couples sitting close at the tables around you. You’ve stumbled into this place after a long day in the studio, and you’re looking for contact – something human. You throw back a shot of whiskey and cradle the tepid draft beer in your hand. The band has been a bit off through the first few songs. They’re not in sync, stiff, not feeling the moment. Then something happens and they come together. You light a cigarette, glad of the new beat. Some of the other half drunk souls walk up to the riser and start to sway. Your mind slips and you think about that painting that just wouldn’t come together, just wouldn’t gel. No one seems to understand this, not even your other artist friends who are endlessly planning their next photo shoot or set location. To them, you’re just beating a dead horse. No, you’re left in the studio struggling to put it all together for no “particular” reason. It’s a ridiculous situation to be in and you know it, the anachronism of paint in this light speed economy. Meanwhile the band has worked into a groove, the singer’s eyes closed as he croons “goodbye” – holding onto that last syllable, sliding into a falsetto. The rhythm crashes into harsh repetitions and crescendos, the beat tearing the place in two. The club falls silent as the last chord cuts sharp on the downbeat. Everyone understands that something great has just happened. A burst of whistles and applause. Reality?
We continue this series with a bit of life, at least, life that may have been lived and remembered. Life that we construct in certain ways. And it is this kind of constructed memory that we will be looking at because it is exactly this kind of fashioned memory that forms our realities. Now I say this because memory, whatever memories we have, never leaves us, never. They shape our existence as our existence shapes them. They haunt our outcomes and give our lives form, form that we may not fully comprehend. We react to our memories in such visceral ways. We try to share them, we use them to find common ground with other people’s realities, and we find, at times, that we have to come to terms with some of memories that may not be our own. We must regard the consequences of remembered “reality,” because they too, shape the life we create in our minds. Consequences fashion the choices we make, the emotions we feel, the other lives we impact, big or small. We create our true fictions in order to better explain our lives to each other and to ourselves. And these thoughts always seem to bring us back to the night studio, throw us back into our painterly realities. How does memory play into vision, how does it exist in paint, how does it exist in Art? We’ll discuss these things in this series of posts, and maybe we’ll get a bit closer to something felt, something real in our work.Disconnect
Right now as you are reading this, the program is reading you. Right now as I upload these words, I am being watched and documented. This is not paranoia, it is the nature of the reality of being in a program, the nature of our new “memory.” As you graft yourself onto the ethernet, it grafts itself onto you. For instance, the memory above, the one altered through my fleshy perception, is now part of the larger collective memory. It will be picked up by search engines and categorized. It will be filed in various data streams waiting for the right keyed sequences. Then it may appear on someone’s screen, altered by the categories of the program. But this memory will not simply be a tale of a “day in the life,” a painter’s moment. No. It will have been keyed by the program to a certain type of economic experience, a certain purchasing demographic locked into a specific consumerist outcome. (For instance, the music above by the fabulous Them Crooked Vultures can be purchased and downloaded immediately, and that makes this post a portal for commerce, tying these words and that “memory” to that shopping experience.) For each memory there will be other cues, other outcomes, not intended by me, that will lead you somewhere with the express purpose that something, everything is for sale.
The video on the left of a rainy night in Times Square is filled with the beautiful, speeding light and color of commerce – a kind of perpetual agonistic light show in which programs create “desire” for machines that will allow us to consume things that only the machines creating that desire will be able to translate into “things.” Or to put it more succinctly – the programmed “desire” leads us to a vast shopping mall for our consciousness. As more and more of our corporate economics have infected the collective electronic memory, the malls and the big box stores have moved directly into our homes, into our hands and into our minds, guiding and shaping our experiences, interactions and memories. When we upload our inner lives we become goods to consume; we become product. Our fleshy memories, our realities disconnect from an authentic moment, take on a different inflection online. But in the night studio life is a bit different.
For many of us who work in studios, we continue to do so in the same old ways. This is neither good nor bad, it is simply a fact, a reality. What we are after is not necessarily the work in front us, but the work inside of us. How many times have I destroyed good work trying to get to something better, something deeper. Christ, if I had a nickel for each time I’ve done that I’d be as rich as Koons. Those late nights or early mornings, those hours and days of living with the thing, those slight differences in hue or value are all part of the endless need for control that we try to exert over the thing. And this is part of the myth of the artist seeking perfection. Many artists perpetuate the idea of “control” as being a sign of their striving for something deeper, more refined or more real. But the truth is this is also a sign that we are unable to understand the full reality that we are trying to express. What we should be trying to get to is a state of being out of control. It is my experience in the studio that when I’m barely hanging on, when there is no “control,” then something is truly happening before my eyes, a reality is being made without me, in spite of me. I mean, nature, the thing we have no control over, happens in those moments when we aren’t pressing the keys or fiddling the knobs. Our physical self somehow gets ignored, or worse, becomes the outcome for some issue of conscious control. We head to the surgeon to remove the bump in our nose, or suck the fat from our asses, or enhance our peckers with pumps and hydraulics. We think that we have control over nature, that the plane won’t crash, that the island won’t collapse or the hurricane won’t swallow our home, that age will never ravage our beauty or our stamina. Yet Life, nature, reality, continues along in spite of us, in spite of our “control.”
We see this myth of control being exerted everywhere – from the buttoned down businessman’s hair gel all the way to the financial projections in a prospectus statement. We see it in shiny balloon dog sculptures, computer lens rendered paintings, or in the way we choose to speak of our lives on public programs. We see these things as reality, we believe that they are, and we rush to purchase them, to exhibit them, to proclaim them the “truth” of things. But in the night studio something else happens, we have to wait for life, for the moment when we begin to recognize a more insidious reality. And it’s never what we thought it would be, never the way we expect it, because in reality, not everything is possible, not everything bends to our control. Unlike Georgina, I’ve never been one that falls for the possiblities of things – I hope for them. Everything may be possible, but not everything makes itself real. When everything is possible we still believe in control, we fall in love with the camera, the lens, the program, with our own take on what we’ve come to understand as real, but none of that is “real.” In the art world today, everything is possible and nothing is real, and again, we are faced with something else, something we brought up in the last reality post – authenticity. What is authentic, what seems real, what feels real? Those are the hard questions we must face in the studio.
David Shields makes a similar point about the realities of life when he’s discussing a video that captured a fight in a restaurant.
“What’s remarkable about the video is that you get to see how people really fight. In real life, as opposed to movies, it’s never fair. The guy has no chance. They’re breaking chairs and tables over his head, sucker-punching him, and then there’s that last kick to the face. The guy who kicks him is either really mad about something or just evil. It’s the most awful thing to do: kick someone like that when he has no chance. You really feel this restaurant fight. Scorsese can’t come close to matching this realism.”
Reality is not fair. And no matter what you may believe, it will have its way with you, and this is why it is exhilarating.
reality will continue…
…But there is something about making a movie…
when you are in the reality of the film set, anything is possible.
…because the truth of it is, I love the camera….
On Massive Attack’s web site there are a number of links to short movies scored with music from their new album, in other words, videos. They are all very good, but the one entitled Paradise Circus by Toby Dye brings up a few of the issues that we will be looking at in this series. The short is an interview with Georgina Spelvin. What is fascinating about this interview is her impassioned discussion of the intimate relationship she developed with the camera. This relationship, as she describes it, is a way to liberation, a way to create a reality through desire. When she is intimate with the lens she becomes both the object of desire and the creator of images of desire. And in making that reality of desire she finds love – with the camera. All things become possible for her in front of the lens.
“When there is a camera running it is so thrilling.
God help me, I love the camera.”
We live our lives through the lens and the program. The intimate world, our interior world has collapsed through the ubiquity of the lens – we have no secrets. The details of our private lives, those physical and emotional moments that defined us have become the “reality of the set” where all things are possible. We live to act out, to display, to provide evidence of our interiority for an unseen, unheard audience. This “play” is similar to a religious experience formed by the trinity of the invisible audience, the lens and the program. When we confess, when we reveal ourselves to the lens we are cleansed, we become free. What are we seeking? Is it redemption, freedom, understanding or fame? What part of this lens capture of our confessions is “real” in the sense of our everyday lives? When do we stop constructing our realities and allow “reality” to construct us?
As we’ve allowed our lives to be captured in our technologies, we have given up something of the intimacy we are all seeming to crave in larger and larger amounts. That lost intimacy is connected to something that we used to known as authenticity. For instance, in the Toby Dye video it is clear that Georgina Spelvin in both manifestations of her “self” is acting. In the images from the movie the Devil in Miss Jones she says that her expression is “deliberate.” In her commentary she defines these fleeting intimate moments of joy or humiliation with a rehearsed delivery about that intimacy. In the meantime the music builds behind the commentary and the edited images moving us into her desire, building that desire and that reality within us. It is a construct, and this “reality” is made to highlight the fact that in front of the lens “anything is possible.” We, too, come to love the lens as Georgina does, but as we do, we lose the authenticity of those moments. We are involved in a passing fiction even as Georgina reveals her truth, her reality. We can not truly participate in this constructed reality, we remain desirous. This world, no matter how easily manifested, will always be hidden behind the screen.
“We are our own devil.”
The link to the video is here. There is graphic sexual imagery in the piece, but it is a masterful music video and better than most things you’ll see in a gallery. Toby Dye is a magician, transforming the banal into something beautiful.
reality will continue…
The French have their own ideas about space adventures, and they are always Postmodern cool. I have to admit that this movie, The Fifth Element, is one of my guilty pleasures. A trip to Italy in the 90s was rife with TV advertising and kiosk posters for Il Quinto Elemento con Bruce Willis – heavy on the Italian accent. This small pop culture moment mixed up with a cheap pensione in Roma has burrowed into my head like a tic on a fat dog. I really enjoy the clever way the script weaves together the 3 subplots into a continuous collage of question and answer. One character in a subplot will ask a question and the answer comes from another character in another – it’s smart movie editing, and for something as silly as a space adventure done up as an old fashioned Euro-Western, it is fun high POMO exuberance. Sandwiched into the plot is a small pivotal character played by the out-of-control and OTT Chris Tucker. Ruby Rhod steals the entire movie! One of my favorite moments is when he takes the stairs into the simulacrum of “… the most beautiful concert hall of all the universe! A perfect replica of the old opera house! …BUT WHO CARES!” For Ruby, everything is background – people, places, and especially things. His personality keeps rising into view, the center of the universe, and we are all satellites caught in his gravity. From the wig with the phallic cone all the way to the ridiculously pointy shoes – Ruby is a character born of POMO exuberance. I guess it just goes to show that not everything Mannerist is bad….