March 12, 2006

Suburban spaces

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...Only a few years later, the lawns are now cluttered with car repair shops, grocery stores and taco stands. New floors have been added, single-family homes have been joined together to house extended families, and many of the beige facades have been repainted in bright colors. Mr. Cruz sees the mix as a richer, more vibrant landscape — a spirited answer to the alienation that many of us associate with conventional American suburbs…

I came across this article about Teddy Cruz, who has some fascinating views on modern architecture and community.

I grew up in Southern California, surrounded by the gated communities Cruz talks about. I lived in an apartment complex for a short time, but it only partially felt like a community, like where the association would sponsor a “Halloween decoration contest” (which we won, yeah!), but I never made friends with the kids in the neighborhood. It is a very different feeling from the kind of community I experience when sitting on my stoop in Hayes Valley, San Francisco, meeting my neighbors’ dogs and kids.
I seriously have a hard time with neighborhood associations and their restrictions regarding the color of your house, where you hang you laundry, etc. Seems awfully stifling, as opposed to the communities where the members are free to transform their space how they want to. Even if they want to keep a bunch of car parts in their front lawn.

Cruz’ designs for new suburban spaces are mentioned, but as the plans have not been approved yet, there are no pictures as of yet. I would be very interested to see how they turn out. His ideas and influences are fascinating and could be very valuable in the future of our communities.

March 11, 2006

Peace museums, simulation, and interactivity

Ayme Frye posted recently about the Navy Underground Tunnels on Okinawa, including a recording she took while in the tunnels. Walking around the tunnels and even outside you couldn’t escape the mindless looped flute music and narration piped through speakers everywhere.

For me, the presentation of the underground tunnels showed a desire to mask or forget the realities of the tragedy. From the soothing music (it sounded like inane versions of martial music actually), to the cheery, polite voice; from the souvenirs assaulting you immediately after you exit, to the euphemistic brochure—it all seemed to be an attempt to distract from the gravity of the place. Almost like a way to distract so one wouldn’t suffer the embarassment of being emotionally touched. All it lacked was a kawaii mascot.

I’m not sure if you could relegate this to the realm of “cultural difference,” as the trip to the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Museum later that day attested to the possibilities of a very powerful and emotional representation of war tragedy. Also contrasted with the Hiroshima Peace Museum, another highly sophisticated museum, I would dare to say that the presentation of the Navy Underground Tunnels has more to do with funding and poor design than any sort of cultural difference. Unless you take the view that the other Peace Museums, because they are more international in scope, take on a more international and less Japanese method of presentation, with multi-media displays, etc. But I would venture to say that the Underground Tunnels was merely a poor imitation of these more sophisticated museums, trying to integrate some level of multi-media with its audio presentation. What they forgot was that the other museums were built from the ground up, so to speak, and need to use these multi-media presentations in order to simulate the effects of war. What they forgot was the inherent power of the tunnels themselves, and by trying to integrate the multi-media aspect they actually succeeded in detracting from the immediacy of them. I found the whole experience to be incredibly alienating.

To go back once again to Nadine Wasserman; at the end of her essay she talks about culture and marketing in the 21st century:

The real and the simulacra are interchangeable. Visitors can see “masterpieces” at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas—the land of simulation—just as easily as they can at the Met. Cultural tourism can lead to Disney’s Epcot or Nike Town just as easily as to a “real” museum; and museums are borrowing tactics from shopping malls and from Disney to learn more about interactivity and visitor services.

This is incredibly apparent when walking through the Peace Museums. The appeal to the senses is so strong, especially at the Okinawa Museum with its nearly life-size recreation of the caves in which Okinawans sought refuge (complete with chilling wind simulation) and the post-war Okinawa street. They pulled out all the stops, practically transporting the viewer back in time.

I have visited many museums documenting the tragedies of war, but those built on actual sites don’t need to rely on Disney methods of interactivity and simulation. The chill is already in the air and the silence is so powerful.

March 10, 2006

Art and the Everyday

In a previous post there was a discussion about the purpose of art and whether it still reaches for transcendence or is entrenched in the mundane. Nadine Wasserman defends the mundane, offering the argument that art as an expression of everyday things is, in other words, art inseparable from life, a tradition that reaches back into tribal cultures.

She posits that 20th century art has been preoccupied with “the collapse of the boundary between art and life.” And yet in ancient cultures there was no boundary, art was a part of life and every member of the group took part in the arts of making music and decorative art. I find this especially fascinating because in the Japanese language the words used to describe the fine arts, 芸術 or 美術 (geijutsu or bijutsu)、are relatively new to the language, not an inherent part of the culture, having been introduced after the exposure to Western cultures.

Wasserman goes on to talk about the language of art and how it attempts to convey what is completely subjective, “as a form of interpretation of lived experience,” which is something Aaron was touching on in his comment to the previous post. Wasserman points out that the problem with trying to convey a subjective experience in this day and age is that

...communication is complicated further by an ever-expanding global community in which people encounter a multiplicity of cultures, a multiplicity of values…

In many ways, however, marketing has overcome these difficulties through the use of brand recognition (check this link). Of course advertisements aren’t trying to get across any tough or sublime concepts, but perhaps this is our common experience, a way of bridging those gaps of communication and culture.

Much of the art that fascinates me, particularly coming from Japan, embraces the methods of mass-marketing in order to appeal to a broad demographic, whole-heartedly accepting, albeit consciously, the commodification of their images and icons. Artist Takashi Murakami, creates characters with the intention of rivalling the brand recognition of Mickey Mouse.

This is a blatant disregard for the boundaries of art, those entrenched values that uphold that art should be separate from life and society, somehow untouched and transcendent. Wasserman talks about an “optimistic cynicism” that many artists have toward the hyper-realist, media saturated world we live in. This type of art, indistinguishable in its method and use of media from mass-marketing, shows a further breakdown between art and life, reality and illusion.

March 7, 2006

Love Letters

I have been wasting away the afternoon reading this collection of anonymous love letters, curated by artist Cindy Loehr. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are way too familiar. Check out my faves: Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?, Chemical Change, My Aorta Hurts, Two Socks Worth, You Are My Antithesis, and Where I Belong...

Wow I have been spending way too much time reading these. Some of them have made me cry even. So prepare to spend a little time. Or maybe you aren’t as emotionally sensitive as me right now and you can just browse at your leisure.

You can submit your own love letters, or letters written to you, or letters you have never sent, and maybe it will be included in an art exhibit or read on the radio!

February 27, 2006

Japan represents in Italy

Not only in the Olympics this year. Two Japanese graffiti artists, Kami and Sasu, took part in a major project in Milan with 5 other artists. Check out the link where you can zoom in on the canvases.  From Wooster Collective.

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February 25, 2006

When writers sell out?

Questions on graffiti and authenticity are spinning through my head after reading the comments from this post on British stencil artist Banksy. One of the comments questions the authenticity of Banksy sightings because apparently anybody could be Banksy now, as pre-cut stencils are being sold on ebay for about 5 dollars. Another comment questions “Wheres (sic) the art in doing someone elses design?”

Good question. Of course there are art historical precedents of appropriation, etc. But what happens when you appropriate in an anonymous art form? These “fake Banksy’s” don’t stand to gain any recognition for their stencil efforts. They are not showing their appropriated Banksy stencils in a gallery with their own name on them instead. It seems instead that Banksy is getting up for free here.

Not anyone could design a stencil, but anyone can use it. This is a key difference between a stencil artist and a writer who has a distinct tag that no one else could imitate. When using stencils one erases the connection between the graffito and the artist’s unique gesture. Stencil graffiti, then, invites copy catting. Of course if you’re a self-respecting graffiti writer you wouldn’t want to be caught dead using someone else’s stencil.

But what if you’re a fan? You have no graffiti ambitions of your own, maybe no style or talent. Or you’re lazy and don’t want to try to develop skills. (Check out this LA writer Zato One’s ironic take on this.) Who would stop you from getting THEIR name up? When you look at a Banksy you find in Hollywood, does it matter if it was actually stencilled by the man himself? Because when you look at it, you still think, “Banksy…”

Checking out ebay though, the availability of precut Banksy stencils is pretty low. They aren’t even that cool. The smart comments he is famous for aren’t included in your stencil set. So for the record, if you are looking at what you think is a Banksy, and it is clever, then it probably was done by him, not some poseur.

On the other hand, an artist who fully condones the spread of his work, offers kits for those aspiring legions of copycats on his very own website. Check out the Space Invaders kit, available for 80 euros. “Be an Invader. Stick Your Space. Get Points. Support the Invasion,” flashes across the top of your screen.

Space Invaders supports even further commodification of his trademark pixelgraphic aliens in the form of decals you can put up in your house. Space Invader decals, by Blik, are even available at mega mart Target.

Space Invaders are on their way to becoming a sign as recognizable as Nike. I wonder if, in time, our children could look at the lovable aliens and not even know anything about its origins? Will the aliens outlive their anonymous French creator? Is there anything wrong with wanting one’s art to outlive oneself?

Maybe the days when getting up worldwide was a personal ambition, a way of documenting your travels and getting recognition in far away continents, maybe that’s old school now. Could delegation be the future? A worldwide force of lackeys who get up for you?

Well check it out, this sort of stuff’s been around since 1989 when Shepard Fairey started the Andre the Giant campaign. And graffiti is still going strong; it hasn’t changed anything really.

It is all up to the individual writer, where his or her priorities lie. An artist like VeryOne, who travels all over Asia getting up puts the emphasis on the journey and the proliferation. For others, like Space Invaders or Obey Giant it is the movement that matters. The symbol supercedes the creator and is proliferated by others.

Whether this is Banksy’s intent is debatable. The stencils on ebay are probably bootlegged, but I don’t know if that is really going to cause Banksy much consternation. After all, the old adage “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” probably rings true at this point. Banksy says

The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Any fame is a by-product of making something that means something. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.

People copy it because it means something to them. They like it. They’re fans.

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February 15, 2006

This is fresh

Check out these optical illusion rooms. Huge!

February 11, 2006

Joyce versus Baudrillard

A few days ago in a class lecture, Dr. Preston Houser, was talking about Joyce’s philosophy of aesthetics and desire, art and pornography. According to Dr. Houser, Joyce claims that porn incites desire for the object whereas art liberates us of the desire for the object. Through art we transcend desire.

I started thinking, is this really true? I remembered the writings of Jean Baudrillard who claims that through advertising and mass media pornography has ceased to exist because “it is virtually everywhere.” Art, too, has ceased to exist because the definition of the art object has been blasted wide open to include anything and everything and the only reason art presumes to exist still is because of the institutions that support it. Baudrillard says in the Conspiracy of Art:

The illusion of desire has been lost in the ambient pornography and contemporary art has lost the desire of illusion. In porn, nothing is left to desire. After the orgies and the liberation of all desires, we have moved into the transsexual, the transparency of sex, with all signs and images erasing all its secrets and ambiguity. Transsexual, in the sense that it now has nothing to do with the illusion of desire, only with the hyperreality of the image.

The same is true for art, which has also lost the desire for illusion, and instead rases everything to aesthetic banality, becoming transaesthetic.

The transaestheticism of art, then, was actually predicted by Joyce as he writes in Portait of the Artist, As a Young Man:
Can excrement or a child or a louse be a work of art? If not, why not?

Now we have seen excrement and pornography elevated to the status of art, so where does that leave us? Can art liberate us still? Or does art cease to be art when its motive is to shock the viewer into experiencing the visceral emotions of rage and lust?

Stephen Dedalus, the main character of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, explains to his friend Lynch that Lynch’s sexual impulses toward the work of art is nothing but a physical reaction to a stimulus, but that the work of art itself, or the work of the artist transcends that.

-”You say that art must not excite desire,” said Lynch. “I told you that one day I wrote my name in pencil on the backside of the Venus of Praxiteles in the Museum. Was that not desire?”

-”I speak of normal natures,” said Stephen. “You also told me that when you were a boy in that charming carmelite school you ate pieces of dried cowdung.”

Lynch broke again into a whinny of laughter and again rubbed both his hands over his groins but without taking them from his pockets.

-”O I did! I did!” he cried.

Stephen excludes Lynch’s actions from the realm of “normal natures,” but as I see it, this impulse to elevate so-called base bodily functions into the realm of fine art is now condoned and funded by institutions of art. Through this elevation, however, art has paved the way for its own eradication.

In contemporary art, the Lynches rule. Art no longer transcends anything, not even toast. Baudrillard tells us that art glorifies and proclaims its own “nullity.” It has nothing to do with beauty as Joyce would like. The secrets of aesthetics Stephen Dedalus tries to reveal are meaningless in the media-saturated, “hyperrealist, cool, trasparent, marketable” world Baudrillard says we live in. In that sense, art has outlived its function for transcendence and merely operates out of habit.

the Venus of Praxiteles’ backside. What does it incite in you??

February 3, 2006

If you want to see what Japanese graffiti looks like…


Originally uploaded by nattynattyboom.

You can look at my Flickr account. I just uploaded all of my good Japanese graffiti photos.

Thanks due

There is a Japanese translation of my article, “The Bombing of Babylon,” currently in the works thanks to Ian Lynam, a graphic designer who lives in Yokohama. Susan Farell, the editor of Art Crimes, forwarded him my research, and it turns out that he had also attended the Mito exhibit and taken some photos.

In turn, Ian read my article and offered to have it translated by one of his contacts. In such an understudied field as graffiti research it is great to see a network of willing participants who put forth their time and effort without the backing of grant boards or arts councils, getting the information out there and available for everyone. Thanks everyone!

On the left, here are a couple photos of the exhibit taken by Ian: If you want to see some other cool photos of the exhibit, check out these Flickr accounts- chipple (second from right) and pingmag (far right).

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