Sunday, September 27, 2009

My fellow Americans

My fellow Americans: This time I come from the meadow of dubiety and suspicion. The present time of crisis is not for the fainthearted. A precarious moment for our country's dignity, no doubt. No oread nor maenad can help us carry through it, they say. It's the behavior of our once robust economic performance that remains most discouraging, they gloatingly repeat. Even our Freedmanite/Mankiwnean unswerving breed of neoclassical pundits feel intimidated by the neo-Keynesian huns. "Debt," "deficit," "unemployment," "manufacturing fiasco" compete now at a par with "bailout," "government regulation," and "Madoff-like." "Terror," for years our weltanschauung, has lost its wished-for eclat. 

Why this reversal?

THEY LIE! Banks are not to blame, much less the country's economy. Capitalism and freedom always made us stronger -which is why the world hates US. At a moment of unparalleled growth, in the midst of the fight against terror (and right on the verge of elections), they orchestrated the failing of America.

Dark anti-American forces betrayed our system. The flimsy and weak-minded blamed the virtues of the system as scrofulous, as if prosperity, capital and entrepreneurship were a cure for the weak instead a source of pride for the strong. Our enemies have traded our sovereignty and freedom for the evil grip of so-called equality. Once more, the shadow of SOCIALISM following the religious communion of the free. How should we treat these traitors?

Let's fight back and reclaim our country from the clutches of Communism!


This sort of lunatic paranoia—touched with populism, nativism, racism, and anti-intellectualism—has long been a feature of the fringe, especially during times of economic bewilderment. What is different now is the evolution of a new political organism, with paranoia as its animating principle. The town-meeting shouters may be the organism’s hands and feet, but its heart—also, Heaven help us, its brain—is a “conservative” media alliance built around talk radio and cable television, especially Fox News. The protesters do not look to politicians for leadership. They look to niche media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and their scores of clones behind local and national microphones. Because these figures have no responsibilities, they cannot disappoint. Their sneers may be false and hateful—they all routinely liken the President and the “Democrat Party” to murderous totalitarians—but they are employed by large, nominally respectable corporations and supported by national advertisers, lending them a considerable measure of institutional prestige. The dominant wing of the Republican Party is increasingly an appendage of the organism—the tail, you might say, though it seems to wag more often from fear than from happiness. Many Republican officeholders, even some reputed moderates like Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, have obediently echoed the foul nonsense.-- Hendrik Herzberg for The New Yorker.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton's political incorrectness belongs in the best tradition of American lampooning. It's like being able to look at the shit of our Modern world through a microscope. The video has Plympton himself introducing his "Hair High" (just a teaser here). Neil Genzlinger has a blurb of the film for the NYTimes. More of Plympton's art:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Robert Frank @ the Met

How does the “The Americans” come across today? In the nominally post-racial Obama era, its political urgencies feel less immediate than they once did, but also prophetic. Its mournful tenderness, without being sentimental, seems deeper than ever. The days and nights it records are more than a half-century gone. The preacher, the nurse, the woman hidden by the flag, the sharp-eyed woman and the tearful black man on the trolley are, you imagine, gone.

Heartfelt article by Holland Cotter, on Robert Frank's The Americans, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's the "sound" of yellow?

A flower-pot of basil can symbolize the soul of a people better than a drama of Aeschylus.-- Ion Dragoumis

Alfredo Triff

Here is one of Kandinsky's weird mind experiments in Concerning the Spiritual in Art: Yellow ---> Triangle ---> High intellect. Was he tripping?

The Russian painter was not the first to ponder the phenomenon known as synesthesia, the ability of mixing sensory domains, akin to a Baudelaire,* Schönberg and Nabokov, to name just a few. Not to say they really had it (people's mental states are utterly private kind of events). At least they tried to evoke them. 1 in 25,000 people have true synesthetic experiences (more often women and lefties).

What kind of cerebration is required -to bring about linguistic or sound "personifications"- in order to "hear" colors, "smell" words and "feel" geometric figures? Maybe it just takes curiosity and will-power. Let's say I force myself to conceive a prime number's color (do I "get it" as when one is caused to see blue, or do I sort of "fancy it," as vicariously invoking d'Esseintes perception of lapis-lazuli in Gustav Moreau's Salome as described by Huysmans in Against Nature? Pressing the issue: Could one ever taste E=mc2?

That's where Symbolist poetry, deep hermeneutics and LSD comes in! Poetry may help implode sensory limits, just the way psychedelic drugs brought forth cognitive shifts enabling a generation to "smell" colors in Hendrix's fuzz-wailing solos. Hence, Jack Bruce's verse for Cream's Slwbar: "Got that rainbow feel, but the rainbow has a beard."

Back to Kandinsky. He was obsessed with synesthesia. What's the sound of yellow? was a question he may have asked Schönberg in 1911, right during the time the Viennese composer concocted his groundbreaking Pierrot Lunaire. Sadly, Kandinsky lived the waning of a synesthetic furor that harked back to Mid-Nineteenth Century.*

My hypothesis is that synesthesia waned as pre-Modern cultural High to reappear as post-postmodern Low, every-day life phenomena. We live in the midst of a global crisscrossing of sensorial input: Hybrid, virtual, rhyzomatic and syncretic. It's so pervasive we rarely see it. Here are some of my own: Listening to Arabic, Bronx-inspired Hip-Hop, punctuated with sampled-strings from Mahler's 5th in a Miami night club. Eating Pan-Asian sushi prepared by a Cuban/Dominican chef in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Seeing a black & white remake of a 1940's American film Noir with Spanish subtitles, Spanish actors and directed by a Chinese, in Barcelona. I'm no Baudelaire, but I swear I can hear "Pork Pie Hat" from Mingus' 1959 Ah Um and feel the humid, saltish breeze of late autumn in New York's Bowery, circa.1959, as if living it inside Allen Baron's 1961 film, A Blast of Silence.

On that note, even Wittgenstein's question in his Remarks on Color, "Could the letter A be red?" seems somewhat less fanciful.
*Baudelaire has this idea of "universal analogies" to imply, among other things, an absolute parity (even sensory interchangeability) between the arts.**Romantic composers experimented with the idea of music communicating non-musical images. The so-called programmatic music was often based on a poem or story. Berlioz, Liszt and Mussorgsky (amongst others) have important programmatic compositions. As the Symbolist painters pursued pictorial representations of narcotics, Wagner was giving shape to his idea of total art and Scriabin experimented with "colored" music (he may have inspired Schönberg to push into atonality).


Was "the Tramp" a Situationist?

I enjoyed this bridge tale.

Speaking of brigdes.

Designing the workplace.

 Best American city for jazz? Chicago. 

Beatles are back.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Are you anti-American?

The purported connections in the video may seem hyperbolic. They are not. A hardcore conservative/Republican mass has found a promising sentiment, the "anti-American" scapegoat. You figure that a conservative radio host in the middle of nowhere can get away with it. But a congresswoman? How could elected officials proclaim something that's blatantly false? Law of supply and demand. There are plenty of ears ready to heed the message. Who are these people? Many of the same who voted for George W. Bush and supported his "axis of evil" strategy (it's about fear, stupid!). Now they own a perfect combo of well-known, historically tested, American memes: "Communist," "Marxist," "Socialist."1 Don't assume that people necessarily learn from their mistakes. Fear mongering worked in the past, and will work again.
1What a bizarre paradox! The smearing becomes a sort of tegument. The radical right has disowned its own ideology when they picture Obama as a Nazi: How could they remain true Anglo-Aryans and picture "the Negro-in-Chief" as one of their own?

Can dialectics break bricks?

“Imagine a kung fu flick in which the martial artists spout Situationist aphorisms about conquering alienation while decadent bureaucrats ply the ironies of a stalled revolution. This is what you’ll encounter in René Viénet’s outrageous refashioning of a Chinese fisticuff film. An influential Situationist, Viénet stripped the soundtrack from a run-of-the-mill Hong Kong export and lathered on his own devastating dialogue. . . A brilliant, acerbic and riotous critique of the failure of socialism in which the martial artists counter ideological blows with theoretical thrusts from Debord, Reich and others. . . Viénet’s target is also the mechanism of cinema and how it serves ideology.” (PFA Program Note)

Since Guy Debord has permanently withdrawn all his films from circulation, Can Dialectics Break Bricks? is virtually the only available example of a situationist use of cinema. Viénet’s film is a far lesser creation than any of Debord’s, but still well worth seeing for its consistent use of the situationist technique of détournement — the diversion of already existing cultural elements to new subversive purposes. Other filmmakers have used aspects of this technique, but only in confused and half-conscious ways, or for purely humorous ends à la Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Viénet’s film is even funnier, but its humor comes not so much from its satire of an absurd film genre as from its undermining of the spectacle-spectator relation at the heart of an absurd society. In both its social-critical content and its self-critical form, it presents a striking contrast to the reformist whining and militant ranting that constitute most supposedly radical media. By turning the persuasive power of the medium against itself (characters criticize the plot, their own role in it, and the function of spectacles in general), it constantly counteracts the viewers’ tendency to identify with the cinematic action, reminding them that the real adventure — or lack of it — is in their own lives.(Taken from Bureau of Public Secrets).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wilson vs. Dubyah

Alfredo Triff

Fresh from New Criterion, an article from James Piereson, Is Conservatism Dead? In particular, I care for this paragraph:

President Bush, in addition, justified the war on liberal or Wilsonian grounds, so that if the war discredited anything, it was the liberal ideal of achieving collective security through the promotion of democracy. One may argue that such an approach is misguided or impractical, or even that it is inconsistent with conservative principles, but it is not possible to say that it is revanchist.

What's at stake for Piereson, is not Bush's Minority Report-like foreign policy (but Wilson's  liberal programme)!

Did Hussein have WMDs?

Once the main reason for going to war becomes illegitimate (and the real war with it)1, Piereson/Bush has no choice but to appeal to the second best (Wilsonian doctrine). Let's come back to Piereson's second sentence: it is not possible to say that it is revanchist.2

Since 2007, the trickle-down of damning evidence from ex-associates in the Bush administration over the manipulation of information by his government hasn't stopped. The prize goes to Cheney's push to imply an Al-Qaeda--Hussein connection to justify the invasion, using Powell as Cheney's mouthpiece and pressing Tenet to lie to the international community.

Was George W. Bush really promoting democracy in the Middle East?
1 Academics often forget (in the heat of their ideological exchanges) the fundamental difference between "reasons for going to war" and the war itself. All the death, horror and destruction in the name of what sort of justification?  2The three legs of Bush's revanchist stool: 1- Axis of Evil, 2- The Iraq War, 3- Guantanamo.

Huysmans reading of Moreau

There, the palace of Herod arose like an Alhambra on slender, iridescent columns with moorish tile, joined with silver beton and gold cement. Arabesques proceeded from lozenges of lapis lazuli, wove their patterns on the cupolas where, on nacreous marquetry, crept rainbow gleams and prismatic flames. The murder was accomplished. The executioner stood impassive, his hands on the hilt of his long, blood-stained sword. The severed head of the saint stared lividly on the charger resting on the slabs; the mouth was discolored and open, the neck crimson, and tears fell from the eyes. The face was encircled by an aureole worked in mosaic, which shot rays of light under the porticos and illuminated the horrible ascension of the head, brightening the glassy orbs of the contracted eyes which were fixed with a ghastly stare upon the dancer.

With a gesture of terror, Salome thrusts from her the horrible vision which transfixes her, motionless, to the ground. Her eyes dilate, her hands clasp her neck in a convulsive clutch. She is almost nude. In the ardor of the dance, her veils had become loosened. She is garbed only in gold-wrought stuffs and limpid stones; a neck-piece clasps her as a corselet does the body and, like a superb buckle, a marvelous jewel sparkles on the hollow between her breasts. A girdle encircles her hips, concealing the upper part of her thighs, against which beats a gigantic pendant streaming with carbuncles and emeralds. All the facets of the jewels kindle under the ardent shafts of light escaping from the head of the Baptist. The stones grow warm, outlining the woman's body with incandescent rays, striking her neck, feet and arms with tongues of fire, — vermilions like coals, violets like jets of gas, blues like flames of alcohol, and whites like star light.

The horrible head blazes, bleeding constantly, clots of sombre purple on the ends of the beard and hair. Visible for Salome alone, it does not, with its fixed gaze, attract Herodias, musing on her finally consummated revenge, nor the Tetrarch who, bent slightly forward, his hands on his knees, still pants, maddened by the nudity of the woman saturated with animal odors, steeped in balms, exuding incense and myrrh. Like the old king, Des Esseintes remained dumbfounded, overwhelmed and seized with giddiness, in the presence of this dancer who was less majestic, less haughty but more disquieting than the Salome of the oil painting.

In this insensate and pitiless image, in this innocent and dangerous idol, the eroticism and terror of mankind were depicted. The tall lotus had disappeared, the goddess had vanished; a frightful nightmare now stifled the woman, dizzied by the whirlwind of the dance, hypnotized and petrified by terror. It was here that she was indeed Woman, for here she gave rein to her ardent and cruel temperament. She was living, more refined and savage, more execrable and exquisite. She more energetically awakened the dulled senses of man, more surely bewitched and subdued his power of will, with the charm of a tall venereal flower, cultivated in sacrilegious beds, in impious hothouses.

Des Esseintes thought that never before had a water color attained such magnificent coloring; never before had the poverty of colors been able to force jeweled corruscations from paper, gleams like stained glass windows touched by rays of sunlight, splendors of tissue and flesh so fabulous and dazzling. Lost in contemplation, he sought to discover the origins of this great artist and mystic pagan, this visionary who succeeded in removing himself from the world sufficiently to behold, here in Paris, the splendor of these cruel visions and the enchanting sublimation of past ages.--
Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against the Grain, Ch. 6.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Comparing apples with oranges

Alfredo Triff

The development of art in this century has ended in a pluralism that relativizes everything, makes everything possible at all times, and no longer allows for critically grounded judgment. This analysis certainly seems plausible. But today's pluralism is itself artificial through and through. Boris Groys (Artforum International, Vol. 36, October 1997).

I just bumped into Boris Groys' clayey paragraph -above. He's comparing apples and oranges.

Pluralism is a thesis of inclusion:* There are different ways of evaluating a given issue. But that does not mean one cannot tell what's better and worse. A pluralist can set up relevant differences of value between competing assessments. For example, Greenberg 's criticism is ideal for Abstract Expressionism and Post-painterly Abstraction. Harold Rosenberg has excellent essays on these topics as well, but in general Greenberg's style is more focused, elegant and precise. Yet, Greenberg's evaluation of Conceptual Art is not as relevant as Kuspit's. Why? A quick answer is that the formalist scope of his thesis was challenged by Conceptual Art. Another way to put it is that his evaluations didn't properly fit this new development.**

The reason one cannot have one "super-discourse" to deal with all developments in art is trivial: There are just too many different styles (each with distinctive features) often in tension with one another (think of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art). One single discourse defining two different (contrasting) styles would have to be either too inclusive to accommodate both of them (with the danger of becoming unspecific), or develop such a specific fit that the other style cannot be included.

Tonal music and twelve-tone music demand different understanding. The Neo-classical style in architecture shun Baroque excess. Symbolism and Constructivism belong in different political worlds. Nouvelle Cuisine and Cuisine Classique require different approaches and discussions. The list goes on and on.

What's the purpose of having a single privileged method for evaluating all these different forms?***

*Critics Lawrence Alloway and Harold Rosenberg had somewhat similar methodological approaches to Pop Art. They explained the iconographic, stylistic, and formal features of this movement in terms technological and economic characteristics of post-war Western urban society: mass communications and Capitalist consumerism (they also disagreed with the then prevailing modernist paradigm of Greenbergian formalism). Both descriptions can coexist and enrich one another. Yet, I prefer Alloway's. Why? He's an excellent observer of American mass communication phenomenon during the late 1950's. Alloway sees art in a non-ideological manner. On the other hand, Rosenberg's idea of art's anxious condition is too existentialist. It's fashionable, but it doesn't look forward. Rosenberg reminds one of Dwight McDonald's ponderous statement: "the destruction of a minority aristocratic high culture by the coming of mass industrial society … the occasion for an irreversible disintegration and decline of culture." Rosenberg's well-known essay Art and Work (1965) misses the point: He attributed the excitement caused by Pop to a lack of knowledge among art professionals. Rosenberg missed Pop Art because he expected art to be essentially political. He could not understand Warhol's smooth artificiality. **In the case of Conceptual Art, Greenberg's formalism had -mistakenly- predicated aesthetic forms emptied of ideas and meaning. Conceptual art abandoned aesthetic forms entirely in favor of ideas. ***Even in science, the effort seems trivial. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's thank Wall Street for the good job

"Whose fault is the crisis? The consumer!" (an AIG manager, October 2008)

It's tempting to draw satisfaction from the fall of Wall Street's Masters of the Universe, who enjoyed obscenely disproportionate wealth for so long. Not anymore.  Now that Wall Street got out of the hole (through massive doses of our money) it's better to let the Invisible Hand dictate the next move.
I invite you to ponder the structural predisposition for wickedness of our present financial system. How did it happen? Was it always like that -and we refused to see it? 

This week, while commenting the reaction to Obama's speech in Wall Street, two journalists played the "cynical" card: Obama's proposed regulations -particularly his remarks about derivatives and bonuses- are pretty naive. The president ignores the true nature of high finance. Regulation by the government will only take our business to London or Beijing. According to the journalist, it's the very nature of the market's players to find the "cracks in the system."

What happens when the market's "open field" 1 is coerced by actors "findind cracks" on behalf of a few successful insiders who end up at the top?

Isn't the role of the market to guarantee the freedom -thus the health- of economic activity? 2 At this point Smith's Invisible Hand must vanish. Crack-finding takes us to how things are done: SHOR-TERMISM.3 Let's face it. He who makes the largest profit will end up being the most powerful (appearing as index of "economic growth").

It's rare these days to find a judge like Jed Rakoff, speaking about justice(?) The social disconnection and moral cluelessness of Wall Street CEO's is unvarnished. This is executive Richard Bove:

I'm having a difficult time understanding who was harmed here ... why is this company being put into court over a series of events that benefited the nation 4, its economy, its financial system, the shareholders of Bank of America and the bank itself.
1A term used at times by Nobel of Economy Robert Solow. 2 Which is exactly the -naive- rationale of Eighteenth-Century Capitalism -as it was defended by Adam Smith. 3 Alan Greenspan labeled our obsession with short-term performance "infectious greed." It sounds so blasé now.  4Shouldn't we be grateful that Bank of America/Merryl Lynch is strong again? 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Can urban design deter crime?

Alfredo Triff

"Crime" & "Miami" are in the news again. Coincidentally, fighting crime through design has become fashionable. Even Wikipedia has an entry on the subject!

Are there urban factors that may reduce or stimulate crime? Can crime be reduced with well-thought-out design? There are two main approaches to crime prevention: the so-called "dispositional" and the "situational." The first looks at the criminal's motivations and calls for education, moral guidance, sanctions, and/or penalties. The situational approach identifies the offender's physical context. Once he or she has made the initial decision to commit a crime, certain techniques can be employed to make the commission of that crime in that particular place more difficult. The consensus among experts is that design can indeed reduce the opportunities for people to commit crimes, though design alone will not solve the problem.

Let's do a bit of history. Environmental crime prevention appeared as a field of study in the Sixties with Jane Jacobs's well-known The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Elizabeth Wood's Social Aspects of Housing in Urban Development. Then a surge of interest in the possibilities of manipulating the built environment to prevent delinquency emerged in the Seventies with C. Ray Jeffery's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design and Oscar Newman's Defensible Space.

Jacobs stressed the need for activity to promote surveillance between "private" and "public" spaces. In her conception, the safety of these spaces would not be enforced by police but by the voluntary control of people becoming "active participants." Newman built on some of Jacobs's ideas by establishing a credible link between urban design and crime rates (he suggested that high-rise buildings' inner elements like elevators, fire escapes, roofs, and corridors -isolated from public view- had much higher crime rates than low-rise buildings).

Newman proposed a restructuring of urban environments by a "community" of people sharing a "common terrain" (by the way, this "topographic" vision later proved to be a limiting notion of community). In his analysis of the relationship between design and crime in public housing, Newman came up with three crucial factors: territoriality, natural surveillance, and image/milieu.

Territoriality assumes that people need to mark out and defend their territories. Good design encourages people to express these urges: They would defend their space against intrusion by outsiders. For example, a well-designed housing project would make clear which spaces belonged to whom -that is, some would be completely private, some could be shared with permission from the owner, and others would be public.  Newman's natural surveillance calls for residents to observe and monitor public and semipublic spaces in their environment and be aware of those who don't belong. Thus residents develop a sort of territorial instinct about their housing project and feel responsible for its safety.

This method is referred to as a "management" or "regulatory" approach, as opposed to the "keep off premises" tactic in our upscale and middle-class communities, in which strangers are deterred from entering but residents end up feeling "trapped" in their fortresses, particularly the young, who after school are isolated in a world of TV, video games, and idle private activity. In America's poorest ghettos, citizens don't always have the means and/or power to enforce the law when it's broken, as Newman and Jacobs had it. In the inner cities, when people call for help, law enforcement's response is slow or nonexistent. In addition Newman's emphasis on territorial definition may promote social segregation (auto-oriented low density suburban development, Colorado).

Recent developments in urban planning endorse a more open interaction among the city's different players (this is what architect Zaha Hadid calls "porous" design). Bill Hillier, a professor of architecture and urban morphology at the University of London, defends a more fluid and egalitarian social interaction in his 1988 book Against Enclosure, in which he engages Jacobs and Newman by reinterpreting "surveillance" as people moving through spaces. In Hillier's view, activity and safety depend on continuous occupation and use. The more the natural presence of people and traffic is eliminated, the greater the danger. The idea makes sense. Why should one exclude all strangers from a district, regardless of whether they're peaceful or predatory? Fresh research shows that burglary rates are higher in less integrated neighborhoods than in more integrated areas. Hillier argues that Newman and Jacobs's situational, and more "restrictive," approaches could only redirect or redistribute crime.

According to an important 1998 report entitled Opportunity Makes the Thief by Marcus Felson and Ronald V. Clarke, crime displacement may take different forms: It can move from one location to another or to different times during the day; it can shift to a different target or be substituted by another kind of crime. Our local increase in urban crime has social, political, and economic causes. For one thing, Miami's racially and ethnically segregated populations are physically, economically, and politically disenfranchised, facts that become significant in the analysis of urban crime. Which brings me to a broader idea of community, one that encompasses more than just something defined by physical territory (below a Detroit slum).

Let's stop seeing crime solely as a subjective and isolated matter. Our civic leaders and planners need to understand that a factor in our crisis is this: We don't see ourselves as part of a greater community with commonly held aspirations. If we did, the general distribution of crime would substantially decrease. People don't pilfer when they believe they have an ownership interest.

Howell S. Baum, in his book The Organization of Hope: Communities Planning Themselves, makes the point that people join a community "when they have faith in it as something greater than the routines of everyday life ... something justifying a group loyalty that may conflict with but will take priority over mundane responsibilities." What Baum identifies as "faith" can be seen as a common civic project that unites Miami's different ethnic groups. Miami is a very complex city. We come from many different ethnic backgrounds and keep looking back home. But historic and ethnic concerns, important as they may be, should not detract from seeing ourselves within a bigger project here and now.

A community's identity is definitely more than its physical territory, more than its race, language, and traditions. Our leaders should take this piece of information into their crime-prevention planning. The broader question is: What is there in Miami that can bring together our best aspirations? In searching for these common objectives, we will have to look beyond our daily mundane affairs. Rising above narrow self-interest presents a major challenge, but the effort will be worthwhile.

Of course, working out better strategies will not completely eradicate crime. This may, however, reduce it significantly and -in the process- teach us how better to live together.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You out there

I know you read miami.bourbaki, but refrain from making comments. Here are some possible reasons:

a- you appreciate the blog but abhor discussing aesthetics (is that a legitimate subject?).
b- the scope of the topics are not enough to arouse your desire to say anything (why not Iron Painter?).
c- miami.bourbaki is just another case in point of why art criticism is in a worldwide "crisis."
d- you keep visiting in the vain hope of finding posts on Abstract Expressionism.
e- you make comments -only- if you got an explicit assurance that the moderator will treat you with respect.
f- you're put off by the blog’s lack of rigor.
g- "commenting" is for students.
h- you'd only reply if the moderator was a member of October.
i- what's the point?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Manny Prieres: What We Do is Secret

Alfredo Triff

Check out Manny Prieres' "What We Do Is Secret"* at Spinello Gallery (155 Ne 38 Street, Miami). For a while, Prieres has been experimenting with drawing, ornament, realism, detail. It fits him well. Art has a lot to do with labor-intensiveness and attention to minutia. Yet, for Prieres, the way-it-looks part is not first and foremost. As plebeian as it may sound, his search is for the roots. Prieres wants to understand where he comes from, not geographically or anthropologically. He is where he is and is who he is. This is a different route than conceptual art (where the idea grabs you), or so-called process art, where the doing-part "is" the goal.

Why drawing? Art historians like Gombrich and art psychologists like Arnheim agree that drawing represents the most basic and primary (in the conceptualization of the plan). A sort of tentative taxonomy, drawing shows more than what one sees. It reveals not only the immediate, but lingers, exemplifying qualities, articulating structure and expressing conventions that we can identify with. As a method of communication, drawing is essential and malleable.

Prieres' drawings are nuanced and thoughtful. In a piece (not shown here) one can see curlicues (as if ticklish whiskers) bordering the knife blade. 


Prieres works with very basic elements, before they become compounds. Pentagram (30x22" graphite on paper, above), a simple design which brings forth the idea of rhythm. In Afro-Cuban music tradition they call it "clave" (dah-dah-dah, dah-dah, a five beat/code). One can not help cerebrating: pentagram -----> rhythm -----> music staff -----> star -----> (song, hymn) -----> flag (with five bands and a star).  

Some stars resemble wheels and vice-versa. See Prieres' Wheel, (30x22" graphite on paper) below:

When wheels are used in conjunction with axles, either the wheel "turns on" the axle or the axle "turns in" a vehicle (think of a mechanical bearing). Which vehicle?

A wheel means motion. It also means (mending?). Mended (above, 63x52.5" graphite & watercolor on paper), a sort of coat of arms, presents 18 concentric, carefully-wrapped, machetes.

Why wrapped?

A machete is a big blade, which is employed to cut sugar-cane in the plantation fields. Through the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, almost every island of the Caribbean was covered with sugar plantations. The main source of labor was African slaves. These plantations produced 80-90% of the sugar consumed in Western Europe. It's no surprise that machetes were used to fight wars of independence in Haiti, Santo Domingo and Cuba (where Prieres claims some of his heritage).

Throughout the Caribbean, the machete has become a symbol of national independence. Problem is that symbols can be politically manipulated. Indeed they have: The uneven history of the Caribbean (and Latin America in general) is one from Colonialism to Neo-colonialism to half-assed independence marked by corruption, opportunism and exploitation.

We need mending.

Late Cuban writer Antonio Benítez-Rojo calls for "a new contrapuntal discourse being capable of flooding the vital stream navigated by Oshún, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, all of them defusing violence, the blind violence with which the Caribbean social dynamics collide, the violence organized by slavery, despotic colonialism, and the Plantation".1

Prieres' Mother (above, 72x52.5" graphite, gouache, watercolor on paper) precisely depicts the patroness of Cuba. This is the show's pièce de résistance: Young and sumptuous, without being forbidding. Though elegant, even luxurious, she looks, at the same time, reserved, almost timid.

Can she bring us closer to the secret?

There is a place in time that Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier refers to in his classic book El Reino de este mundo,2 a time before slavery and the plantation, a mythical time of a different society where the old desire expressed in the myth of the Caridad del Cobre becomes a reality, a synthesis and, also, a psychic state where all of the pugnacious sides of the individual that the Plantation split apart could now be reconciled. This may be what Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes means when he says that the hope for America is in Utopia, "because we were founded by Utopia." 3 Below, 1963 (63x52.5" graphite & watercolor on paper). For some, perhaps this place of Utopia already sold out. If so, there will always be room for a different dream.

We definitely need new bearings. But how?

Of course, Prieres is not presenting a didactic art form. His goal is not to project a political position, nor does he seek any particular kind of utopic emancipation. That's water under the bridge. His goal is more modest and reflexive: We will not build a better future for ourselves if we don't -first- heal inside.

* One may be tempted to turn this review into some arcane, mysterious analysis getting at "the ineffable" in art. How boring! A secret is something that needs to be explored and discovered. And it can become a transforming experience (though one may never quite achieve it). 1Antonio Benítez Rojo, The Repeating Island (Duke University Press, 1996), p. 23. 2Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World, preface. 3Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World Mariner Books, 1999.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Glenn Beck's Seminars in Art Symbolism

Another proof of Glenn Beck's innate ability to disinter picayune symbolic connections! But being that Beck is trying to establish relationships between two things "A" and "B," he never makes clear the differences between one and the other, he doesn't explain, much less justifies. Instead, Beck's sleight-of-hand turns inflations, weasel-wording, oversimplifications and questionable causes into medicine for our "ignorance"! 

It seems we're all in bad company these turbulent days of right-wing torpor.

Take a look at this statue of Buddha wearing the swastika. Buddha was a Nazi!

Beckeans of America may find promising esoteric connections in all sorts of stuff besides "hammer" and "sickle." Names like Vladimir, Nikita, Yuri are now suspect, as is the color red, "1917," Constructivism, any Shostakovich symphony, "pashka" the Easter dessert, etc, etc. It's self-evident! See the "Bolshevik connection" back to this Egyptian laborer, circa 8th Century BC? (By the way, whose father was born in Africa?)

Or in this painting, depicting a worker (defiantly wielding a hammer), by French artist Gustave Courbet. How did the French vote in the UN when we invaded Irak? (Whose middle name is Hussein?)

Everything is connected. Did you know that in 1871 Courbet was a leader of the Paris Commune? No wonder. Look at some of this pinko pervert's paintings. How is this any different from pornography? 

Do you want COMMUNISM in America? Is that what you want?