Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jorge Pantoja's Cinematheque

Here is a system of images which I term my perception of the universe, and which may be entirely altered by a very slight change in a certain privileged image—my body. This image occupies the center: by it all the others are conditioned; at each of its movements everything changes, as though by a turn of a kaleidoscope.-- Henri Bergson.

Alfredo Triff

Why are the images of film so powerful?

If we are our memories and movies are the "memories" of our culture, it's only natural to infer that we are those "memories" as well. Memory cuts across a landscape opening up a volume that envelops every perspective around certain "intense" points, this accumulation of planes as a function of the place where they superimpose themselves upon one another. An endless sequence of appropriation, negotiation and propagation of  images. We dream in movies.1

Did you ever feel being Danny Torrance, frantically pedaling your tricycle through a long, spooky hallway, looking back, running away from Room 217? That's the idea behind Jorge Pantoja's "Cinematheque," a show of colored drawings, at Carol Jazaar Contemporary Art.

D.J., 2009. from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, 1980.
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

Pantoja's color/drawings play the part of wordless "posters." So, you get access to a collection of showbills these movies never had.2 Even if some images are well-known, like the one above, they are reinterpreted within new color schemes, which redefine mood and meaning.

Collateral, 2009. From Robert Altman's Three Women, 1977.
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

In the drawing above, the artist achieves depth by a combination of shape/superimposition and color/contiguity. The cobalt blue of the dining table is repeated in the place-mat next to the fridge and the window, and so are the white of the back of the arm-chair and the kitchen-counter, the orange of the wall and the figure's collar, the brown of the blinds and the wooden chair. Finally, the red of the rosette wall-decoration, the hanging plant's flower and the kitchen drawer's knob.2(Can you find out one more example?)

Pantoja's simplicity of design and flatness of color brings to mind the Matisse from 1911-1914. Matisse abolished depth, still-life objects got reduced to a few isolated patches, hardly more than signs.

Henri Matisse's A Sitting Rifain, 1913.

Matisse is not alone in seeking this sort of simplicity. He definitely got some ideas from the graphic art of late-Nineteenth Century:

Left: Lautrec's Reine de joie, 1892. Right: The Beggerstaffs' A Trip to Chinatown, 1899.

I bring up Matisse because the French painter moved ambivalently between 1911-1914 from two opposing moments: one, ornamental and decorative; the other, minimal and geometric.

Left: View of Notre-Dame, oil on canvas (1914). Right: Interior in Aubergines, guache on canvas (1911-12).

Similarly, if you are into picking color moods, Pantoja moves from proto-Expressionist,

Fortress, 2009. From David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006)
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

to proto-Pop,

Marlowe, 2009. From Robert Altman's The Long Good Bye (1973).
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

Uncle 29, 2009. From Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker, 1964.
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

 to something in between:

Perfectionist, 2009. From Jean Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, 1967.
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

Pantoja and Matisse apply color with a sort of "pencil-coloring" technique, which brings forth an overall shimmering quality. It serves each artist differently.

Left: Three Little Pigs 2009. From Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, 1980.
 Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches. Right: Henri Matisse's Yellow Curtain, 1914.

Critics talk about Matisse's joie de vivre and his depiction of Mediterranean light. Pantoja is obviously a creature of the night.

Wishing You Were There, 2009. From Ariane Mnouchkine's Molière, 1978.
Graphite, colored pencil, ink pastel and acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

Coming back to images inside images: Is the picture, above, in Mnouchkine's 1978 movie Molière? Well, yes and no. Affirmative, in that ultimately, that's the image/source; negative in that no image can ever be repeated and be the same image. Which brings me to the fact that Pantoja's agoraphobic drawings exhibit a cannibalized maneuver of mediation. His "posters" filter the old narrative through a presence that turns process upside down, that is to say, the drawing of a movie whose frame -most likely- started with a drawing. I imagine a strong film of the 1970's that deserves a drawing by Pantoja: Chantal Akermann's 1975, Jeanne Dielman.

In parenthesis, did Matisse like movies?

1Even bad movies, which are the majority. I borrow the idea of "apparent memory," one which can be had without any experience/content. Cinema mixes music, image and motion, plus sheer size into a cathartic Gesamtkunstwerk 2 Being the 1970's, some of these movies' original posters are relatively obscure. By this time, the movie poster had lost its communicative edge to TV. This is Warner Brothers' poster for The Shining:

CICC's poster for Le Samouraï:

United Artists' poster for The Long GoodBye:

With the exception of the latter, they're all photo-based. Very different from the graphic quality and labor of the posters of Hollywood's golden era of the 1930's-1950's. 3In almost all of Pantoja's drawings for Cinematheque the subject appears in the middle of the frame, which brings to mind that "centering" is a characteristic of traditional cinema (the camera is placed to provide the viewer with the "optimum vantage point" for viewing the scene's action). Pantoja's camera's presence makes us aware that the image is a construct of a construct, that is, as if a scrutinized movie still.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leyden Rodriguez Casanova's An Uneven Floor

"An Uneven Floor" seen from the outside gallery window (left-hand side elevation)

Alfredo Triff

What are these people doing (in the photo above)? Is this a private party? A carpet show? A recreational space for children? A conference? A reunion of sorts?

"An Uneven Floor" is a installation that opened last Saturday at Locust Projects in the Design District. The title of the exhibit is conveyed so literally as to elicit bafflement. Artist Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova has built two promontories inside the gallery space and carpeted the whole thing in bright pink. That's it.

(Right-hand side elevation)

To understand the direct correspondence between title ----> art-work we have to do a little history: For a good part of the last decade, Rodriguez-Casanova has produced a kind of auto-biographical œuvre that exhibits very little intervention. Let's address the latter first. The idea is to present objects as they appear in everyday-life as they relate to the artist's personal history. To put it simply: If the painted sunset is art, why not bring the sunset and show it as art?1

This is exactly the point of Three Lamps with Different Lights (2007):

Or Overturned Pink Chair, (2006, below). Both pieces refer exactly what's stated by their titles.

One obvious conclusion is that Rodriguez-Casanova removes one step in traditional art representation. He just "presents."2 Surely, this presentation requires planning (and a slightly different craft).3

 A Mirroed-Wall (2006)

Walls divide and support. Mirrors reflect. The mirroring in the title of the installation   above brings forth a conceptual redundancy, which, instead of "numbing meaning" (as when one repeats a word indefinitely), actually opens up a semiotic horizon where the artwork can be perceived more openly -and not without bafflement.

Back to "Uneven Floor," Rodriguez-Casanova wants us to think about things other than floor/geodesics. In fact, one could ponder the show's title as a case of metalepsis. What I'm getting at is that the most interesting point about the exhibit is not its unevenness. Rodriguez-Casanova's "as is" furniture as well as the gently-sloped pink-carpeted gallery floor, brings forth passed-over aspects of our daily practices as they go on amidst furniture and floors. How come?

The issue of "evenness" is suddenly brought to the fore, but as a "distance," as we come to perceive the floor in the absence of a "normal," leveled floor. More than thinking about it, Rodriguez-Casanova wants us to "feel it." This passage by Jacques Derrida in his Parages (p. 36) may help put this in perspective:

The more one is tempted to come near the proximity of that which is approaching, the more wholly other -and thus infinitely distanced- of proximity buries or empties itself. 

If Rodriguez-Casanova's art can "present" at a par with reality, it must take a change of mood from immersion to awareness. Said differently, even as one checks out Rodriguez-Casanova's exhibit, one can still miss the "unevenness" of the floor.       

And yet, the artist's "presentation" is not without risks: As art and reality are interpenetrated, art risks becoming as banal as reality itself. Then, something as authentic as one's own narrative can end up stifled, by the seduction of nostalgia, which makes the distancing from oneself the more difficult.

That said, the public at the show couldn't stop talking about the pink-all-over phenomenon. Momentarily, I looked for psychological associations. These disparate quotes belong in a book about the psychology of color, published in 1961:4

*Pink and tints of blue and violet are decidedly "sweet."
*The babies stared longest at yellow, then white, pink, red. Least attention was paid to black, green, blue, and violet.
*Bathrooms should be pink to give the skin a luminous glow through reflection.
*Pink and yellow mosquito curtains do not harbor insects.

According to Michael Hamphill, women respond to pink, more overtly than men (which is to be expected given that girls are conditioned to this color since they are infants).5  In addition, Lucretius described dawn as "pink" in his famous poem On the Nature of Things. Oscar Wilde's favorite color was... Yet, these facts are totally irrelevant.

The choice of pink has to do with Rodriguez-Casanova's own experience growing up in a house of Cuban immigrants whose idea of interior decoration was rather peculiar -and which was not that far from the norm of other Cuban exiles in Miami during the late 1960's and early 1970's. This fact explains The Light Behind Pink Blinds (2007).

It's worth mentioning that the show is a lot of fun: I saw children climbing up, sliding down and rolling all over the carpet. Adults were less adept, but nonetheless walked up and down the slopes -as if testing the firmness of the props beneath them. Everybody looked around (at the environment containing themselves?). Many were puzzled. 

The director of Locust Projects told me how different the space looked without people in it. But then, would it be "uneven," or "pink"? 

1 This brings a crucial distinction between Nature and art. Art is, by definition, man-made. 2 A sort of Wildean twist where "Life imitates art." See Oscar Wilde's The Decay of Laying (Harper and Row, 1989, p. 982). 3 This new craft can definitely make stuff, but being more conceptually-driven, it generally plans and produces. 4 Faber Birren's Color Psychology and Color Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Color on Human Life (University Books, 1961). 5 Note on Adults' Color-Emotion Associations. Article by Michael Hemphill, Journal of Genetic Psychology, (Vol. 157, 1996).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson's stingy piousness

Napoleon the Third? He was four years old when the Haitians defeated the French in 1804! But let's excuse Robertson for erring on two napoleons. What is this philippic performance of the well-known American evangelist about? Ignorance, foolishness, utter disconnect with the world? Worse: a rancid self-pride fed by years of worshipers' sycophancy. A veritable display of stingy piousness.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Can a cynic (artist) be ((really)) serious?

Alfredo Triff

Here's a quote of Ruba Katrib, a young curator from MoCA, Miami, on the seriousness of artists:

Attitudes of cleverness and cynicism in art are too easy. We can nod and wink and feel a sense of inclusion (or, more likely, exclusion). But what about artists who actually are seriously considering what it means to be an artist today, what it means to create images and narratives, and what it means to create "art?" Irony features in the exhibition, but it's deployed as a tool to reveal rather than to create distance.

It made me think about the distance between "seriousness" and "cynicism" as global terms, not in their general full exactness, but as "flavors" that would invite special cases and relations. I couldn't help but ask: (mind my use of scare quotes as a form of distancing)

Can a cynic "artist" be serious? Can a serious artist play the cynic "seriously?" Can an artist "seriously" be really "cynically" serious? Can one do art without "thinking" what it means to create "art"?

Then, I stumbled on this paragraph by an artist -and friend- who wrote about the subject a decade ago (and who prefers to remain anonymous):

The only place for seriousness is in Hegelian dialectics. Thesis: Deceive as you convince. Anti-thesis: Do what you do not want, affirm what you loathe. Synthesis: Use art as the nearly-exact, be it image, word, object, intention. The individuality of the artist may often be better expressed as aloof, detached, non-committal. In art, rehashing always means anew.
IllustrationDiogenes, by Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Did you know you could be accused of "warring against God"?

Alfredo Triff

In the NYTimes:

At least five protesters arrested in Iran last week during antigovernment demonstrations will be tried on charges of warring against God, which carries the death sentence if they are found guilty, Iran’s judiciary said Thursday.

"Warring against God" is the best shibboleth known to man to buttress abuse and oppression. No wonder it was tried by Christian Grand Inquisitors, such as Savonarola and Diego Deza in Fifteenth-Century Europe. Are we back to autos-da-fe? These days nothing resembles more good all Inquisition than Iranian Theocracy!

The Pyrrhic paeanism of the right-wing mullahs is comparable to Torquemada's fate (Spanish people loved him so much that he had to travel at all times with 50 mounted guards and 250 armed men!). Of course, priests -being so close to Allah- have the advantage of direct-line communication.

Why is it always that God sides with the status quo? Why cannot God take side with the disenfranchised and exploited?

I counter: If there is a God, HE must be nauseated with the Supreme Leader's abuse of power -and the antics of his minion.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Anti-gay legislation in Uganda and the power of $MONEY$

Alfredo Triff

There is a new role for some American Evangelicals in Africa!1 

... how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how "the gay movement is an evil institution" whose goal is "to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity."

In the New York Times article, click on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill Legislation link. The second and third paragraph read:

This Bill aims at strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family. 2
This legislation further recognizes the fact that same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic.

Let's take a look at 3.0 (in the bill):

(b) prohibit and penalize homosexual behavior and related practices in Uganda as they constitute a threat to the traditional family (...) (e) prohibit ratification of any international treaties, conventions, protocols, agreements and declarations which are contrary or inconsistent with the provisions of this Act; (d) prohibit the licensing of organizations which promote homosexuality.

The main promoter of the document, David Bahati, member of the Ugandan parliament, doesn't feel he has to justify to the Ugandan people the platitude expressed in section (b). Why should he, when the THE FAMILY already rubber-stamped it? Then, section (e) has the weightiness of a Fascist proclamation. Uganda's Minister for Ethics and Integrity3 (yes, there is such a ministry in this humble African state) doesn't have to abide by any previous international protocols and laws regarding sexual discrimination and persecution, much less ideas of sexual understanding and tolerance. The whole absurdity paves the way for what's coming in part II article 3, where homosexuality is purposefully mixed up with pedophilia to make it look criminal -as if there were no heterosexual pedophiles.

Except the penalties, the spirit of the bill converges with the tone of Exodus International,4 whose banner reads: We believe that God wants to heal homosexuals through His church. Our goal is to equip you for that task! 

Let's not even be as naive as to ask sappy questions such as why would God not accept homosexuals as they are. The decisive question is political: Why do Ugandan politicians care so much for what American Evangelists have to say on -secular issues such as- peoples' sexual orientation? Why is the American Evangelical worldview so powerful as to influence legislation in Uganda?

$$$MONEY$$$5  Ugandan anti-gay legislation is buttressed with American Evangelical funds!

Why bother with a message of love and redemption when American Evangelicals can bring forth a "more effective treatment" for Ugandans homosexuals?
1The American "advisers" of the bill are: Scott Lively, a missionary who has written anti-homosexual books; Caleb Lee Brundidge, a self-described former gay man who leads "healing seminars," and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, whose mission is "mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality." 2 In what sense is homosexuality a danger to the structure of the Ugandan family? 1- People that divorce or choose not to marry in Uganda cannot be gay by definition (paradoxically, many gays would like to be married). Infection? 2- Heterosexual marriage is not affected by being gay simply because a homosexual (by choice) would not marry a heterosexual person. 3Mr. James Nsaba Buturo already invoked the cultural relativist argument: "What we are doing is what the country wants. I see a clash of cultures here and the need for those who are not us to accept our culture." 4Exodus has been around since 1976, but its profile has risen noticeably in the past few years. Typically, articles in the Christian right press about AIDS, about politically active gays and lesbians or anything connected with the "homosexual agenda," are accompanied by referrals to Exodus and its mail-order "Christian General Store" of anti-gay books and tapes. Among the most widely circulated is Joe Dallas' Desires in Conflict: Answering the Struggle for Sexual Identity. The book is written for Christians struggling to reverse (or repress?) their homosexual tendencies. "Former" homosexuals affiliated with Exodus make frequent appearances on Christian TV and radio programs, where their testimonies reinforce the idea -for mostly straight audiences- that homosexuality is demonically inspired (Taken from The Humanist, Vol. 54, July-August 1994 by Sarah Diamond). Click on the second tab from the left "Who We Are" and scroll down to "Mission & Doctrinal Statement." The psychobabble and pseudo-facts of Exodus International would be laughable, were it not that its homophobic ideas have become actual policy in Uganda! 5During the Bush administration, American officials praised Uganda's family-values policies and steered millions of dollars into abstinence programs.