Saturday, May 22, 2010

NYC #3 - MoMA: Willliam Kentridge, Picasso, Lee Bonecou, Marina Abramovic

I know everyone from DC says this, but still, it throws me: you have to pay for museums in NYC. Let me just say, it was so worth the $20 to get into MoMA. To avoid museum burnout (the glazed over eyes that no longer see), we only moseyed here and there, making no effort to see everything.  What I saw inspired.  If you're in NYC, go to MoMA.  Right now.

First, check out the William Kentridge exhibit. The sketches are riveting, many self portraits, and quite a few of another figure, a woman in glasses.  But the most absorbing elements of the exhibit are the short films. Some are animated sketches that grow in process to complete pictures, then evolving to other images, landscapes growing, figures marching with burdens weighing them down, disasters and wars in some movies, other more fanciful, e.g., trips to the moon. If you click on View Video in the link, you can see an example of what I mean. My favorite area was the room where eight or so different films played at once, some featuring the artist, some shapes in motion, all playing around with time and gravity (e.g., running film backwards so he appears to magically catch papers behind his back). The effect, if you turn slowly around in the room and catch bits of each film running all at once, is of being inside a busily creative mind, ideas flying in all directions.

It'd be wrong to go to MoMA and not see some Picassos.  So do that. There are the classic asymmetrical features-all-over faces of women that you would expect, along with more realist work. The range of his experimentation is stunning.  I was particularly curious about his prints, having recently learned more on the process from sorting Karen Laub-Novak's work. KLN, with her horsemen of the Apocalypse, would likely have enjoyed his progression of a print, each print adding another layer to create a more and more defined and complicated horse.

One piece that knocked me down, and was, in fact, the only photo I took while in the museum, was by Lee Bontecou.  According to the signage, she worked on it for 17 years. She has a focus on time, mechanical, and astronomy elements, so it's no surprise it appealed to me. It flew off in a many directions with wire and gold, dimly reminding me of the guitar strings in the the Ugly Mobile 1.0.

Lee Bontecou: Untitled

Finally, a performance art piece was in process at MoMA. Marina Abramovic sat on a chair in the middle of a large, cordoned off square across from another chair. Gallery patrons could wait in line to sit in silence in the chair across from her for as long as they felt like staying. When we arrived, one woman who had clearly been waiting for a while was walking out to sit in the chair. The vibe off her was almost hostile after a while, like a staring contest, trying to prove something. She was there for quite a while, as we circled the area, taking in other parts of the museum. After her, a dark-haired man sat in the chair, and his vibe was much more relaxed, sitting in companionable silence. It's hard to say how I know how I felt about the participants. Marina kept her face as expressionless as possible, and so did the participants, and yet they clearly put off differences that were easy to read. Everything was being filmed from several angles, so I'll be curious to see how she presents the expressions through the editing of that film. When I did a yoga teacher training, one exercise we did was sitting in silence and looking another person in the eyes for several minutes. It's a weirdly intimate experience, and as such, initially uncomfortable, and then too comfortable, as if you're now best friends forever with someone with whom you have only a passing acquaintanceship. It amazes me how we're wired for eye contact, body language, connection with our species, how we interpret what we're not even conscious of most of the time. As with lots of performance art, I did have the sense of this one taking itself just a wee bit too seriously – would it kill her to crack a smile, just for a moment? And what if she needs a break to go pee? How is that arranged amid all the silence? But at the same time, I found the concept, and for the most part, implementation compelling. Finding the links for this blog entry, I thumbed through some portraits taken of people that sat in the opposed chair. It did not surprise me to find that some people cried. Being present means being vulnerable. Hence, the piece's title, The Artist is Present...

For more information on Marina Abramović, click here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New York #2 - Almost Dorothy by Neil de la Flor, Marsh Hawk Press, reading at Ceres Gallery

My friend, Neil de la Flor, had a reading of his book Almost Dorothy, winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize 2009 at Ceres Gallery. Three other Marsh Hawk authors, Philip Lopate, Sandy McIntosh and Eileen Tabios, also read from their works. They were certainly engaging readers and writers, but I've never giggled with them over crepes and red wine on South Beach nor collaborated with them in grad school on paintings and poems, so I'll just blather on here about Neil.

There was some concern that Neil wouldn't actually make it to his own book launch reading, as his flight out of Miami that morning was canceled.  But they rustled up another plane, and so he arrived with time enough to check-in, gather his thoughts, and show off his rather stylin' hat.

Ceres Gallery, a small but interesting space, is just what you think a NYC gallery should be, housed in an old building with huge wooden beams and white walls and track lighting. We arrived and helped those bearing cheese and fruit plates bring things up, and then we all stood around as people trickled in. Each poet had put the word out among their people, so in short order, it was a fairly lively room. For me, the biggest change from this room versus readings in graduate school was that the average age of the attendees and the poets was significantly higher. These were working poets well past college age, and heavily published. There were poetic vignettes on colonscopies and uretheral probes, not the ordinary material of sun-burnished U Miami coeds.

Neil read last, as his flight delay had put him there in the line-up, just in case. In some ways, his work is more out on the edge than the other poets reading that evening, as most of Neil's work, while often narrative, is also sharp images and playful language.

Being Neil, he started with a MadLib he had created of one of his own poems, so the audience full of word people churned up some interesting choices (an animal - lemur, a piece of furniture - credenza), and a hybrid poem was born. I've talked before about Neil's tendency to collaborate and teach, and this struck me as a fine example of that.  Having traveled with Neil on a road trip, I know that somewhere out there are old MadLibs full of goats, ham, lichees, Cracker Barrels and a host of decidedly not family-friendly words. 
After the MadLib, Neil read Introduction (the fake autobiography that starts the collection) from Almost Dorothy. Unlike much of his other work, it's very direct, talking about the narrator exploring homosexuality and his early sexual experiences with men. Wrapped into all of this is attraction, drive, lust, death (the virus), confusion, rejection, longing and how all that is and is not related to feeling close to another person. I thought it was a gutsy choice to read. At the same time that I love that piece, I would have also liked to hear some of the poems that are less narrative, with a heavier emphasis on the language and the way he flips it about so skillfully. So with that in mind (and with Neil's permission) here's a poem.


Sweetmeat is so goopy in the mouth, pulpy
and sentimental, goat-licked. All things

flaccid, I have no rigmarole left, only my sordid
lover to melt me down for fructose. Fructed out.

Your sweetmeat slick as grease goes down
a rearing hog's hocks. So I am hocked.

Sincerely. I wish every hard bent scorpion
on this earth will jab their hell-pincers in your eyes.

Eyes are myopic: two eyes. I will chew mine
in bed, I will slosh toward the dirty college

and fold the sheets in this porno of never
loving you. Because it is a chewing,

because today's cleavage is another life's
straightjacket. This shag baby dethreads life.

I keep threading the same Singer. Thread
and needle, Lucite and sphinx, I have no

fur but couldn't be hairier. Please,
don't come any closer. I am sorry my slab

is all dystrophy and no muscle -- the body
is a simple kind of bomb and language.

NYC #1 - New York Snippets

New Yorkers treat the whole city as if it's their living room - with that many people jammed up against each other, you just have to do whatever you need to do where you are. So folks change shoes mid-street next to trendy outdoor cafes and tighten up their bra straps on the subway while eating large, unwieldy sandwiches. Conversation isn't politely contained in whispered corners, and the snippets us tourists heard wandering by made us wonder what's happening upstairs where it is private (The two examples that made both Neil and I turn our heads were: "Are you the whipper or the whippee?" and, a block, later, "Well, it was rodeo season, so..."). New Yorkers embrace trends quickly. Fyi, skinny jeans are SO in, and rolling up your jeans to expose your ankles a la highwater pants, "geek chic," seems to be catching on. Only in NYC will a 25 year old wear a bow tie. But they will also wear pretty much whatever because, hey, it's their living room, so the guy that looks like he's wearing the pajamas he slept in last night, well, he probably is. The models may have on the 4 inch heels and little black dresses, but the average joe has his t-shirt and sneakers. They're both black too, of course, because everyone wears black in the City.

After stuffy, status-ridden Washington, DC, New York was a treat. Where else can you see things like this?:

New Yorker advertising:

and creatively-phrased grafitti:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Alice Walker poem, On Stripping Bark from Myself

I woke up thinking about this poem - a good day in the making if you wake up with words.

On Stripping Bark from Myself
(For Jane, Who Said Trees Die From It)

because women are expected to keep silent about
their close escapes I will not keep silent
and if I am destroyed (naked tree!) someone will
mark the spot
where I fall and know I could not live
silent in my own lies
hearing their "how nice she is!"
whose adoration of the retouched image
I so despise.

No. I am finished with living
for what my mother believes
for what my brother and father defend
for what my lover elevates
or what my sister, blushing, denies or rushes to embrace.

I find my own
small person
a standing self
against the world
an equality of wills
I have lived to understand.


My struggle was always against
an inner darkness: I carry within myself
the only known keys
to my death - to unlock life, or close it shut
forever. A woman who loves wood grains, the color
and the sun, I am happy to fight
all outside murderers
as I see I must.

-Alice Walker

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Not Fan Mail

I received this email today from a total stranger.  I think I'll let it speak for itself. 

"Dear Cynthia,

I read your prose online. In your writing you come across as much younger than you are. It seems as though you play a character who you believe is entertaining to read about. If I consider your character, I see the bittersweet experience of a boring, generic middle-class female who is suffering guilt for consensual sensual pleasure.

I could tell you how to get rid of the guilt, but that would make you more angry. I can't tell if you are married. But I do know you haven't read many literary masterpieces. It would have worn off on you. I feel bad for you. You're going nowhere fast. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

I'm sorry if what I write offends you. Almighty God has inspired me to write you; a person I've never met. That indicates He must care about you. But lacking any form of communication beyond email, I can only say what God wants me to, and leave it that.

What I saw was a sad woman hiding behind a keyboard; a self styledfeminist trying to be strong, and failing; someone who believes truth can be learned in school. I saw a facade of control hiding chaotic emotions, desperation for change, and sarcasm to dull the pain.

There is an alternative. You can learn how to write. You can become an inspired writer; one whose profound ideas never stop flowing; one who will change the world. I have written because I see raw potential. But the rebellion against traditional gender roles has your head buried under miles of deceit.

Your life is as good as it can be, for right now. I'm not a stalker, or a weirdo. I'm just a Christian man reaching out to heal the soul of another. Language is a fantastic element, because it uses words, and the correct words combined in the correct order heal the soul.

You are selling yourself short, because of guilt. I changed my mind. I'm going to mention three methods that allow females to dispense with guilt for consensual sensual pleasure:

If a female is married, she can veil her hair, kneel before her husband, and confess her sins; including consensual sensual pleasure. Her husband will be motivated to sow his seed of forgiveness in her contrite repentant womb. All life comes through masculine forgiveness. When she conceives, she knows she is forgiven.

A woman who is impregnated regularly is purged of guilt, through labor. A female who is physically forced to have relations bears no guilt for the pleasure she experiences, because it isn't her fault. She gets all the pleasure without the guilt. Plus, past guilt is removed from her heart. But the female must protest and fight back, at least for a short time, or she won't know whether or not she was forced, and guilt could become a problem.

Here's what to do after the guilt is gone:
Become Roman Catholic. Catholic women are chaste. Chastity is the key to female happiness.
Say The Five Decade Dominican Rosary each day. Give God 1/2 hour of uninterrupted time per day. Pray for inspiration. And in five years you'll be on The New York Times Bestseller List.

Just work hard every day, and read classic literature. Don't write like a disgruntled feminist. All those ugly dikes will be dead someday, and their genetic legacy will be purged from the human gene pool. Only the
righteous survive.

Change must come from inside. Changes to one's environment, for the sakeof change itself, is only a symptom the disorder that lay inside one's self. Be at peace. My peace I give you. My peace I leave with you. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall never pass away. What was Truth IS Truth NOW, and it always will be Truth. There is One Truth. Everything else is wrong."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moving along

It seems I've not done well on posting in this in April, and here it is now May.  But I've been thinking deep arty thoughts, I assure you.  OK, perhaps not.  But I have been sorting through lots of paintings and prints and sketches, and have made progress with the inventory of Karen Laub-Novak's work.  Archiving is a fascinating process, finding a personality shifting over many years and moods.  The range of her work inspires me.  And her obsessions I find weirdly comforting - ah, the wings of a bird of prey or a terrible angel, the horses of knights or the apocalypse, these familiar places that slot my understanding of individual work into the larger context of its entirety. Conveniently, I'm not unnerved by locusts or grief, sinewy or skeletal figures, shadow spaces.  I am thankful that she did not focus on spiders, of which I have a complete lack of bravery and irrational dread.

In terms of my own archives, I've recently dug through some of my own work from grad school.  There are some poems that I have no memory of writing at all.  Seen from that distance, they no longer have the starry sheen of inspiration, and fall flat. There are a few exceptions...and perhaps I'll play with those more.  There is some satisfaction is being able to recognize where things fall down, in any case.  And I find a certain symmetry in realizing I do have an angel poem.  I suspect Karen would be amused. There is a story I'd forgotten about that interests me in some ways, although those reasons are possibly more psychological than artistic.  I am clearly someone who writes out her demons, fictionalizing them into something manageable.  That level of exposure is a wee bit uncomfortable.

I've been thinking about that, about the ever watching Eyes of Audience, in terms of this blog.  A number of people have remarked on how personal it is, more journal than anything else, and I find the exposure is, well, awkward.  Largely, I started this blog with the understanding that it incredibly obscure and of interest only to those who already know me, and even those that know me don't necessarily want to hear me rambling along all the time, but will probably forgive me my typos and awkwardness.  Now there are a few folks that I've never even met who have read it.  On the one hand, I understand, yo, that's the idea, and the star child in me is thrilled by that, let the applause, or attention anyway, circle round.  On the other hand, it freaks me out.  How exactly do I present here?  Neurotic or nutty, funny or damaged, smart but self-conscious, analytical but antsy, all or none of the above?  This is the thing with art, writing, voice, honesty, fiction, you always show more than you think you do, and it's filtered through someone else's equally subjective world view.  I'm more comfortable with that now than I used to me (don't like it? don't like me? don't read it, and, uh, don't care).  But to say I'm completely comfortable?  Umm, no.

On that note, it is my mild hope to pull this more up out of my particular ponderings and react more to other people's work.  I'll be going to Neil de la Flor's book launch in NYC in mid May.  I hope to catch a Good, Greasy & Baked show while I'm there, if they're playing (need to check that).  Maybe see the Marina Abramovic exhibit at MoMA Neil has been talking about. Getting out of the studio for a bit, into the life and noise of NYC seems a good plan.  So more on that to come. In the meantime, those in DC should tell me where to be going for art, music, writing, etc.  I want to be in the summertime flow of dancing in the streets.