Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas and Politics
Deborah Lawrence my good friend and politically engaged artist has pulled off a big media coup. She was invited to make an ornament for the White House Christmas tree: her ornament honored the radical history of Washington State including Jim McDermott's support for impeachment, WTO, and the Seattle General Strike of 1919, in tiny writing that weaves through a stripy design. Deborah has been using flag related colors and stripes for awhile, so it was the perfect moment to make a statement.
She was censured from the White House Christmas Tree.
And the media storm has played nationwide. There seem to be multiple issues coming to the fore: bad manners, out of the Christmas "spirit", "evil, maniacal artist" . So three in one, what is courteous about Christmas trees in the white house, it is just a PR gesture to cover up Bush's wars against people and the planet. Even as I write he is reversing every environmental regulation he can think of. What is Christmas as wars and killings go on and on in Iraq, Afghanistan,Palestine and elsewhere, directly or indirectly the result of the policies of this particular white house. Why do people find artists "evil" when they speak truth to power, the real point of being an artist.

Lawrence was the only artist among the over 300 who participated to use the opportunity to make a statement. And she has eloquently and calmly stood up for what she believes in on right wing talk shows and other media.

The arguments against her action by conservatives were that she was being "rude" because she had an invitation into "someone's home" and was exploiting it selfishly to her own ends. That Chistmas is not the time to be political. What about that. Why not? Christmas is already political. All right so when we are actually eating dinner on Christmas, or opening presents, we might have to be a little careful with our immediate families, but why should we suddenly stop paying attention to what is going on; people are still dying, people are still wounded. That is exactly what Bush wants us to do, forget all about it. And Deborah refused to let him off the hook. Unlike the Congress and so many members of the American public who want to simply move on. She is speaking ( quite subtly actually) to the horrendous crimes that Bush has committed.

They said she was too obvious, why couldn't she be more subliminal ( that was one of the more supportive comments)
She lacked "class" - an odd statement I couldn't quite fathom that was repeated many times. What did they mean by class, what is more classy than a subtle subversion of ornament into art.

Her response is that she was honoring the state and Jim McDermott for this signing on to the impeachment of President Bush. She was making a statement, but she always makes statements. Here is the artist in her own words.
Anybody that knew Deborah, knew she was going to do this. Like my son in law said, it is the story of the frog and the scorpion, she is a scorpion. He also compared it to Diego Rivera's mural at Rockefeller Center, which was destroyed because it lowered the real estate values by honoring the worker and communism too prominently.

I am thrilled that Deborah has not only stood up to the media, but done so calmly and articulately. Laura Bush gave far more prominence to the ornament than if she had hung it, and by extension it is bringing up the continual need to impeach Bush and to prosecute him for war crimes after he leaves office.

It tells you that she is trully political, in her fiber. She knows how to handle real world politics, as well as subverting the decoration on the white house Christmas tree which is itself decorating the committing of war crimes and the horror of the last eight years. The Washington Post comment line had this great comment:

"I completely agree it is egregiously belchworthy to use a holiday for political purposes instead of a family or spiritual gathering.

So why are the Bushes even soliciting ornaments from Congress? So the everyday folk can feel like they are heard inside the beltway? So the Bushes can show off their all-American fantasy life, while the rest of us are in foreclosure and have kids in Iraq?

Why is my tax money used to buy an extremely large tree for the national mall? Christmas is a religious holiday. Why are my representatives wasting time with ornaments instead of dealing with the financial meltdown or terrorists? Does leading the country necessitate having opulent Christmas decorations? No.

I was really really hoping that the White House was going to abstain from hanging ornaments in deference to all the killed and wounded soldiers who wouldn't be home for Christmas this year, but alas, the opportunity was used to politically snub some congressman."

Posted by: jaylin4dc | December 2, 2008 5:04 PM

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Brief Hallelujah and the problems continue

Of course I begin with Hallelujah for the election of Barack Obama. No matter what, it has to be better than the last eight years. We are all relieved and proud.

We all know that Obama cannot solve all the big problems overnight, but we hope, hope, hope, that he takes dramatic actions to change the course of several severe, forever problems, particularly Israel and Palestine. Please Obama take advantage of your mandate to really take action on a new way to think about that painful situation. Gaza is a nightmare as severe as Guantanamo right now. The West Bank is fragmented by Israeli settlements funded by our money. The State of Israel relies on millions of dollars in our aid. And in fact, there are many Israelis that completely oppose their government policies. The Palestinians deserve respect, apologies, and the possibility for the basic necessities of life, water, food, shelter, as well as freedom to lead a normal life. The Israelis are following a policy of systematically destroying those basic given necessities, destroying Olive Trees, orange trees, dividing land. As I sat and ate a quince grown on our tree in our garden, I thought of the destroyed orange groves in Palestine, bulldozed ruthlessly, for no "security" reason. As I eat olives, I think of the thousand year old olive trees being destroyed. The farmland divided by walls.

Barack, don't let the pressures on you obscure the facts.
The facts are that Gaza has an electric fence around it, Apache helicopters flying overhead all the time, gunboats patrol the shore, missiles fired at suspicious activity. This description comes from Hollow Land by Eyal Weizner, one of three books that have come to my attention courtesy of Adbusters 78
The Lords of the Land, The War for Israeli's Settlements in the Occupied Territories 1967 - 2007, by Idith Zertal and Akiva Bdar, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of the Occupation by Eyal Weizner, and Hold Everything Dear, Dispatches on Survival and Resistance by John Berger. Be sure to look at the slide show on their website. Obviously, the wall is another famous example of the architecture of occupation.

At the same time I am increasingly aware of the boldness of Palestinian artists in the Occupied territories and around the world in making Palestine visible, in resisting obliteration, in revisualizing the past, in creating history, in perpetuating Palestine. Cultural workers are playing a crucial role in the Palestinian resistance. I have just become aware of Project 6 plus and its collaborative exhibition with Palestinian artists called Secrets, and that is just one example.

And of course the awards going to Emily Jacir are cause for celebration. I hope she uses her exhibition at the Guggenheim as a pedestal for the Palestinian cause. Not to mention the money itself to support the cultural institutions in like Khalil Sakakini in Ramallah. That would be terrific. But Emily is simply the most prominent. There are many writers, poets, visual artists, dramatists, actors, dancers, singers, calligraphers, filmmakers, video artists, photographers, who are active in the cause. Of course the great poet Mahmoud Darwish was the best known, and his recent death is a great loss. But his words live on.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Afghanistan Treasures and Bagram Afghanistan

While I am on the subject of contradictory language and situations, the stunning exhibition of Afghanistan art, the Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, is full of them.

First, it makes no bones about the fact that the war in Afghanistan starting in 1979 and continuing to the present has completely destroyed archeological sites in the country. ( The same is happening in Iraq). Bagram, one of the primary sites, is known to Americans only as a huge American airforce base. We also happen to know that not far away is a major black site where we and others are practicing torture. So as we look at these objects from so many centuries ago, we think about today, and how much is lost in terms of culture, civilization, and history because of war.

Second, it clearly tells us that these objects are commercial, they was no mystical or sacred dimension to them. I liked this honesty. It was so refreshing.

Third, it explains the intersections of cultures on the Silk Road, and we see it in the art work, in other words, no one culture is privileged, we have Hindi mixed with Hellenistic, mixed with Turkic, etc.

Last, the objects themselves only survived because they were hidden away. They are now touring the world, hopefully to raise money for the museum.

But one has to ask, is it ever going to be safe for them to go back to Afghanistan??
That is everyone's hope.

Holland Cotter and the New Language of Art Criticism

Cotter's recent review of an exhibition of Joan Miro at the Museum of Modern Art was startling. He is consciously taking on the current political language of war and using it to apply to modern art. It works as an eye catching article, but why does it bother me so much?

Here is an excerpt:

"Joan Miro:Serial Murderer of Artistic Conventions"

"Amputate tradition, torture the past, terrorize the present. The impulse to destroy was part of what made early Modern art the guerrilla movement it was.

Cubism sentenced illusionistic art to the Death by a Thousand Cuts. Dada unleashed an anti-aesthetic Reign of Terror: Beauty? Off with its head. Decay? Let’s have more. Surrealism, a slippery business, let the killer instinct run amok. Tossing manifestos, dreams and libidos like bombs, it aimed to bring Western civilization to its knees and keep André Breton in the news.

So in 1927, when Joan Miró said, “I want to assassinate painting,” he wasn’t saying anything new. What was new was the way he carried out his cutthroat task. That process is the subject of “Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937,” an absorbing, invigorating and — Miró would be mortified — beautiful show at the Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition illustrates, step by step, exactly how Miró stalked and attacked painting — zapped its conventions, messed up its history, spoiled its market value — through 12 distinct groups of experimental works produced over a decade."

OK Here is what I think
Yes indeed modern art wanted to do away with the tired academic traditions, yes Dada was opposed to traditional aesthetics, because World War I was proving those histories to be bankrupt, but somehow I feel that Cotter has it all wrong. Even as he quotes Miro "I want to assassinate painting" I still feel that his language doesn't work. It is distracting. It is in the wrong arena emotionally.

These artists were definately committing acts of cultural resistance in response to social and political changes, but these violent contemporary words distort the real meaning of what they were intending to do. It affiliates them with destruction in an entirely different way. In Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire, the spirit was humorous, spoofing, light, as a counter to war and destruction. Cotter makes it sound like these artists were dark and evil.
I would love to discuss this with other critics.
here is a link

Monday, November 3, 2008

Art of Democracy Censored!

These four posters were removed from an Art of Democracy Poster exhibition in Berkeley California. The posters have been show in venues all over the country. The censorship coincides with Berkeley erecting a monument to Free Speech!
The posters are by Doug Minkler Anita Dillman,Tony Bergquist,Joe Sances, , in order seen on blog)
The censorship is all the more ironic since two of the Art of Democracy exhibitions ( about 100 works) are devoted to art works addressing books that were subject to censorship in the past. Apparently the reason that they were censored is because the gallery director is opposed to the representation of guns because she is a pacifist.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Art of Democracy An Amazing Project

There is so much to write about The Art of Democracy project. In this photo I am talking to Art Hazelwood in the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco. Hazelwood and Steve Fredericks of New York Society of Etchers are the two main organizers of the nation wide project. It includes exhibitions in states across the country, all listed on the great website.

It started with an exhibition in 2006 at the National Arts Club called the Art of Persuasion. Printmakers are part of a tradition of activism in art that goes back centuries. That is because printmaking is a multiple, inexpensive form of art that can be very straightforward at the same time that it is aesthetic. Woodcut, lithography, silkscreen, wood engraving, photo offset, all lend themselves to strong graphic images. They also lend themselves to collective activity. But the media included in these many shows are every possible type of work. In addition, there is a collective exchange of posters ( some of which are seen on the wall behind us), which appears across the country, sometimes as separate shows, sometimes in partnership with other art shows. This collective message is an essential part of the project.

I have visited only a few venues of the Art of Democracy, each one completely different. One venue was a show that I organized of Selma Waldman's work that I spoke about in the previous entry.

On Vashon Island is the exhibition organized by Greg Wessels at the Two Wall Gallery called Up Against the Wall.
Here is one installation shot. I have put up a lot of images of all the venues on my Flickr site (Art and Politics Now! I am having trouble getting it to come up), because there are too many art works to discuss individually on my blog. But be warned that the Flickr site refused to organize them so just look at all of them on their own. That perhaps is all the better, because the random groupings at venues is really irrelevant to the larger presence of these many strong statements.

The Vashon show was notable because it is in a rustic site on an island full of liberals (typical Northwest artists isolated from each other). Greg Wessels in putting out his call for art addressing the theme of art of democracy gave a lot of people a chance to participate, to voice their ideas, to get together.

In fact one of the big benefits of a project like the Art of Democracy is that it gives artists who care a lot, but have no where to put the art that speaks to issues, a place to show. It stimulates them to create work on the theme, to bring together their art and politics. It supports a connection that the mainstream art world does not really support. For example, we have Betti Bowman who is living a suburban life with kids and brooms. She read a book on torture by Mark Danner called Torture and Truth. She started thinking about ordinary activities she was doing in relation to the horrible revelations. The result is "this is not a broom" ( my title), but an instrument of torture. This is not a child shivering near a pool, but a human being shivering from torture. It is a long way from Bellevue Washington to Abu Ghraib, and Betti Bowman is reaching out and thinking about it.

That is the main thing in my opinion. I am not, as a critic, concerned with comparing her work to other artists addressing torture. I am advocating that artists think about what horrors are being committed and have been committed, and do something about it. Since they are artists, the obvious response is to make art. And a lot of artists are doing just that.

The show on Vashon has a huge range of styles, media and ideas. Betty Gardner from Priest, Idaho brought puppets, a perfect concept for the current world. The collage that she left in the show shows Bush handled by puppet hands of various capitalist forces like Enron and Halliburton.

In San Francisco at the Meridian Gallery there were uber famous artists like Hung Liu, Enrique Chagoya, William T. Wiley, Oliphant and Botero, well known artists like Juan Fuentes, Sandow Birk, Bella Feldman, Malaquias Montoya, and unknown artists like Patrick Piazza as well as the anonymous San Francisco Print Collective. The exhibition included a huge range of materials, ideas, and scales of work. As an art historian I favored Sandow Birk's amazing adaptation of Jacques Callot's 16th century series on the Depravities of War and the printmakers working in the Mexican tradition of aesthetic expression with politics like Malaquias Montoya. But the new names were also inspiring.

What Art and I are talking about is the purpose of the project as a collective activity, a way to bring together many different artists. On the website he compares it to the American Artists Congress of the 1930s. The big difference of course is that with the internet these artists are much more widespread. They have never sat in the same room and called for an exhibition to resist fascism. But that is what art of democracy artists are doing. Art and I also discussed the difference from earlier political art- there is no collective political ideology among these artists, in some cases there is no political analysis, only a representation of the issue itself, as in the evil Bush. Some of these works succeed as an effective form of protest, a call to action, or a simple statement. A lot depends on the artists' perspectives and background. Hung Liu was trained in Communist China, she knows exactly how to make an image speak. Artists from Chicano art collectives have always understood that aesthetics and politics work together.

But the real purpose is to demonstrate that artists can and do pay attention to what is going on in the world. A lot of them care a lot, but their art training, isolation, and the always negative comments of the mainstream press, discourages the production of issue oriented art. But as the Art of Democracy shows, nation- wide artists are defying the norms of the art world in order to address current concerns.

There were two works I liked the best- both were both aesthetic and potent as a statement. First was the installation of the poems of Roque Dalton seen here, in which the poems dangled provocatively from the ceiling. He is a major leftist poet born in El Salvador. The second was the homage to Pramoedyna Ananta Toer by Priscilla Otani. Pramoedyna Ananta Toer is a major resistance poet that I have never heard of. He is Indonesian and banished to an island Prison on Buru Island. He wrote The Buru Quartet, an epic poem and recited it to other prisoners orally until it was written down and smuggled out.

The two venues of Banned and Censored, the African American Museum and Library in Oakland and the San Francisco Center for the Book, could not have been more different. The first is an old Carnegie library in downtown Oakland in a rapidly gentrifying area. But the African American presence intervenes in the genteel era murals in the library, and the exhibitions are a quiet statement upstairs that explodes in our brains all the more resonantly because of the juxtaposition to African American history in videos and photographs.

The San Francisco Center for the Book is a place of production, people were making books as we looked at the art works. I am showing you Emory Douglas strong work based on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, called The Assassination of Pecola Breadlove.

My last stop at Gallery Zapatista was even more full of productive energy, hopping with workshops in art and dance, the printmaking workshop making posters for a demonstration, the artists intensely friendly and generous spirited.This is a picture of Gato. He has just finished the poster for a rally and he gave me one to take home. These artists experience activism, art, and community as a single concept. It is a long way from the individualistic art training that prevails in most art schools.

The Art of Democracy reaches across class, race, gender and history to create a community of people who share a common concern in the state of the country. The hope is that that sense of community will continue after the election, that the freedom to create topical art will continue to inspire artists.

The possibilities are endless! Amazingly, The Art of Democracy itself has been censored in an unfolding story. See next entry for the current information.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Art of Democracy and Selma Waldman

Pornography of Power: The Anti War Art of Selma Waldman is part of a network of exhibitions taking place all over the country under the auspices of Art of Democracy. I will write about them next. Selma Waldman's exhibition, the first since her death in April, is at Seattle Central Community College. It includes an installation that gives a simulation of her studio working environment, her last unfinished work House Raid, surrounded by clippings, quotes, references. It includes the chair from her studio with clippings still attached, her chalks, and a large drawing of Unearthly Grief seen on the right of the photograph.
In addition there is a section on "the struggle for bread" and Soup, three works from her Bosnian War series, and two large Walls of Perpetrators based on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo abuses.
More detail soon.
I have gained many insights into Selma Waldman's work as I put together this show and went through her surviving archives. Her clippings and quotes combine perpetrators, victims, and celebration of creative resistance. That can include singers, sports performers, Nelson Mandela, MLK march in Seattle, and much more. But the three parts are all important.
Her theme is that the perpetration of violence takes away an individual's humanity, abuser and victim are locked in one energy field, that is like sex, they join together with energy, but in this energy field, they are killing and being killed. Her lines are discontinuous, they do not allow us to relax and enjoy the flow of the body, the fluidity of the human spirit. There are many short tight, taut lines that speak of the violation of the human spirit as it perpetrates violence on helpless people.
Waldman saw that these problems are in every country, there is no difference from one place and another. THe same is true of police brutality as in the Thin Red Line initially inspired by the anti WTO protests in Seattle and the brutal police response, but applying equally to police brutality anywhere, and in fact, the source photograph was from South Korea.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sarah Palin Post Turtle

Well I have to say something brief about Sarah Palin. The best email I got described her as a post turtle.

"While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old Idaho rancher, whose
hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a
conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Sarah Palin and her bid to be our Vice President.
The old rancher said, 'Well, ya know, Palin is a 'post turtle".
Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post
turtle' was. The old rancher said, 'When you're driving down a country
road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top,
that's a 'post turtle'.'
The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor's face, so he continued
to explain. 'You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't
belong up there, she doesn't know what to do while she is up there, and you
just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put her up there."

Boris Groys Art and Power

I just found a new book by Boris Groys. His arguments are strangely out of date, although this is a new book from 2008.
"If we want to speak about the ability of art to resist external pressure, the question must first be asked Does art have its own territory that is worthy of defending?
The autonomy of art has been denied in many recent art theoretical discussions. If these discourses are right art cannot be a source of any resistance whatsoever. Dos art hold any power of its own or is it only able to decorate external powers? Yes art does have an autonomous power of resistance. "
Groys from "The Logic of Equal Aesthetic Rights" in Art Power

What is wrong with this argument?

First, he is defining "resistance" as "resistance to external pressures". Well, of course he is shaped by his own background in the Soviet Union as the champion of the dissident art movements.
In that context, resistance was to external pressures to be doctrinaire and follow a party line. His concept of the "autonomus power of resistance" is an oxymoron, resistance cannot be autonomous. What I think he meant was the power of art to defend its autonomy, which of course is a meaningless modernist dead end.

But in the US in 2008 resistance in art is resistance to capitalism in all its manifestations in the art world, and outside of it.
The artist today who can use "the power of art" to speak to the problems in the world, like those artists of the 1930s, is the resistance artist. Why should resistance be focused on defending the autonomy of art? What a waste of time!

Context is everything.
I have noticed that among other critics bred under Communism that they often read political art as only that which is dictated by an oppressive central authority, and therefore political art is always bad. They often tout abstraction as a sign of freedom. Indeed abstraction can be a political act in certain environments. At the same time, critics from formerly communist countries like Marius Babias have a far more complex reading of the relationship of art and politics than the typical US critic who is hampered still by the Greenberg legacy. Amazing how enduring that is.
Today, the art world still loves abstraction as a marketable product. Art critics ( and artists)can still thoughtlessly dismiss political art as "preaching" or whatever.

see, a nation wide group of exhibitions and artists who are creating art that speaks to what is happening now. And that is just the beginning. There are several shows in New York including Martha Rosler's new work that continue the tradition of engaged art.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Maya Lin's Confluence Project: The Bird Blind

Near Troutdale Oregon is the Bird Blind. It is set in a large tract of land that belongs to the Department of Forestry. They have been trying to restore it for many years.

The Confluence Project has placed the Bird Blind at what will be the Confluence of the Sandy River and the Columbia River, once the original delta of the river is restored to what it was in the early 19th century before it was diverted by dams.
Right now, it is near the river, but not on it.

The Bird Blind is the opposite of its name. We stand inside of it and we cannot see out- the slats are too close together. What we can see are carefully printed texts based on precise observations by William Clark from 1804, the various names for those species, and whether they have survived or are endangered, a species of concern or entirely extinct. The Lewis and Clark expedition were astonished by the wealth of plants that they saw that they didn't even know.

In a structure that feels almost like a cage with an open door, the intensity of being surrounded by this marking of loss and threatened loss as a result of our actions on the land is extraordinary. One minute you are walking in a landscape that is used mainly by off leash dog walkers and the next you are inside of a major work of art.

In comparison to the Vietnam Memorial instead of descent, there is ascent. Instead of an open wedge there is an semi enclosed circle. Instead of a monument to humans, there is a tribute to lost species and birds, as well as a marking of survival.

The structure is built of black locust, sustainably harvested. Black locust is a long lasting wood that is itself an invasive species. Maya Lin ( she is above inspecting the not quite finished project) spoke of this site as representing the pure goal of the Confluence from the perspective of restoration and witness. In five to ten years, as the Sandy River finds its natural course, the trees will cover it. The project also collaborated with near by schools in Troutdale. Native Americans organized workshops that encouraged children to think about the same principles as the Confluence Project, losses and survivals since Lewis and Clark.
Six schools created a Legacy Pathway that included drawings and poetryby the students.

Maya Lin's Confluence Project: The Amazing Land Bridge

This is Maya Lin walking up Land Bridge from the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver.
Also shown is a model to give you the full effect of this bold concept, the artist Lillian Pitt and the architect John Paul Jones.

Confluence Project is the largest work of Land Art ever created. It extends 450 miles along the Columbia River and includes seven different sites. The initial impulse was part of the commemoration of Lewis and Clark's journey in 1804, but it is a commemoration of loss, a celebration of rebirth, a restoration of the land, and as the new brochure declares " (it is)places reclaimed, transformed, re-imagined."

Maya Lin and the Confluence Project are collaborating with many different people in order to make these sites happen, but particularly with Native Americans .
They invited her to be a part of the project after seeing the film on her Vietnam Memorial. They felt that she could commemorate the loss of their cultures since Lewis and Clark.

But the project also marks the loss of birds, and other species, as well as plants and flowers by recording Lewis and Clark's journals and making reference to their current status. ( see Bird Blind entry next)

The first site dedicated was Cape Disappointment at the Confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. I have written about it in Sculpture magazine, along with an exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle of Maya Lin's sculpture.

Last weekend the Land Bridge was dedicated. John Paul Jones who also completed the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC was responsible for making it into a reality, starting from an extraordinary concept, developed with Maya Lin, of an implied circular form.

The site of the Land Bridge is on Fort Vancouver, a military site established in 1848 when the US basically made the Hudson Bay Company leave. The Hudson Bay Company had established itself on this site on the shores of the Columbia River in 1824, twenty years after Lewis and Clark passed by. The site had already been cleared with controlled burning by native tribes in order to grow plants like Camas that they used in their daily lives for eating, making baskets, medicine and many other purposes. It was a place where inland tribes came down to the river to trade with the river Indians. It was called the "place of the turtle". The connection between the inland and the river has now been reestablished with the Land Bridge.

It is called Land Bridge because it includes native grasses and plants. John Paul Jones called it "pulling the prairie over the road", and indeed that is what it does. It spans a wide highway, then drops down to an historic apple orchard with the first apple tree planted in Washington State in 1825. Then there is an underpass under the railroad and you arrive at the river.
The Bridge is a beautiful sweep that meanders like the original Indian Trail, even as it suggests part of an implied circle. Maya Lin and John Paul Jones collaborated on the original concept when the whole project seemed almost impossible.
The bridge is marked by a Welcoming Gate made of cedar and basalt

with a glass sculpture that captures the light and makes reference to the role of women in the Columbia River cultures. Three seating areas are marked, "land" "water" "people", with Indian words for those concepts cut into the vista point. Lillian Pitt who is photographed above near her seating "baskets" created benches with stainless steel backs that have designs evoking petroglyps and pictographs from the Columbia River.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frank's Landing

This is Willie Frank at Frank's Landing. Messages from Frank's Landing by Charles Wilkinson tells his story. Willy Frank was first arrested for fishing on his own Nisqually land when he was 14 years old. He led the fight in the Northwest to gain Indian fishing rights. He was arrested many many times but ultimately the tribes were victorious in the Boldt Decision of 1974, which supported the tribes right to fish according to their treaty rights that dated back to the Isaac Stephens Point No Point Treaties of 1855. More than that, the Indians got a fifty percent allocation. The radical decision affected "21 tribes, several hundred tribal fishers and thousands of non Indian commercial fishers, hundres of thousands of sports fishers and dozens of rivers." (Wilkinson 56).

Willie Frank is also an environmentalist. He is profoundly connected to the land and the river and the fish. As Charles Wilkinson puts it " the Indian world view (is)an equality with the natural world, an actual belonging to the same community is in the blood stream of Indian people. "

Today his sons fish on the Nisqually River starting from the Landing that he gained by allotment in 1885. Right up the road are shopping malls and big boxes. On the other side of the river is Fort Lewis Military Reservation which of course also used to be Nisqually land. But Willie Frank has a good relationship with the military ( I hope it endures) and they keep a lot of Fort Lewis undeveloped and allow Indians to gather traditional roots and berries on the land.
He and his family continue to fish. The net fishing they do dates back for centuries. While I was there, his sons and their assistants caught about 100 King Salmon in two hours. The Kings are running right now. Of course times have changed, now they use motor boats and plastic nets, instead of canoes and cotton nets, but the age old tradition of fishing for salmon is still providing the center of their lives and culture

Tobin James Frank refused to sell his fish for Two dollars a pound ( !) Can you believe that someone offered that little. I told the dealer it was 25 dollars a pound at my local grocery store, but he said there were some steps in the middle. I'll say. So I am showing the empty scale that was rejected. Tobin James Frank offered us a fish for 10. but we insisted on paying 20. It was about 8 pounds of fresh salmon. He cleaned it for us and threw the guts back in the river where they belong, as Willie said. We enjoyed it all week and froze half. Yum.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Global Warming and the Art World

Well, I have been thinking I need to get onto this subject. It is SOOO much in the news right now.
So what do we have to show for the new trend.
Really, it is the same artists, the same strategies, the same work, with a new trendy title. There seem to be about three basic approaches: illustrate it, correct it, or educate us about it.
I am not denigrating a single artist who tries to address the environmental calamity that this world is becoming!
What is sad is that there is so little effect from this type of art. It is the suburban part of the art world in some ways. Artists who are concerned about the environment get funded to make something out in nature, about nature, or for nature. Some of these works are terrifically interesting. One of my favorites is Lynne Hull who is based in Colorado. She does research and makes humble pieces in the land about habitat loss. For the exhibition Weather Report Art and Climate Change she made highway signs
"Wildlife Warning Global Warming /Got Water?" This is not one of her most subtle works. She says that she creates "trans species art and sculpture for wildlife"-that is the part I like. She makes, for example, "raptor roosts" for hawks so they won't nest on electric poles and get killed.

Weather Report is a perfect example of repackaging the same artists with a new brand and for good luck throw in the more recent trendy artists. It was curated by uber famous engaged curator/critic Lucy Lippard, who lives OFF THE GRID -it doesn't get better than that does it- in New Mexico. So it had a big advantage over anything in dirty old New York City (but I read that New Yorkers have a much lower carbon footprint than most people and don't forget Lucy has to drive and fly a lot to go anywhere).
No one comes close to the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, (that's there work in the picture about the "endangered meadows of Europe from the late 1990s), who have been working for decades to address and reverse environmental damage. Helen as a sociologist and Newton as a sculptor network with all sorts of different kinds of people, scientists, politicians, community groups. Networking is the model that works in my opinion.
Weather Report was all about artists talking with scientists and getting together on what to say in a visual way. It was a good idea. But of course it was in BOULDER COLORADO. Lala land of consiousness, liberal, hipness. And how much carbon was burned getting all of those artists over to Boulder to install their ideas.
But I do have to say that the virtue of a lot of these pieces was their simplicity (disclaimer I didn't see the show, only the catalog). Like Brian Collier's "Why is the pika worried about climate change" That is a tiny alpine animal that is going extinct because of climate change, He created a pika alarm triggered by motion and postcards with photographs of the pika.

So where does all of this lead us? Artists are mostly environmentally aware in a liberal sort of way, that is, like political liberals, they hate to think of pollution destroying the world climate, but they drive everywhere in their cars, use lots of electronic equipment and ink jet printers, etc.

That's why I think Natalie Jeremijenko is the real thing for right now. In a sample entry from her blog titled "how Stuff is made" she comments on an article that links violence in the Congo to Sony Play Stations because the heat conducting material in Play stations Coltan drives demand for it and is mainly from the Congo. This is the type of connections we need.
As I sit at my mercury containing computer, burning a lot of electricity, I am contributing to global warming every minute. Jeremijenko has a clinic where she tells people what to DO, how to ACT, to make a difference in the problem of environmental deterioration. Connecting to ACTION is the key.

SO quit flushing the toilet all the time, save those paper towels for re use, don't get carry out, and try to use the car less. All easy to do. But just last night I accepted a styrofoam containerwith the rest of my Mexican Chimichanga
in spite of all my principles. By January they will be illegal in Seattle though, so the government has actually done something helpful.

Eco Art Back to the Future

Rebecca Bray and Britta Rile have a provocative piece written up in the special ecology issue of Art News
Called Drink PeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee 2008 ( the title doesn't quite fit the smartness of the work)
it uses urine and light to illuminate what happens to that stuff you flush down the toilet.
In their art work it grows algae in a fishbowl.
Urine is full of phosporous and nitrogen, an excellent fertilizer for the earth, but bad for the marine world.
The artists have produced kits for $15. that allows people to make plant fertilizer from urine.

So why back to the future?
Because on the same day that I read about this art work, which I commend, I also read Paul Kane's Wanderings of an Artist Among the North American Indians, in his discussion of the Chinook Indians practices in the 1840s, before we took away all their land in 1855. " Chinook olives.. are prepared as follows - About a bushel of acorns are placed in a hole dug for the purpose ...covered over with a thin layer of grass on the top of which is laid about half a foot of earth. Every member of the family henceforth regards this hole as the special place of deposit for his urine. . In this hole the acorns are allowed to remain four or five months before they are considered fit for use. However disgusting such an odoriferous preparation would be to people in civilized life, the producet is regarded by them as the greatest of all delicacies." 128

So urine as a fertilizer is nothing new.
Urine contains all those birth control pill hormones, all those millions of dollars of drugs everyone is taking, and it is all being passed right into the fish in the sea. In the Northwest we get salmon with strange sexual characteristics from the hormones that we are giving them.

One of my big obsessions is garbage and sewage and water and how we just dump everything out of sight. I like this art work because it is making visible a process that we don't even think about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics Beijing

The opening show was spectacular, even if the little girl we saw was not the one who sang. What else is new. So the Chinese are no different from Americans - worship perfect beauty and cute in little girls over all else of course.
What I want to know is if anyone can tell me if the Chinese actually skipped most of the twentieth century in that show. Did they skip the modern period, the communist period, all of it???
I was blown away that NBC commentators could actually give us references to Chinese PHILOSOPHY. Of course it was all fed to them and they had to really stretch, but they did do it!

The historic periods were stunningly presented, biggest in the world LED screen with 2008 drummers ( shown here - is this a bit Leni Riefenstahl anyone- do we get any chills about power and control here?) , tai chi masters ( how about that for moving energy) , movable type people, rowers ( for the silk road), and empresses. Then they jumped to the 1970s on NBC, with lots of people in green outfits and some glib conversation about freedom ( that is after the cultural revolution) , and threw in a kite, a globe with dancers, etc. and of course the final torch
Technologically it was amazing.
By contrast the US car ads were SO twentieth century!

Our Flesh of Flames Theodore A. Harris captions by Amiri Baraka

Our Flesh of Flames is a must buy, must read, must get on it book. You can buy this book from Anvil Arts Press
The collages are full of specific references to racism, and the corruptions of capitalism. Harris has drawn on events that we all know about, and presented them in a way that tells us just where they came from and where we need to be to change things.
He doesn't pull any punches on what is wrong
Vetoed Dreams 1995 has an upside down capitol dome and a young black boy with a gag on his mouth. It is simple and clear what he is saying. Young black men have no opportunity to be part of the American "land of the free." Black people are not surprised by Abu Ghraib. It is no different than what has been going on in the US for hundreds of years, in prisons, in slavery, in Jim Crow, in the Klan, and not just in the South by any means.
Eric Smith
is the first named person with a collage in the book. I have a link to his story, which is a horrifying, but all to familiar story of police brutality, ignorance, prejudice. Eric Smith was deaf and when he tried to communicate by signing, he was beaten to death. The collage has a picture of Wanda Hogue his mother holding a sign, Remember Eric smith, Stop Police Brutality. In the background is a travelers check from the Bank of America with a smug portrait of a white banker and an upside capitol building. The system killed Eric Smith.
We Wear Our Flesh like Flames 1999, the title work of the book, has a fire in the background and two African women in the foreground carrying large containers on their heads. The flames are the city burning.
Makes a reference to cotton pickers in the foreground and has a reproduction of Leonardo's Last Supper, with a haloed Christ at the center. The distance from Christian love and the oppression of impoverished cotton workers is vast.
Meditations for Betty Shabazz, 1998
Shabazz was Malcolm X's widow. The complex image has a grieving Shabazz in the foreground, with references to Mumia abu Jamail's unfair imprisonment, a piece of a statue of liberty and other details. The intersection of crucifixion and the American Express is again included.
So the themes are the sham of the American myths of freedom and opportunity in the face of the slaughter of black people. There are also homages to poets like Sonia sanchez and Lamont B. Stptoe, Poets against the War, and perhaps most poignent, the Long Dream, the face of a young black man behind bars behind a wall of concrete that is splitting up.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

LERT Living Engaged Radical Theater!

Last night we saw three short plays performed for free in a courtyard of an apartment building.
"Eight To One," was the first production by LERT, Living Engaged Radical Theater
It was inspired by the Winter Soldiers Iraq Veterans Against the War event in Seattle on May 31.
Artistic director of LERT Andrew Perez, and a group of young actors from Seattle University and Cornish, as well as a few other actors that responded to the call, put on three plays that addressed the effects of war on soldiers after they return home. It included real incidents from the Iraq war, the difficulties of achieving intimacy, the insanity of caring about others in the midst of the mindless killing in Iraq, the craziness of life's random acts of violence, and much more.
Hidden Wounds, Hidden Costs, involved the unwillingness of young returned soldiers to talk about their experiences, the high suicide rate and the echoes of suicide among Vietnam soldiers.
Beverage Oasis was about the insanity of everyday life, the disconnects between people, and the perpetration of violence that can erupt mindlessly in response to PTSD
To-morrow we reach was more of a performance piece with a series of scenes about traumatic failures of intimacy, memories of death, and the distance between those who have killed and those who have not.
It was puncutated by the cast standing in rows calling out "move, move, move, move, move"
The effect of this sequence was both echoes of war and military, as well as perhaps directed at the audience to respond to the crisis.

Hats off to these young people for responding to the current world.

I don't have any pictures because I forgot to take a camera and they don't have a website. Just keep your eyes open for LERT in Seattle.
"Eight to One" is the ratio of wounded:killed in Iraq, in WWII it was 2:1 in Vietnam it was 3:1

What I was happy about is that their college programs are encouraging them to speak about issues.
Quite a contrast to visual art training!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Robert Morris and Lorna Jordan Land Art in the last century

Robert Morris Johnson Tar Pit, 1979 is one of his rare earthworks. Here you see goats eating off encroaching blackberries and maples.
Morris resisting making a beautiful place that would let the ruin of the environment off the hook, but he did create a usable park for the now dense development on all sides of it.
Dirt bikers love its steep hill. It is not quite a comfortable bucolic place, it is a steepish grade with few places to sit. Still it is an opening in the land now that suburbia has choked off all the other open land in a carpet of houses in every direction.

Not far away is Lorna Jordan's Waterworks Garden completed in 1996 . The first picture shows how it used to look. It is a serene parkscape intended to cleanse wastewater as it runs through a series of pools down a hill. Jordan created grottoes and mosaics that carry us along in a happy bucolic state of mind. Except for the fact that the pools you see are now choked with algae blooms . The surfaces are densely covered with green slime that is choking off all life. The irony is that the water appears free flowing and clear at the point that it enters the garden and by the end, instead of being cleansed, it appears to be trapped into an dense sludge. Jordan, unlike Morris, creates an arcadian environment in the midst of heavy industrial sites on all sides. Is this cosmetics for industry. Is any one near by paying attention to the detergent they use in their washing machines? You know those detergents that come in the giant plastic bottles that Americans use to constantly clean their clothes and pollute the planet simultaneously. There is no sense of a real connection to the ecosystem in America. In PC Seattle we drink shade grown iced coffee in giant plastic cups with plastic bubble tops on them to keep them from spilling. etc. And we buy organic raspberries in non recyclable plastic boxes.

I wonder if Lorna Jordan or Jones and Jones who designed the ecoscape can save Waterworks Gardens from algal bloom, or if what we really need to do is have a field trip for all the neighbors on laundry day. Perhaps Lorna will see this and think about what to do.
The last time I contacted an artist about an earthwork that had gone algal the artist replied that she actually had not even made it, that she had sold the idea to local people. Interesting. It was in all the books as one of her most famous works. She suggested I should do something about saving it.
I am not going to name her. That isn't really what this blog is about. I am not outing fraudulent eco artists. I am thinking about the tricky ethics of eco art, it overlaps with coverup of bad people who make a mess, and colonizing poor people who don't have parks, but it also involves a lot of artists who really do care about making the world a better place. Those artists are not the famous artists, the rich artists, or the trendy artists. They are people who get down and dirty with other people and try to move a few steps forward. And do the algal blooms change the fact that Lorna was trying to make a difference. Rather than bulldozing like a Smithson, she and Morris were restoring, Morris with the intent to say hey this is ugly anyway, Jordan with the intent of giving us a respite in an industrial wasteland of concrete plants.
More to follow on this subject, suitable for summer. What about artists and global warming?

"Black Art " An exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum

The small exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont includes about twenty artists. Among the well known artists are Jacob Lawrence, Gwen Knight, Kara Walker, Lester Johnson ( an abstract expressionist who included figures), Kerry James Marshall and Lousie Nevelson ! What? Who? Jackson- Dumont is expanding our thinking from black as ethnic to black as a color and an aesthetic choice, as well as a subject of black identity in art. My fellow critic with whom I saw the show was outraged by the inclusion of abstract work by white artists who happened to use the color black. She felt that it created a fudging, blurring, annoying confusion that was entirely unnecessary. Black art in the art world she declared is black artists making art. But I said, what about the fact that black artist don't always want to be ethnically trapped in representing their own histories, what about white people who represent blacks. That's fine she declared, but why black as a color, that is so generalizing the issue.
The sequence of three works by Lester Johnson, a french academician representing a black man, and Kerry James Marshall sang with resonance of different ways of viewing black people.
I think maybe my friend is right about including black as a color, that seems unnecessarily broadening. After all, this is the Jacob Lawrence and Gwen Knight Gallery, they represented the black experience, why shouldn't the gallery include black artists only, or sympathetic white artists addressing race, why include famous white artists who had nothing to do with thinking about blacks. Don't we get enough of that already, everywhere else.
Incidentally, this gallery is the result of vigorous local lobbying by an entity that I won't identify. For some reason it is not under the purview of American art, but rather Sandra Jackson- Dumont who is, I believe, the only African American on the entire professional staff of the museum. She is the talented and innovative Curator of Education. She also installs work in another area of the museum for educational exhibits, but I find it troubling that this particular gallery is cut off in a corner physically and mentally from the main American art gallery. I have no doubt that the curator of American art would be happy to show Jacob Lawrence and no wonder that Jackson-Dumont is including Louise Nevelson in her "Black Art" show. All ways to avoid pre selected categories is a step toward integration in the dominantly white perspectives of the Seattle Art Museum.
I am sure SAM would disagree with that characterization. After all they have an African art gallery that includes Nick Cave and Marita Dingus, contemporary African Americans. What about that? What about the Northwest Indian art galleries that include contemporary artists. This is their innovative idea, to bring past "ethnic art" up to the present. But in the end what is left for the big glamorous contemporary galleries? Michael Darling as the curator in that arena shows the "big names." I haven't checked to see how diverse those big names are. Maybe that will be for another day. Meanwhile, thanks to Jackson-Dumont for playing with the boxes in our heads.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Orientalism Redux 2

Last entry on my trip to England, we made another foray into Orientalism by visiting Brighton an example in architecture that long precedes the painters in the Lure of the East (see below)
The Royal Pavilion is an extraordinary monument that lays out in its every detail the British perspectives on the rest of the world at an early date in the course of Empire.

The exterior was designed by John Nash for Prince Regent George IV in the late teens of the nineteenth century.
We all know it was intended as a pleasure palace, so of course, it had to be looking at the "exotic " styles associated with pleasure. Outside is based on John Nash's references to what appears to be Islamic architecture. His source was drawings by a father son team Thomas and William Daniell, who traveled all over India publishing a book in 1808 "Oriental Scenery" and in 1810 " A Picturesque Voyage to India by the way of China." No one had yet had access to the Taj Mahal and Fatahpur Sikri. What comes across is a complete lack of integrity to anyone at all familiar with Islamic architecture. It is crudely assembled,with all the panache of someone who knows he is a leader in his field. Nash, the expert in the restraint of Regency architecture, has here indulged his every whim, with little sense of a need for integrity. This is after all built for a Regent, later King, who simply indulged all the pleasures of life as his main occupation. This not coincidentally was at the height of the British colonizing process in India, as the British government began to see itself as the civilizer of a backward country, after several hundred years of trading with India.

The interior is Chinese inspired, that is artists in England "copied" designs based on ceramics, textiles and other decorative objects brought to England. This trade with China was based on forced trade insisted on by the British who had bombed the port of Humen in Guangzhou in 1637, and introduced opium for the first time into China in 1800. The pink cheeked women with Chinese features, and the decorative dragons and snakes throughout the interior suggest the artists and George are co opting the power of Chinese dragons, even as they are trivializing it as a grotesque three dimensional ornamental device.
Inside the Brighton Pavilion, Prince Regent George IV had lavish parties for people with nothing else to do but eat, play cards, and ride horses.He had little to do with the policies of the government in the countries upon which his palace was based.
In front of the pavilion is the poster you see above. Note the ethnicity of the bridal couple, as though today the pavilion is most appropriate for Indian couples !
It is all so clear and obvious in architecture and painting, how the "West" views the rest of the world.

Orientalism Redux

This is Captain Colin Mackenzie painted by James Sant in 1842.
The portrait is a major work in the Lure of the East Exhibition at the Tate Britain. The exhibition re-examines Orientalist painting, mostly concentrating on nineteenth century painters in the countries around the Mediterranean.
But this portrait is of quite a different subject. Captain Colin Mackenzie was leader of the Madras Army that was one part of the massive British defeat in Afghanistan in 1842. Sixteen thousand British and Indian soldiers and followers were massacred during a retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad according to the catalog essay by Christine Ridding.
He was taken prisoner by Muhammad Akbar Khan, the son of the ruler of Afghanistan. who had been deposed by the British forces. Apparently Mackenzie got along with him very well, and was given this magnificent attire as a present.
When he got back to London, he posed for the artist James Sant, and the painting was included at the Royal Academy, to much acclaim. Astonishing arrogance! After a disastrous defeat Mackenzie dons the garment of Afghanistan royalty and looks like a heroic leader!
As suggested by one of the critical commentators included in recordings in the exhibition, imagine today, if a British soldier donned the garb of a Taliban leader for a portrait to be presented to great acclaim in London!

The artist who stands out in the exhibition is John Frederick Lewis whose detailed drawings of the architecture of markets and cityscapes are magnificent.

The catalog includes many excellent essays that re-think Orientalist paintings. It speaks of how these painters when confronted with the realities of domestic privacy and the landscape in places like Jerusalem and Cairo, altered their vocabularies and conventions. They posed themselves and their wives in public and private settings to compensate for the fact that they could not paint women and men together and had no access to harems.

Rana Kabbani 's essay juxtaposes Botero's Abu Ghraib image with Ingres Turkish Bath. He is making the comparison of the British occupation of Egypt inspiring striking paintings, and what paintings we will have from the occupation of Iraq. As he states " might such pictures ( of Abu Ghraib) come to be seen as the Orientalist art of the twenty first century, born, like their predecessors ,of military conquest and colonial expansion and fixed in commercial exploitation? "
That says it all very concisely!

Friday, July 4, 2008

9 Scripts From a Nation at War at the Tate Modern

The Performance of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal at the Tate Modern was based on the online transcripts from the Department of Defense of the tribunals that were invented after the Supreme Court said that Guantanamo prisoners should have some rights. The fraudulent character of the tribunals came across loud and clear in the performance. There were three tribunal members, then there was a "recorder" and a "personal representative" ( that's a substitute for a lawyer), a translator, then the detainee, he had an empty chair next to him for a witness( he had the right to call witnesses, but of course calling someone all the way from Afghanistan was impossible) Finally there was a narrator, which was not part of the transcript, but kept the audience on track.
The collaborative of artists who created the work ( David Thorne, Katya Sander, Ashley Hunt, Sharon Hayes and Andrea Geyer) selected material from the total transcripts to make a four hour performance.
The result was searing. The detainee's words dominated the presentation. We learned that they were in Guantanamo for random reasons ( an assistant cook to Bin Laden, watching a piece of land ( which was clearly in the wrong place), getting arms training in Afghanistan to defend himself in Africa, working in a shoe shop ( again obviously wrong place),
In several cases they declared that they didn't understand the concepts, (not surprising since we don't either, and several declared that they had no education), didn't know it was an Al Queda camp, etc. It was obvious that these were randomly imprisoned. In the first transcript on the Department of Defense website referenced above, the detainee seemed to only be growing vegetables.
The day after I heard this performance the Supreme Court upheld habeus corpus for Guantanamo Prisoners.
The performance was part of an installation at the Tate called "9 Scripts from a Nation at War"
It included Citizen, Blogger, Correspondent, Veteran, Interviewer, Student, Actor, Lawyer.
I was intrigued by the choice, there were no politicians, no generals, no political activists, war resistors, or demonstrators. The blogger was a composite anonymous blogger, chosen because blogs have played such an important part in the war.

In each case real people were interviewed, then their words were edited and re-presented by
actors. In choosing the veteran, they asked for veterans who were actors. The veterans were asked about the transition from civilian to soldier, how an individual dissolved into a group as a result of military routines, how someone moves from individuality and to collectivity.

The result was much more mediated than the recent testimony of the Winter Soldiers. In those testimonies, brave veterans were describing the actual atrocities that they committed. They were speaking as individuals, they had re entered society from the collectivity that was forced on them in the military.They covered in detail as eyewitness accounts of the occupation, the horrors of racism, breakdown of the military, the abuse of power, pillaging, rape, and much more.

So the question is, did "Nine Scripts" work? It worked because it was so undramatic and monotone. The fundamental problem with a nation at war is, especially with Iraq and Afghanistan, is that we are just going on. These nine scripts are only a few of the parts that people are performing, the parts that are constructed in the public arena.
We just go on and on performing, as we perform we can convince ourselves that we are actively involved in stopping the war, but actually, we are just drones in a huge system that is manipulating us. The individual is embedded in the collective of society as a whole, not just as a soldier in the military. Of course that doesn't mean we should stop for a minute our resistance. Without it we are completely lost. "Nine Scripts" represents a type of resistance to the status quo even as it records how we are all embedded. It made me want to redouble my efforts to get out into the street and protest.