Wednesday, January 21, 2015

For The Birds

For The Birds
Sean Lynch and Tom Fitzgerald
Visual, Carlow
13 Sep 2014 – 11 Jan 2015

 
Review by Darren Caffrey

...based upon the medieval Irish myth of Buile Suibhne, or the Frenzy of Sweeney. Cursed to be half-man, half-bird, Sweeney hopped throughout Ireland lamenting his woes in lyrical verse, until he reached a farmhouse in St. Mullins in Co. Carlow where he found a strange form of kindness, - each evening he was invited to drink milk out of a bowl of cowdung...”1



The story of Buile Suibhne is an old epic of the Gaelic tradition. A king who is turned into a birdman at the first sound of a bell is in the end the tragic part. 

For The Birds plots the real final resting place of Sweeney. The mythological tale of An Buile Suibhne is reasonably well known. It was used most recently by Irish authors like Paula Meehan and Seamus Heaney to elucidate the ways of modern life. T.S Elliot also used the primary character as inspiration for Sweeney Agonistes: Fragments of an Aristophanic Melodrama. Elliot borrowed his dramatic form from the ancient Greek comic Aristophanes. The point here is that an origin for any story is always a story itself.

British poet T.S.Elliot's own Sweeney-like character lived in the time between two world wars and his use of a syncopated drum beat echoes the popular influence of jazz music at this time. By extension, the influence of American culture on British behaviour is underlined as a question of moral integrity. This unfinished stage play exposes Elliot's feelings toward the modern woman and her place within man's changing world. In Elliot's version, Sweeney befriends, lives with, and uses the whores of visiting US soldiers. In essence, the tale is one of social change, and in this example the character of its myth is evoked as something contemporary to the age. In this tradition, Lynch's approach is that of contemporary enquiry. If it should happen that miracles and magic tales are still resonant for us now, how is it that we might live with them as part of our own lives? This is the question that For The Birds asks of the viewer.  


Almost without realising, you might find yourself standing in a livestock enclosure, straw under foot. Beneath a glass table top, pictures of previous work by Tom Fitzgerald suggest an ongoing interest in the Sweeney tale. In addition, we are given the milk and the footprint which hollows out a cup in cow shit. Hot and steaming in its original state, this single pat of dung and its surrounding straw has now been confined to a glass box on top of a plinth. The gallery setting means that lights glare back as you near. Inside the box, it is of course the same shit left by the cow we see in a video playing adjacent. The video is a short grainy thing, starring two cows of visibly different states of maturity. Although we never see this shit fall, the video briefly shows us that a cow and her calf were in the gallery.

Marked out according to modern farming practice, the polished concrete floor remains visible beneath the straw. The plastic milk carton housed in a second glass box has been emptied. The short video shows us a hand pouring the contents of this carton onto the shit where it fell. Three months after the show opened green shoots have also made an appearance inside this box. 


Outside of the provided holding a figure stands watch. This figure is constructed as an amorphous form of wood and brass tacks and paint and papier-mache and buttons. At the far end of this almost manger-like setting, again outside the enclosure, another figure stands tall. This second figure possesses no exact human form. Even so, the pieces of carved wood which make it stand at roughly 8 feet propose an instrument. The metal wire which strings its figurative bow is held firm, illustrating tension as part of its make up. Like a scythe or the sharp lines of a crow's wing, its blackness cuts the rows of straw which serve to usher in and out both the livestock and the art viewer.

Around the 16th century Irish families began to anglicise their surnames. This was done in order to gain favour with the English landlords. It left Sweeney, a name born of the Scots-Gaelic heritage, forced into the now more familiar Sweeney. The irony of this is perhaps best reflected by the plastic milk carton, which, along with the metal brackets used to brace the wood fence of the enclosure, all call to mind the tendency of technology to universalise the making process. Rather than a wooden pale or a basin made from an old bath, there is a thermoset plastic mould of something reflecting an industry and marketplace no longer about subsistence farming.

The story goes that when Sweeney was tired and truly maddened by his perpetual flight he found in his final days a homestead and scullery maid willing to feed him the milk he needed to survive. The story's end sees him become the victim of a jealous husband who liked none too much his wife attending to such a disreputable figure, mythic or otherwise. This man's spear resolved the wish and word of St. Ronan who set into motion the whole story that is An Buile Suibhne. In the story, when the saint hung his church bell in the once peaceful homeland of King Sweeney, he received protest from the King regards the noise. The saint then sent his religious followers to deal with Sweeney's protest. Things escalated, prompting the saint’s curse that Sweeney be driven mad as neither bird nor man. This saint and the actions which he set down offer to us a simple division between the ages, exemplifying the many social shifts which occurred as a result of the arrival of Christianity.

While For the Birds is a collaborative offering from two men, it is in the gallery room next door that we see Lynch's own blend of archive, artefact and media resolve as a model of cultural critique. In this room a number of proposals have been made by Lynch. The first comes in the title: A Church Without a Steeple. An accompanying slide show reveals to us the actual church built without a steeple yet the objects in the room provide a sense that the connections being explored are at least partly philosophical in nature. 

A glass box with wooden frame contains clustered pieces of broken bottle. Is that art? Is it even interesting? Where is Duchamp's famed bottle-rack now? Another plinth displays a pairing of paper coffee cups left next to an intricately made wooden apparatus. On four walls are cartoon depictions of people looking at art. These characters come directly out of a 1950's comic book series called The Looney's. Their creator, Seamus O'Doherty, also did strips for The Dandy and The Evening Press when both were still in wide circulation. Along with their role as archive material, the cartoon figures stand ever present as an enquiry, speculating whether Lynch has in fact used them to centre his argument as primarily a cultural question.

In the slideshow and provided audio commentary we are told amongst other things, the story of a man who enters a gallery and takes off his hat. As he walks around he looks and questions the artworks on the basis of perceived difficulty or even function. He hears a sound of quiet awe and he follows it back to a group of interested spectators who have come across this fine and very interesting bowler hat. They refer to the creative act of bravery: to place a hat on a plinth and call it art – and they rejoice in the unfailing qualities of the human spirit. The man then picks up the hat and tells them he must take away their masterpiece as it is in fact his very own hat. In this tale a practical line is drawn through the interpreted subject and we begin to see the gaps which exist between individuals as a result of their differing knowledge sets. Of course western culture must always reflect the extent of these differences as the precondition of a democratic society. The humour of O'Doherty's tale is found in the possible awareness of both sets of knowledge. In the end we are left to question whether the man was wearing a hat or did he in fact exit from the gallery with art on his head.

For The Birds takes a more hands-on approach to the life of a story, helped largely by Tom Fitzgerald's figures. These works exist to describe the characters significant to the final days of Sweeney. The black wood with painted white tips and a jutting leg all symbolise that final act. Sweeney with a pitchfork deep in his ribs, and the thrusting arm of the milk maid's husband reinforced by the jealousy this man felt – stand here in a single form. 

 
The daily pages of a contemporary newspaper make up the outstanding hairs of Fitzgerald's other work. This figure stares back as one staggering and frightful totem. Even so, it takes on a human scale, playing its part in the same way that we as viewers entertain such questions as is it art. In truth this work was made by a man of our time, but it's figure appears to see something of our future in its beady green eyes. Apart from these eyes, expression comes to us on the torn strips of paper which cover the hair and face. These daily news stories act as an archive material, situating this figure as grounded in our world, and suggest also that whatever this figure has to say we may already know.

As with the exiled Sweeney who was forced to migrate perpetually, the indigenous Irish culture has been laying claim to the land ever since the arrival of what were seen as opposing cultures and techniques. Sweeney eventually found succour and sustenance in the home of a sympathetic man and his staff. Perhaps sentiment played a part in the old man's kindness, but with Sweeney's death came the inevitable transition from the symbol of man and nature to the Christian model of man and god. 

The question of is it a hat or is it art is a joke about the mistaken roles we subscribe to dead things. It would seem the same for shit in a box as for religious artefacts or symbols. But it is Lynch's use of the Sweeney story which suggests a broader narrative about acceptance, adaptation and the expression of loss.


1 From the exhibition press release.
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lacuna in Parallax


Lacuna in Parallax
Lucy McKenna
The Source, Thurles
12 September - 25 October 2014

by Jim Ricks

The thing about symmetry is that the beholder is positioned at the centre of the image”1


 


A train journey south towards Limerick on an overcast day brought me to Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Rising out of a wholly typical Irish place (and its pubs, takeaways, banks, butchers, Norman tower house, slow moving river, etc.) was the completely unexpected, substantial zinc-clad trapezoid edifice of The Source. Minus the apparently unsustainable cafe, it appears to be a rare exception to the prevalently mediocre Tiger-era county art centres.



Behind a massive sliding door lies a blacked out gallery. The lighting takes immediate significance. The artist, Lucy McKenna, created an atmospheric installation by way of a pragmatic stellar microcosm; tiny luminous points hovering individually in front of, or over each of her works.

  

The exception to this is the large sculptural piece titled Bridge. Light emanates from within the descending cylinder of golden metallic beads, installed centre stage. Perhaps it is a nod to Hollywood science fiction, a Star Trek transporter or even a  stargate. 


A golden disc projected through space and time, individual atoms of light held together through glimmering strings, it becomes the metaphorical sun. McKenna's show becomes heliocentric. And while I'm sure this is actually a symbolic reference to metaphysics or the Einstein-Rosen-bridge, I can't help but think this piece is largely decorative.

Taking varied, yet related circular forms, are a number of kaleidoscopic stargazing photos, all formally Hadron Collider-like, if you will. Some are wall mounted discs. Other sculptural ones are positioned on the floor. Collectively this visual presentation points to an underlying fascination with symmetric patterns occurring in nature, physics. The human intervention, repetition of these celestial 'shards', creates a sense of order and pattern, and, in particular the curved-bottom grounded constructions, recall baskets and bead work. The interstellar strung together.



Another prominent piece is We Didn'tMove, an 8mm to video transfer, which is projected high on the gallery's long wall. The footage of trees and flowers is filmed at Montpelier Hill in Dublin, a site of apparent frequent UFO sightings. A mirror effect is applied, and a layered, echoey voice-over recounts a story of a nocturnal invader. Although my first reaction was to cringe at a tale of real human abuse, no doubt the product of a post-Murphy-Report Ireland, the repeating narrative is ultimately of alien visitations.

The strongest works in the show, and what I would guess are the most involved, were exceptionally detailed pencil drawings of the cosmos. Four of them in total, McKenna explains on her website that “two of the works, Herschel and Rosetta were a collaboration with astronomer Nick Howes, wherein I drew some of his photographs of distant man-made spacecraft.” No doubt pieced together from square source photos, both are strangely pyramidal in shape. Stars streak across, activating them as the shapes become objects with cartoon motion lines. With its jagged base, it recalls the shape of the Stealth Bomber, or, equally, Carl Andre's corner metal triangle installations.

 
The other two painstakingly crafted drawings have this same shape, only removed like a missing piece of a puzzle. These, in contrast, are static. They are NGC 346 and LH 95, drawn from photos of of gaseous nebula from 'neighbouring' galaxies recorded from light traveling hundreds of thousands of years. The sense of time is heightened with McKenna's own investment of time. The dark matter of graphite is capable of holding the viewer. [Insert gravity pun here.]



This same shape is repeated thrice in a triptych, this time photographs clearly digitally stitched together from Google Maps imagery. These earthward looking images are local, coming from a period of research in the immediate area before the exhibition. All feature ring forts within a patchwork of towns, agricultural enclosures, and differing exposures, colour balances. 



Two strands of work in Lacuna in Parallax become distinct. One is with the artists research in Thurles around early Middle Age structures and looking downward on them through satellite photography. The other deals with looking upward, outward to the skies above. Both are connected by considering the passage of time. Distant star's light takes thousands, millions of years to arrive to Earth, emanating before our worldly ruins were even begun and visible only to us today. And how little we know about either.


Hand folded origami paper individually belted to the wall serve as the accompanying gallery text, Notes on Perception, Reality and Ringforts, while functioning also as installation. The (slightly difficult to read) text expounds a number of the artist's teleological musings and citations ranging from string theory, 'fairy forts', symmetry, kaleidoscopes, perception, time... It is essential to the exhibition, adding value to the works via McKenna's research.

Within the generous trapezoid gallery of The Source, the shape of McKenna's show is well rounded. She explores a number of themes within, from the local to the intergalactic, presenting them with polish, and handling the space adeptly through this multidisciplinary installation. Unfortunately, I feel the earthbound works on their own explore previously trodden territory. And those kaleidoscopic, from 'out of this world', are somewhat... distant. Both become background to the series of drawings, so deftly executed and gorgeous, manifested through a rare moment of collaborative focus between artist and scientist. 



Without focus and background, and ground for that matter, humankind has little way of understanding our own place within the biggest subject matter ever: the scale of the known universe.




1 From Notes on Perception, Reality and Ringforts.





Thursday, January 15, 2015

Patient Staring


Patient Staring
Works by Anne Hendrick, Aileen Murphy, and Emma Roche. Curated by Paul Doran
Wexford Arts Centre
19 October – 3 December 2014

Review by Susan Edwards


Tucked upstairs in the Wexford Arts Centre was a group of some feisty, thought provoking little paintings. It consisted only of eight works of art and coincided with the Wexford Opera Festival. Even before looking at the body of art, one is met with the exhibition title, Patient Staring, and the connotations that statement brings to mind.

Webster’s dictionary gives three descriptions of the use of the word patient.

patient
/ˈpeɪʃ(ə)nt/

adjective
1. able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.
noun
1. a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment.
2. the semantic role of a noun phrase denoting something that is affected or acted upon by the action of a verb.

In the case of this exhibition the action of the verb is “staring”, which is exactly what I did.

In combination these paintings present confusion, aesthetic pleasure, grotesque caricature and disturbing contemplation. The press release explains that the bond in all three artists is using their own vulnerabilities and insecurities in the art process:

In their aspects of making, these artists share encounters with anxiety and confidence, silence and noise, and the insufficiency of verbal language to express these experiences.”

It is possible to stare at these paintings and to tolerate that any immediate comprehension of their meaning might not occur. So, as this review begins, I can affirmatively state that there is little comprehension as to what the paintings are about, though a vague undercurrent of artistic history is present, as well a pointed application of materials.


Why these paintings were selected, exhibited and titled as Patient Staring is because the binding link to all of them is to not being easily understood. The viewer patiently stares at the art on the walls in hopes that some light bulb might click on above their head, but each click, of each viewer, will be individual. Therefore, it is plausible these artists give to us an enormous personal freedom of interpretation, free from right or wrong insights. 

Paul Doran stated that when selecting the paintings for the exhibition, he was drawn to work that was 'a bit off' and having a lack of clarity.

This was shared during an event near the end of the exhibition on November 29th as Doran hosted a conversation with the artists and the audience. He began with a quote from the artist Chris Martin, as to what constituted a good painting:

Who cares what’s a good painting? How about a painting that’s disturbing, raw or we don’t even know what it is? That’s probably more helpful to all of us than these very well made abstract paintings….. and so we have this amazing work that very few people pay attention to, not valued by the culture, examples of paintings that we don’t understand, a wild energy or freedom.”

We all have seen those types of paintings, the ones that illicit the cliché: 'a child could have done that'. Except they didn’t and that really isn't the point. 

 

Aileen Murphy’s work included three paintings with a central imaginative figure in each. Tender Wave, oil on beeswax in tones of yellow, gold, oranges and browns of a crudely drawn hand with a smiley face marked in the middle of the hand. The sort of doodle one might do when sitting in a meeting, bored as hell. Only this wasn’t a doodle, but a thought out artistic endeavour. Paint had been expertly layered, brushed, moved, scratched. Subtle blending, quick brief marks creating the outline of the hand and a rooster comb type of hair-do of the fingers, the smiley face giving it a naïve cartoon effect. The simplistic image was disappointing, one must expect more of a painting. But this initial disappointment created the need to dig deeper, so as to validate our art experience and Murphy’s skillful use of her materials and tools gave this painting depth, but not necessarily comprehension or a 'prettiness'. 


Her other two paintings, Kissing Wetly and Eye Believe were images of bats. The bats might have been of a nightmare quality, sickly sweet, garish and grotesque, a caricature gone terribly wrong. Eye Believe, consisted of blue, purple, and grey toned marks, this bat having outstretched wings and eight eyes on its head. It was at once creepy and fascinating. Kissing Wetly was a multi-coloured bat or even gargoyle image that looked as if it might have flown from Rio’s Carnival with its brushstrokes in orange, pinks, reds, yellows, and blues. The smushed about paint resembled a finger painting extravaganza. Murphy’s art process is intuitively led, leaving massive amounts to the imagination of the viewer. This process does not necessarily produce a lovely painting or a 'good painting', but it does give the viewer the opportunity of working out deeper connections, weighing and balancing meaning, or even to dismiss. 

The second artist in this exhibition was Emma Roche, whose work included two oil paintings. Roche has developed her use of paint in a three dimensional way, often making more sculpturally than painterly. She constructs with the materials of paint, building up structure and texture, incorporating bits of external debris and sometimes allowing that accidental debris to remain. Her paintings were the largest in the exhibition. Both appeared to have a theme or reference to bondage, or other dirty secrets, with images of restraints, ropes. Both included a centrally placed 'graphic' that hinted at being a representational symbol of warning or hazard. 


The Joy was oil on linen over board. Black and variations of grey tones of a horse head with an orange diamond shape placed exactly in the middle of the painting below the head. On either side of the head were descending rope nooses, or maybe stirrups. The painting was unframed, but painted around the canvas were beams of wood. Perhaps the horse’s stable? These wooden beams gave an illusion of depth to the image which was skillful. The mood evoked was dull, unevenly erotic, and tragic. While images of horses might not necessarily conjure up ideas of tragic, one need go further than that garish scene from The Godfather. The image was so jarring, broken up, and distorted with random design qualities as to give forth a notion of pointlessness. Again I was provoked to patient staring.





Punched or Bottled was the second large painting. Pale grey tones interspersed with bold black marks making visible a cubicle or room with a yellow and black crudely painted trampoline-like hexagonal shape (again, vaguely a warning symbol). This shape is placed dead centre of the image, not to be overlooked, which would lead one to think it has high significance for the painting. Above this trampoline shape is a wooden crossbeam positioned on the ceiling of the room. Tied to this are ropes that attach to a suspended u-shaped 'tube' of pale green. The perspective drawn to create the depth of the room demonstrates skilled draughtsmanship. There is a feeling of entering the domain where another episode of Salad Fingers might be enacted in all its weird uneasiness. In the artists conversation, Roche discussed that elements in her paintings which admittedly 'don’t work well' are a large part of her artistic practice, describing her work as “uncomfortable and disturbing with meanings not easily grasped.” Certainly, these concepts were excellently achieved. And yet this statement does not by default imply the paintings were either 'good paintings' or that they might enjoy popular appeal. But instead that the artist identified a message that could be delivered on a visual level to provoke a specific set of questions or feelings. And this requires a certain level of expertise.

The third artist and work to be explored is Anne Hendrick. Her three pieces evoked immediate historical art references fro me to Jasper Johns and his American flags. When she talked about her method, she said, “several themes are running at the same time... but flip-flopping from intuitive to academic research.” In the end, she did confirm that Johns was a reference point for these three works. Her style is described in the press release as “slow and meditative, seducing with silky and textured surfaces”. It also contrasts the familiar visions with unknown meanings at the same moment. Hendrick's work, again possibly guilty by association, can benefit from something John Cage once wrote of Jasper John’s artistic craftsmanship: “looking closely helps, though the paint is applied so sensually there is a danger of falling in love”. 


Recherche is oil on board, with red, blue, and grey squares of paper composing a checked pattern. It comes across as a woven textile piece with its depth and layers. Across the checked pattern, red paint is sprayed and splotched, tiny glimpses of raw paper show through. This gives it a pleasing distressed appearance. Recherche is an adjective meaning unusual and not understood by most. Indeed, there is no obvious meaning, as it is purely an abstraction of colour, shape and geometry, but the effect was not uneasy. 

 



Her second piece, The Solitudes, oil on board with wood, fabric, and mirror was the most 'flag-like'. The base of the work is red and white horizontal stripes, and in the upper left corner, on top of these stripes, is placed a piece of found wood. It is covered with small mirror circles of various sizes. The effect is so that the reflection of light and opposite objects are seen. Lashed in horizontal lines around the entire work is a length of green fabric twine or rope. The combination of found objects was at once familiar, but unexpected. The objects might have been scoured up from a hike along the sea discovering washed up driftwood and rigging lines. Yet the feeling of romantic optimism was produced, there was also regulated pattern and constraint perhaps offering a counter balance to this optimism... with disenchantment. All psychological, but if you take all the cerebral bullshit out of the equation, it was purely a lovely thing on which to gaze. 

 

The third of her works was an oil on board titled Magnificent Desolation. A base formed an illusion of a frame painted in colours of indigo, white, and wine. These square patches of colours again, formed a pattern to reference geometric flag symbolism. A second board was layered on top of the base, using the same tones of indigo blue plus white, on this she painted a night sky over a frozen landscape sprinkled with white stars across the sky and into a checked pattern. The impression of frozen ice and rocks was created with smudging, scraping and layering of paint. It was clever, creative, meditative, and comforting.

To be honest, Hendrick's work didn't seem to fit the criteria of being 'a bit off' or having some lack of clarity. The connection with the other artists' works was a stretch really. It is possible this part of the exhibition was an indulgence purely for aesthetic pleasure. And in terms of not being easily understood, I might concur with Mr. Martin, “who cares?”. Because it was pleasant, patiently staring at them. Her intuitive process joined with academic research and references produced work capable of reaching beyond an expiration date.

Yes, all the paintings in this exhibition were successful. But, not all were 'good paintings', and that shouldn't prevent us from seeking out nor from patiently staring. 

All photos courtesy the Wexford Art Centre. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner re-posted with permission from Unity and Struggle.




1. Work to abolish police and prisons, not to reform them. President Obama has passed legislation to put body cameras on police officers, but this won’t stop the cops from killing black folks. Eric Garner’s murder was caught on camera like many others, and it didn’t save his life. Even worse, this reform can be used against the people it’s supposed to protect: a recent study showed body cameras help police far more often than their victims.

The police and the prison system can’t be reformed, because their basic role is to maintain a racist, unjust, unequal capitalist society–and this requires violence. As Kristian Williams documented in Our Enemies in Blue, police forces developed in the U.S. to capture runaway slaves, crush strikes, and prevent hungry mobs from taking what they needed to live. The system isn’t “broken” when it kills someone like Mike Brown, it’s working just as intended.

Instead of chasing reforms, we should work to abolish police and prisons. It won’t happen all at once, but we can guide our efforts with the catchphrase: disempower, disarm, and disband. We can disempower the police on the streets, by building neighborhood groups that respond to police abuse, and deter them from terrorizing us. We can demand the police be disarmed, taking away their military gear and firearms. And we can work to disband police units one-by-one, starting with the most vicious.





2. Build democratic groups, where we create our own leaders. The old Civil Rights-era leaders are falling back. Jesse Jackson was booed off stage in Ferguson in August, when he tried to pass a collection plate. Al Sharpton was booed when he told everyone to vote for the Democrats. The change is long overdue: these leadersgained prominence only when the movement of the 1970s was defeated, by substituting their own interests for those they claimed to represent, and have stayed in the spotlight ever since.

Now we have the opportunity to build directly democratic groups, events and activities, in which poor and working class people can lead collectively. Yes, the movement needs leaders. But real leaders don’t exist just to stay in power, or make themselves famous. Instead they help the movement develop, and help new leaders to emerge to grapple with new problems. We need leaders from our own neighborhoods and workplaces, who fight in the streets with us, and who make themselves unnecessary over time.



3. Judge people by what they propose and do, not by their identity or rhetoric.This movement is about fighting against the oppression of black people. But at the same time this movement holds promise for everyone: smashing racism and the police will help all poor and working class people, and enrich our common humanity. The movement should welcome everyone who’s really about these goals on as equal footing as possible.

Not everyone thinks this way. With good intentions, many people use “ally” or “privilege” politics to try to correct the inequalities of capitalism and racism within the movement. But most of the time, this just causes those not at the center of these struggles (often, white people) to get involved out of guilt or self-gratification. People constantly think about their own identity and how we can’t work together, instead of seeking out how how we can work together, and what we need to do to win. Instead of uniting us through smashing capitalism and racism, these methods actually reduce us to what we are under these systems. As recent zines and blog posts have argued, this keeps us neurotic, divided, and separated.

Even worse, conservative and middle-class mis-leaders use this guilt to draw lines according to identity, and divide those of us who are fighting in the streets. Guilty, confused “allies” don’t know whether to support the radical black rebellion, or the mis-leaders working to stifle grassroots militancy and shut down debate. When we decide if someone is right based on identity alone, we keep the movement from growing through experience and debate. Instead of judging people this way, we should weigh if their proposals and actions actually contribute to liberating poor and working class black people — and therefore liberating us all.



4. Up-shift from disruptive protests to collective care and power. Taking streets and freeways has provided a huge leap forward for the movement, but all tactics have limits. If we stop building our capacity to fight and sustain ourselves, then even freeway occupations could become a kind of militant reformism, simply causing disruption to get the attention of those ruling over us. To keep building the movement’s strength, we need new ways to assert our collective power, and to take control of more and different spaces, for our own good.

One small step is to support one another when we fight back. Some people weaken and endanger the movement by stopping protesters from confronting cops, damaging property, de-arresting their friends, or moving objects into the street. But the system is violent toward us every day, by definition. Calls for “nonviolence” and “peaceful protest” only perpetuate this condition, by insisting the capitalist state alone can use force–on us. Instead of policing one another, we need to have each other’s back.

We also need to hit back against capitalism and the state, and seize the means to sustain our lives and resistance. Encampments around the world, from Tahrir Square to Occupy Oakland, did this in miniature. Now we have to start thinking and acting bigger. To overcome the police, white supremacy and capitalism, we will have to occupy state offices, city halls, and police stations; take over our schools, workplaces and transit systems; and provide education, health care, transport, goods and services to our communities for free. We can start by building groups with others who’ve been protesting, and with people where we work, learn and live.



5. Deepen our knowledge of race, capitalism and revolution. If police murders aren’t caused by a few “bad apples” or a “broken” system, but are instead the logical result of the system itself, then we need to understand how this system works. The experiences of black people, women and queers, and the working class as a whole, are all fundamentally shaped by capitalism and the state. To learn how this world works, we can explore the ideas of Marx, and many others in the history of revolutions. To learn how to transform it, we can look to communists who opposed authoritarianism and the state, and many other great revolutionaries, while drawing on the history of world revolution.

Past revolutions can show us the general features of how capitalism might be overthrown. Russia 1917, Spain 1936, the high points of the anti-colonial revolutions, and more recently Egypt in 2011, offer lessons good and bad. We know that forms of counter-power tend to emerge, first as small seeds, and then on large scales in moments of crisis. We know internal divisions among the oppressed become barriers to the continued growth of movements, and must be overcome. We know movements can generate new would-be ruling groups, who try to stop the revolution and consolidate class power. We know new forms of social life and creativity tend to emerge in the heat of struggle.

We can draw general lessons like these from past revolutions, but each one is different. What will ours be like?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Haiku Review: Buy Into Me

Haiku Review:  Buy Into Me
by Mark Foran
The Cube, Dublin
30 October 2014

Haiku review by Fujimoto Ryouji

Ramshackle constructs.
Layers of perception laid
bare. Photo copy.

Pinochet Porn – The Dictator and the Maid


Pinochet Porn – The Dictator and the Maid 
Works by Ellen Cantor, curated by Dallas Seitz and The Black Mariah.
The Black Mariah, Cork
6 October – 7 December 2014

Review by Darren Caffrey



The Dictator and The Maid by American video artist Ellen Cantor was made as part of her magnum opus entitled Pinochet Porn. Cantor describes the work: “Pinochet Porn, a feature length soap opera on super 8! A story of five children growing up during the Pinochet regime into adulthood.” 

 

In 2013 she died, at which point her work had been shown in New York's PS1, London's Serpentine, Vienna's Kunsthalle, and Edinburgh's International Film Festival. The work showing upstairs in Cork's Triskel Arts Centre is a 21 minute scene taken from Cantor's full-length film. Presenting simply the activity of two characters in a New York apartment, it contains no obvious dialogue and much strong sexual content from the beginning.

Sex is of course a classification and an act. The act is straight forward, requiring only joy to gain effective proficiency. Its purpose is life, in the moment and in the future of man. As a means of definition, Dictionary.com tells us that sex is also “the sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, or the phenomena or behaviour dependent on these differences.” Naturally, this determination of sex is just a guide. Acceptance for various frills of the sexual experience shift with time. This is as true for the act as it is the classification.

For his part, the man named Pinochet ruled the people of Chile for seventeen years. Following which, he stood as Commander in Chief of the Chilean army for a further eight. During his spell in charge he favoured the economic theories of a deregulated free market. This super-capitalist set up was aided not only by U.S. educated economists, financiers, etc... but also by force, leading to countless kidnappings, killings and property seizures. Salvador Allende, the man whom Pinochet replaced in 1973 had by that time shown inclinations toward a clear socialist agenda. U.S. president Nixon and a number of the United States' wealthiest private investors set up an exchange program for select young Chileans to learn and take home the theories espousing the virtues of a free market economy. Back in Chile, these individuals were placed in positions of power, carrying out the will of specifically capitalist programs of reform whilst operating under the protection of Pinochet's brutal regime.

This man's indelible mark has been taken as the inspiration for Pinochet Porn. In particular, his myth has been reproduced as a full length narrative. It takes a liberal approach to the man's true life, choosing instead to portray his effect through the life of his daughters and their various husbands. These characters all appear to reflect the sorts of myths which endure within western culture: the older man, the refined artist, the hard worker, the wasted talent, and the lesbian. Everything from patriarchy to the doomed dreamer to the psychoanalytic trend of archetypes which illustrate a demographic to, of course, the institution of marriage itself and the emancipation of woman, all are lampooned in a story about love. By enmeshing such a figure in the myths of western culture, the politics are consistently light while the drama is always full on.

At times when art strays into the realm of prurience, it becomes difficult. This section of the video by Ellen Cantor, showing her to fellate a man whom she has dressed up to resemble the general frame and virtue of a dictator, might just be that sort of work. Like all exchanges of value, respect for the possession is made explicit at the outset. In this instance, it takes the form of a tender caress. Titled The Dictator and The Maid, we are led to assume that the female role, played by a fifty-something Cantor, is one of submission.

One thing which can be said about this 21 minute scene produced in the artist's own home, which cannot be said about all video art or screen representations of sex, such as television or internet pornography, is that the viewer observes from the point of view of the 'victim' and the perpetrator, both responsible and helpless. In the truest sense, you watch to see what happens. 

 
Of course what happens is exactly what you think would happen. The interaction between these two characters is one of obvious submission. This is brought to light by what we perceive of dominance. Yet as the male stands over Cantor's tousled bottle-blonde hair which twists beneath him, static appears to cling these chemically bleached strands to the trousered legs of her 'oppressor', as though the composition of the space between the two is itself a living thing, subject to interference and perhaps even containing the properties of self determined outcomes. For a moment, their intimacy permits an exchange which occupies itself with only base materiality, such as the interactions of natural fibres and metals, in the peroxide and the wool fabric. As the video continues to reveal the depth of their exchange, their faces in turn reveal true feelings of anguish and delight.

This scene as a whole provides a parody to a political fantasy of the West. In it, the woman delights in male power. She gives in to what she wants. The male represents a commonality of authority – smooth shaven, well turned out and ever vulnerable to his own wants. It is this vulnerability which produces his orderly conduct. It is this vulnerable state which marks the sensuality of each touch. To break the thing possessed is to undermine its value outright. When such force as an authority is only able to establish the limits of order in the face of human want, the force becomes a negotiation between the object of control and those subject to its force. Throughout the video, the threat of violence is limited to a knowledge held by the viewer. This knowledge is a construct of societal norms and expectancy. It is supposed that the female must engage or risk the threat of upsetting the social order, and in particular his role as an authoritative figure. This is precisely as Cantor herself would have it.

By the time that the female figure is bent over onto her stomach, it makes perfect sense that she would tease the feathers of her fluffy duster over the surface of this very personal and indeed domestic setting. On screen, she suffers the joy of loss, leaving societal function and determinate roles to appear only as jokes amidst the savagery of being taken. More than her dignity, she performs at the knees of her oppressor with consummate simplicity. In a word she is playful. The man's role once performed comes to be defined as an erection. His own will in relation to this mastering of sexual energy and potency is itself the thing which breaks him. In the climactic phase of this work, beyond the reverie of feather dusters and chocolate covered spatulas, it is the man who appears most obviously as the tool of the whole performance. As such, the camera begins to focus more intently on the male's face, providing us finally with a sort of closure. In the closing of his eyes we see his loss to be so much more, and rather than titillation the experience is that of execution. With this, the performance and the scene are complete.

When the video ends and the rousing musical composition which has been following and pushing the narrative throughout finally does cut off, we are left with a projection screen hanging from a cross beam which casts its shadows in the dimly lit space of The Black Mariah. On the other side of this screen is the only other work in the exhibit. It reads 'CHAOS – PANIC – AND – DISORDER – MY WORK – HERE IS DONE'. 

 

In 2010 a Kickstarter project (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1023148801/pinochet-porn-0) was set up to have the full-length film processed for wider public viewing. A darkly coloured print with a hollow skull set by a flesh-pink type: this picture is a flat-out statement about the fear of loss at all. A gift to each sponsor who donated two thousand dollars to the cause, this signed lithograph/collage provides a token reference to artistic process. In the darkened space of the gallery it is next to invisible, but when it is found it is instantly familiar, as though it came out of an old notebook you thought you had lost. Borrowing from comic book style lettering, the various characters dance within the frame and in the way that a child pokes things, it is pernicious.

What really stands out though is The Dictator and The Maid. The reason it does so may require a resetting of social relations in respect to sexual exchange, such that when we see the body, we see the sex also. But in light of much live performance art, or again the expanse of a seemingly more permissive society, the question of roles and how best to perform them enquires that art is concerned with more than just showing the body's physicality, male or female. Likewise, the social premise that sex is underlying our understanding of one another as individuals need be redressed with some angle offered which suggests at least that sex is still open to interpretation. The role of 'man' and 'woman' must contain such openness or it becomes the property of the ruling classes.

The Kickstarter account, which was set up by the artist herself, closed three months later having exceeded the goal. The full feature-length film, shot on grainy Super 8, is not shown here however. Instead, screened in Cork at the same time each day, this single scene feature is but a taster. It contains full frontal nudity, and yet its action is that of digging into the psychology of sex and the abuse of its power over those it captivates. Horrific stories abound about the man Pinochet and the regime he led alongside the shadowy influence of various foreign interests. But it is the effect on those who lived within this sort of repressed but politically incoherent society which makes the stories so real.

As far as the art is concerned, this work reads as it plays. In one scene, we are able to witness the demise of a dictator and the rise of a feminism which demands more than cock and balls, but crucially, these things also. Consistent with any communion of man, the action between the two characters on screen remains connected throughout and the opportunity to laugh is welcome and purely human.

Numerous faces from the art world do make an appearance in the full length film. British conceptual artist Cerith Wyn Evans plays 'Oshu the sex guru' while New York's gallerist-to-watch, Lia Gangitano, plays both Pinochet's twin daughters, and Jay Kinney of Anarchy Comics is responsible for the film’s art direction. Given the manner through which cultural capital exchanges hands and gains focus, it is surely fair to say that this will not be the only chance to see Ellen Cantor's Pinochet Porn, in part or in full, but perhaps it will be your first, in which case you will most likely remember only the feelings and a few scant details.

Darren Caffrey is supported by an Artlinks Bursary.