Friday, September 30, 2011
Ben Fry, All Streets (2009): David Brin, Pyramids and Diamonds (2011); Star Trek, Spectre of the Gun (1968)
According to Kevin Kelly "The uber American dream is to build your own comfy place on the edge of wilderness with your own hands." And indeed, that is the national myth; Manifest Destiny that begins with the founding fathers and goes right up to the returning vets of WWII settling the first suburbs. On his site, the author David Brin points to a very different aspect of the American Dream: "The founders started by banning primogeniture, so no family fortune could sit and accumulate, undivided, as a lordly demesne at the pyramid's peak. Instead, they would get divided among the large numbers of children that folks had then -- an intentional act of "social engineering" and outright 'levelling.'" Star Trek had some Manifest Destiny in the mix of its myth - but the greater part of the story it told was the promise of leveling.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
When the riots broke out in Tottenham this summer two very different stories leapt to mind. One was Jonathan Franzen's commencement speech tirade in which he warned a group of freshly minted BAs against, consigning themselves "to 10 years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources." He was warning them against being - "in the most damning sense of the word" - consumers. Franzen railed against the shallow narcissism of "liking" on social networks and triumphed the greater depths of real world "love" (giving the example of the un-commodifiable love of bird watching). "Sooner or later" he explained about love, "you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight."
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Wisconsin's "unseemly circus"(2011); Gustave Courbet, The Burial at Ornan (1850)
When Gustave Courbet showed his painting, The Burial at Ornan, in 1850 it upset his Parisian audience. The historian TJ Clark explains that Courbet refused to depict peasants at pious and simple, instead he "painted worship without worshipers." But more maddening still, Courbet painted the peasants fashionably dressed, undermining the Parisian's patronizing vision of country people. Adding injury to insult, Courbet's massive canvas rubbed his audience wrong because of their own diminished prospects, burial had become a privilege that most Parisians could no longer afford: "Thus burial took on barbed and complex meanings; it became an institution, a privilege, a matter of envy and dispute." It now appears escaping justice is and institution, a privilege and a matter of envy and dispute. Those are the conditions that Socrates branded the "justice of a band of robbers."
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Downton Abbey (2010); Irascables (1950)
The painter Jasper Johns famously observed that, “artists are the elite of the servant class.” What Johns fails to note however, is exactly which servant artists most resemble. In the BBC series Downton Abbey we are reminded how clearly the roles of butlers, footmen and maids were defined. Each has very particular expertise and places within very old and explicit hierarchies. The only premodern equivalent to role of the modern artist meanwhile is a class of servant that withered away at just about the same moment as the first modern artists were appearing. Artists are jesters.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Consumerism's carrot and stick: Jobs vs. no jobs.
This summer, as I watched the DSK prosecution stall and collapse, Right-wing ideologs turn the debt ceiling debate into a crisis that cost American tax payers billions, and the riots in England, I found myself experiencing far more than my usual level of disgusted with capitalism - but perversely defensive on the part of consumerism. Capitalism is nothing more than a bundle of mechanisms for distributing wealth: markets, property and financial instruments are a part of a group of technologies that have been developing over the pst few hundreds of years. Proponents of capitalism like to think of it as a meritocracy, but capitalism only promises enormous wealth to the lucky few and that is because it is a creature of Malthusian economics - the bedrock of its logic is scarcity. Capitalism favors the creation of mega-wealth and super-elites. Consumerism meanwhile, is a creature of the Industrial Revolution, and more particularly of Postwar America - it is an ideology built on the experience of post-Malthusian economies of scale - it's bedrock is abundance: the very modern promise of wealth that increases the more it is shared.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Takashings, Sky Blue Sky (2011); Janet Cardiff and George Bures, Forty Part Motet (2001)
I know exactly why Janet Cardiff and George Bures' Forty Part Motet has been included in MoMA PS1's show to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I know because I happen to have participated (along with hundreds of other museum goers) in making the association between the two. I attended the opening of Cardiff's show when Motet was shown for the first time in NYC, just a month after the 2001 attacks. I didn't know Cardiff's work before the show. I remember thinking the little theaters she makes with her collaborator George Bures were tricky but not much more. I entered the gallery where Motet was installed, and was relieved that the miniature theater portion of the show had ended (not my thing). But unlike the theater pieces, I didn't know at all what to make of what I heard and saw. Motet was nothing but an oval of forty plain black speakers, each mounted head high on black iron stands. Entering the gallery, the view from the windows immediately overwhelmed the minimalist aesthetic of the piece. The long wall of windows on the gallery's west side faced Manhattan. The sky was a beautifully clear and bright - the same cloudless blue as the morning of September 11th. "A sky blue sky" Laurie Anderson might of called it.