Tuesday, August 16, 2011

(Cinematic) Life is Pain

Yeah sure, we like to believe that utopian vision that the creation of art is for the betterment ("good") of society.  That it offers us hope for humanity and its survival by allowing insights into mind, body and soul that build bridges between cultures and identities; that puts a positive spin on the capabilties and freedom inherent in the world.  But what if it were actually the reverse?  What if, in its execution and thematics, it made us feel more uncomfortable about the role of art in sharing with us the absymal nature of life - the painful struggle that leads to...what?  What if art were a struggle - an act of "ultra-violence" that doesn't bridge but heightens the ingrained divisions.  

Many of these questions have been proposed over time by underground movements in art, music, film, and the like, but it's only been recently when they've peaked their heads into the ostensible mainstream, ie. work operating on a production & socio-cultural level that is pitched to an audience beyond the fringe.  In these works, the envelope of commercially palatable strategies is pushed far (sometimes too far) in a last ditch effort to shake up the dramatic comforts that cocoon.  They are further instigators in a cause for a reflection of "evil" which must parallel and ultimately transcend "good."  And to accomplish this, they impose strategies that are both reflexive and not, Exploitation and exploitative of the same.

I'm going to highlight three recent thrillers from South Korea, Serbia, and Japan, that I believe operate in this territory, issuing troubling ultimatums about the representation of mankind's deepest fears and desires.  Each solves them in different ways - sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully.  There may be a great morality at play, but it is continually squashed by the immoral progress depicted.  Each unspools as a sort of post-modern riff on Dante's Inferno - the honorable innocent descending into a morass of sin, slime & sleaze - though more often than not, it is a rite of passage not exactly of their own design.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pop! #4: The Stupid Sublime

The POP! series:  An occasional series of riffs and exultations on the things which fascinate me most in popular culture - weird, wonderful, brilliant, sad, sick, and emblematic of the absurdity of pleasure, pain, and the impossible.

Marco Brambilla's "Evolution"
To label an object or a person is a frustratingly futile task, no matter how quick we are to do it & the ease of its execution.  It also allows us the sidestep the actual complications of language.  As in calling something boring or dumb or stupid.  What is stupid?  The original Latin from which it derives meant to be numb or stunned, which is something very different from how we understand it - which is, generically: inane, pointless, lacking meaning and sense.

Interestingly enough, all of the above (numbed, stunned, inane, pointless...etc.) would seem to apply to Michael Bay's (stressing the possessive) Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.  In fact, it's stupidity accumulates into something which could also be said to be sublime (and it fills all of the meanings of that word as well).  The work's complete ignorance of everything that normally defines intelligence in either art OR mass entertainment only elevates its power.  Michael Bay, in his complete lack of sensitivity, both for the product and its receivers, creates, in his increasing success and artistic freedom, a kind of awe.  One that applies as well to that other hyper-masculine big-budget lenser (which seems the more appropriate term here than filmmaker), Zack Snyder.

Despite their success and seeming knowledge and interest in the hipness factor, both Snyder and Bay exist in a kind of clueless, primitive bubble of their own creation.  Neither of their styles' obeys any of the standard rules applied to those toiling in the trenches of genre fare these days.  Their existence above the assembly line makes them perpetual figures of envy and ridicule.  Not that that point of view is completely unjustified - it just ignores what is actually occurring in their works and how it reflects not only their own personal fetishes, but also the whole idea of spectacle in the Hollywood machine today.  In the films of Bay & Snyder, we find a pinnacle of the perceived "stupidity" in the cogs - A sublime state of stupidity.

To justify the work (and relevance) of Bay & Snyder, means an accumulation of words in the place of bodies of work which lack and refract the customary identification (the standard boilerplate for critical analysis).  It's Hyberbole.  It's Demonstrative.  It's Craven Pageantry.  The whole must be broken down into individual pieces, and those strung together fragments are bewildering in their isolation.  Traditional purpose of storytelling is ignored, a la the bare-bones necessity of forward momentum in action examplar Samuel Fuller.  Montage creating meaning through the stacking of dissimilar imagery found in the anarchist theory of Sergei Eisenstein is also left aside.  These ARE works of montage, but a Montage of Nothing.  Even Futurist impulses, of which there are many in the Bay/Snyder canon, cannot account for the patriotic striving deep in their artery-clogged bloodstreams.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coming Soon!!! U-N-M-A-R-K-E-D Special Event

Fri, Oct 28 + Sat, Oct 29 // Doors: 9pm // $10

BETAMAX slush and the 42nd St. trash overflow in this anti-art-house of horrors. Be all high-brow and get stupid with performance art, theater, video, music, drinks, and dancing. An antidote to the cool kids Halloween party. Co-Artistic Directors Patrick Kennelly and Sonia Oleniak’s U-N-M-A-R-K-E-D is committed to live and remote Outer-disciplinary spectacle, horror, glamour, and social justice. Ultra-violence through “art.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Highways Performance Space - history on video

I originally edited this reel when I first arrived @ Highways in the summer of 2004 as an intern.  I've updated it a bit over the intervening years, but the original structure remains the same.  This initially involved weeks of research, transferring, and editing of material.  Obviously much of Highways history exists in memory and myth, but the archives still had a wonderful stock of VHS, Hi-8 and a few mini-DVs charting performances in the space since its inception in 1989.

Wanted to spotlight this one last time, as I am currently in the midst of piecing together a completely new video (one which highlights the present and recent past) to reside in its place.  But until that is unveiled, this one continues to live on in our space and in our outreach to the world: